What to Eat: How I Learned to Stop Fussing and Eat My Vegetables

fractal cauliflower
Stare directly into the cauliflower.

You know those kids who will not eat their vegetables, no matter how much you prod and bribe and threaten? The ones who gag at the sight of a bowl of peas?

That was me. Until about two months ago.

All right, I’m exaggerating a little– I started eating some vegetables in college– but it was only recently that I started seeking veggies out and eating them voluntarily. Before that, it took serious effort to get anything leafy, green or nutritious through my lips. My stepbrothers still tease me about that bowl of peas.

I’m telling you this with the zeal of the recent convert. I want you to know that it’s possible. I’m not some tofu-eating hippie who grew up vegetarian, no ma’am. I was the food industry’s dream, a pleasure seeker who refused to read food labels and thought a cream-filled oatmeal cookie sandwich in plastic wrap was a nutritious breakfast. I spent an entire year of high school eating Lance wafer cookies and Burger King for lunch every day. Don’t blame my mom– she tried her best to get those veggies into my mouth, but I just wasn’t having it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Stir-Fried Purple String Beans

I can’t take credit for this idea. Emeril Legasse of Food Network did sugar-crusted salmon a number of years ago. It is really easy and very tasty. Take salmon and cut it into two inch wide strips. Coat with sugar and saute a couple minutes on all sides. Serve over rice.

I also made some purple string beans. I stir fried them in a wok with a bit of oil, sesame oil, dark soy sauce and a little rice wine vinegar. When they were done I chopped some lemon verbena and tossed it with the beans. Lemon verbena’s flavor is intense, so use it sparingly. Purple string beans are a little more fibrous than thier green counter parts. I sauted them until they turned green so I know they were done but they were still a bit chewy. They had a good flavor, though.  If we buy them again, I may just steam them.

Overall a quick, healthy and very flavorful meal. Totally dairy-free, and you can make it gluten-free easily by using tamari instead of soy sauce.

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Shrimp and Tofu Stir Fry

shrimp and tofu stir fry

This is a light and delicious version of the stir-fry mixture we did for Pan-Fried Noodles with Chicken, using shrimp and tofu.  My husband Joe and I were in the mood for a quick and healthy dinner.  We didn’t have any fresh noodles, so we just served this over rice.  (The sauce and marinade are the concoction of Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.)

Shrimp and Tofu Stir Fry

About an inch of ginger, peeled and chopped

2 cloves chopped garlic

handful of julienned snow peas

handful of julienned carrots

1 block firm tofu, cubed

1 lb or so of peeled and deveined raw shrimp

Soy sauce

Vegetable oil

For the sauce:

1 cup chicken stock

1 pinch each of cornstarch, ground pepper, sugar

1 dash each rice wine, dark soy sauce, sesame oil

For the marinade:

Mix dashes of sesame oil, rice wine, white rice vinegar and soy sauce with pinches of cornstarch, salt and sugar.

Marinate the shrimp and the tofu in the above marinade for at least an hour.

Get some vegetable oil very hot in a wok.  Throw in the ginger and garlic and give them about 20 seconds.  Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until they start to become pink and opaque (not more than two minutes).  Add the tofu and vegetables, stirring constantly.  When everything is cooked, but still crispy, pour in the sauce and let everything cook until it thickens.  Serve over rice.

You can be creative with the veggies on this– mushrooms would be great in it.  Julienned zucchini, eggplant– you could really experiment with whatever you happen to have.  Other than the sodium content, it’s a healthy dish.  Leave out the shrimp (maybe add mushrooms instead) and it’s vegetarian as well.

By the way, if you’re gluten free, you can use tamari instead of soy sauce to make this a delicious gluten-free Chinese meal.  Not all varieties of tamari are brewed without wheat, but San-J brand makes a wheat-free tamari that’s a perfectly tasty alternative.  Most Whole Foods and Asian supermarkets carry it.

