Beets were on my top food offender list when I was a kid. Beets didn’t come from a farm or the grocery store, they came from a salad bar. Sizzler, Soup Plantation, even Carl’s Jr. (yes, they had a salad bar in the ol’ days) all had ‘em. Sliced or julienned, my auntie would pile them on her salad. All I knew was, they went straight from a can into a tub and they tasted like dirt in dark purple water. Who would eat that? It was one vegetable I flat out hated. Conversion, er, enlightenment(!), came 20 years later, via a slightly sweet, earthy roasted beet salad with blue cheese and a citrus vinaigrette. Beets went from vegetatum non grata (probably not accurate Latin) to one of my favorites.
Fast forward to this week. I get a daily email from Il Corvo in Seattle that gives the rundown on the pastas (it’s what they do) on offer that day. It’s mouth-watering and torturous at the same time, since they’re only open for lunch Monday through Friday and it isn’t close by. Monday’s lacinato kale parsley pesto had basil and I had none, but it got me thinking about pesto alternatives, and about the four big fat beets I had in the fridge.
This week, fall has slammed into us full force. The rain came in over the weekend, and then last night, it was stormy enough that we lost power for a few hours in the middle of the night. It’s a good thing, the yard is in desperate need of a soaking, and with that soaking, all we want is comfort food. I’m not alone in this, since everywhere I look lately, all I see are pot pies and soups. I’m not usually one to jump the gun on holidays, but this recipe originated with Thanksgiving turkey leftovers and has migrated to chicken during the rest of the year. Named for an opera star in the early 20th century, so the story goes, you’ll be singing for your supper when this is on the menu. Ladies and gents, I give you, Chicken…..Tetra…..zzini!!
I’m tiptoeing into Fall. The last few mornings there’s been more of a chill in the air, but the afternoons are still warm. I’m still wearing flip-flops, but with long sleeve t-shirts. My cherry tomato in a hanging pot is in its second wind. This is when we keep our fingers crossed for one last push. Last night’s pasta carried that forward. Summer’s Lite Brite punches of heirloom tomato and basil were left behind, making way for the earthiness of mushroom. We (er, I) haven’t quite given ourselves (read: myself) over entirely to the autumn, but this mushroom ragu was a first tentative step.
Some nights you just need a little detox, a light dinner to take the edge off days-in-a-row of too much rich food, or a little too much imbibing. OJ calls that meal, “Japanese Dinner.” It’s clean — simply cubed tofu topped with green onions and drizzled with soy sauce, served with rice and quick pickled cucumbers.
Is it Japanese? Yes, but it’s probably Korean and Chinese, too. It took David Chang to tell me, “Hey, why don’t you make that with noodles instead of rice? And add some ginger, too.” And Japanese Dinner, Momofuku style was born.
It’s perfect for a personal detox or just on a damn hot day. I know there have to be a few of those ahead of us this summer. On the noodles, some soba has a horrifying amount of sodium. I use Hakubaku brand, which is made in Australia, but is available locally in Seattle at both PCC and Uwajimaya. I’ve never seen their ramen here, which, I love you guys, but “Japan-easy.” Really?!!
The usukuchi (light soy sauce) you can do without, low-sodium shoyu works as well and no HFCS.
Japanese Dinner, Momofuku Style
1 package firm (or extra firm) tofu, cut into 1/2 in. cubes
1 270 g. package buckwheat soba noodles (3 bundles)
1 batch Momofuku ginger scallion sauce
A sprinkle or two of roasted sesame seeds (white or black goma, whatever you’ve got) to taste
Extra shoyu to taste
Make the ginger scallion sauce and let sit for 20 minutes.
Boil noodles according to package directions and rinse under cold water. Set aside. Lightly toss together the tofu, careful not to break it up much, noodles and ginger-scallion sauce. Garnish with roasted sesame seeds and serve.
From the outside, Ba Bar (yes, Ba. Bar. Not the elephant.) looks like a coffee place. Its big windows face the street, and even as you step inside, the espresso bar with a few baked items is on your right. The floors are acid washed concrete. Walk into the main dining space and off to one side, there’s an enormous, typical Pacific Northwest-looking wood bar. You might take it for a gastropub. But sit down and the menu in front of you is…Vietnamese street food.