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Pan-Fried Noodles with Chicken (Gai See Chau Mien)

Stir Fry

This weekend I took my new Chinese cookbook, The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, for a test drive.  So far, so good.

When Joe and I were first dating back in Pittsburgh, he was a vegetarian.  (I’m a bad influence on vegetarians, what can I say?)  Back then stir-fries were a cheap, quick staple.  We hadn’t made one in ages, although we’ve lugged our Circulon wok from Pittsburgh to New York to Philly.  So we were excited to break it out for the real thing.

I did some grocery shopping before we started this dish– I got really produce-happy at the Reading Terminal Market, and then I went to Chung Kee Asian Supermarket in Chinatown to stock some staples of the Chinese pantry: cooking wine, white rice vinegar, oyster sauce, chili oil, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and of course, Pocky.  (Which is Japanese, but… Pocky!)  We picked up some pork buns, lugged everything home, and got started on a light, healthy meal.

This dish is popular in Shanghai and Hong Kong, according to Lo.  I find that a lot of my favorite dishes are Hong Kong-ese, which makes sense when you remember that Hong Kong, like New York, Beirut and Mumbai, is one of the world’s great cultural crossroads.  Throw lots of people from many different cultures and foodways together in one place, and amazing new innovations are pretty much guaranteed to happen in the kitchen.

This particular dish has two components: a bird’s nest of crunchy pan-fried noodles, and a topping of stir-fried julienned vegetables, chicken and brown sauce.  I picked up some fresh noodles at the Asian supermarket.  The main prep work for this dish involves the noodles: you have to boil them very quickly, then let them drain for about two hours until they’re totally dried out.  You also have to marinate the chicken for about half an hour, in a mixture of sugar, salt, pepper, cornstarch, sesame oil, rice vinegar, cooking wine, and soy sauce.  While that’s happening, you can julienne your water chestnuts, fresh snow pea pods, and bamboo shoots (although you can also buy those pre-julienned).  

All of the cooking happens in about five minutes, and it’s really fast, so your mise en place is important here.  Everything has to be ready to go.  Your garlic and ginger had better be minced, your veggies better be julienned, your sauce better be mixed and ready to go.  I did mine right in the measuring cup– 1 cup of chicken stock plus shots of oyster sauce, cooking wine, vinegar, sugar, salt, cornstarch, sesame oil, pepper, and my new favorite condiment, dark mushroom-flavored soy sauce.  I bought Pearl River Bridge brand for about $1.75, and it’s amazing– dark and thick, more like balsamic vinegar than any soy sauce we’re used to in the US.  It actually coats the back of a spoon.  And the flavor is dark and intense– oh, this is definitely going to be a staple. 

Now here’s the tricky part: the noodles and the wok need to be going at pretty much the same time.  We used teamwork: Joe did the noodles and I was on the wok.  The noodles are easy enough: heat oil in the cast iron pan (the recipe calls for peanut, but we used safflower, which has a similar smoke point) until it starts to smoke, then put the big nest of noodles in and fry for about two minutes on each side, moving the pan around so it browns evenly.   In the wok, heat oil until smoking.  Then add ginger, then garlic, then the chicken.  Give that a couple of minutes, then add the veggies.  When they soften, pour in your sauce and toss the whole thing around for a while until the sauce thickens up. 

Put the noodles on a serving plate, and pour the entire chicken-veggie mixture over it so that the sauce seeps down into the noodles.  Slice the whole thing like a pie and eat with chopsticks.  We served it with a cold Hedonism Red Ale from Legacy Brewing Co.

We were really happy with this dish.  It’s light and flavorful, and it’s got a few different textures going on: crunchy noodles on the outside, softer noodles inside, crunchy veggies, juicy chicken.  The fresh snow peas really make the dish.  This wasn’t very difficult, and it would be easy enough to make the noodles and chop the veggies a night ahead of time.  I’m pretty psyched about having rocked my first Chinese dish!

Next up: Siu mai (pork and shrimp basket dumplings)!

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