Spicy Korean Soup on a Cold Winter’s Night? (aka the “Riff on Sundubu” Post)

Why should big, bold, beautiful flavors be complicated? The answer is — they don’t have to be. In this simple soup recipe, inspired by sundubu jjigae, a traditional spicy Korean soup made with tofu and kimchi, a few authentic ingredients do the heavy lifting.

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The key to this recipe, which comes together quickly, is to prep all vegetables in advance of cooking. Additionally, homemade stock adds complexity and deliciousness. Choice of add-ins means that this soup can be vegetarian — or not. We used leftover braised leg of lamb and it was absolutely delicious.

Spicy Korean Soup (aka Sundubu)
Serves 4

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 Serrano chili pepper, minced
1 medium onion, sliced
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 T anchovy paste
6 c. homemade stock (chicken, pork or veg.)
2 T Korean hot pepper paste (also known as kochujang or gochujang)
8 oz kale, chiffonaded
Salt and pepper to taste (alternatively, soy sauce and pepper)

Suggested add-ins: 
Soft or silken tofu, cubed
Kimchee (to taste)
Shredded chicken, pork, or leftover braised leg of lamb — at room temp
Glass noodles (also known as cellophane noodles or bean thread noodles)

Optional toppings: 
Thinly sliced Serrano peppers
Sliced scallions
Toasted sesame seeds
Red pepper flakes

Directions: Sauté garlic, serrano pepper and onion in 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stock pot for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant; add anchovy paste and stir until combined. Add mushrooms and zucchini and cook until beginning to soften, approx. 5-7 minutes. Add stock, cover and and bring soup to a simmer; stir in Korean hot pepper paste until combined and add kale. Cover and simmer until kale is wilted, approx. 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prep soup bowls with add-ins of choice. Once soup is ready, ladle soup into bowls and add toppings (optional). Enjoy!

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Recipe: Quinoa, Roasted Corn and Heirloom Tomato Salad (aka the “Budget Lunch on the Fly” Post)

Today’s mission: Make something out of nothing. That’s good for you. And do it fast.

I’m on a shoestring budget this week, which means it’s about time to get into the bag of quinoa that’s been sitting in my cupboard. I’ve long been fascinated with the South American grain (pronounced “keen-wah”) as it tastes good (it has a light,  nutty flavor), and it’s incredibly good for you — quinoa is packed with protein and amino acids. When cooked, the small, round grains become light and fluffy. Think of quinoa as the couscous of the Andes.

A quick survey of what else fresh I had on hand — some baby heirloom tomatoes, broccoli — and a bit of hand-holding from the ever patient Mark Bittman, whose tomb “How to Cook Everything” I frequently turn to for basic techniques, and, voila.

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Quinoa, Roasted Corn and Heirloom Tomato Salad

This easy, breezy, colorful dish would do as well served warm or at room temp, and would play nicely with a beautiful piece of protein.

Ingredients:

2 Tbls. E.V.O.O.
1 1/2 c. corn kernels, rinsed and drained
3/4 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 c. stock or water*
1 c. small broccoli florets
12 small tomatoes, halved (I used baby heirloom tomatoes)
block of Parmesan (always best freshly grated)
sea salt, pepper to taste

Directions:

1.) Heat E.V.O.O. in a large skillet; sautee corn over medium-high heat until it begins to turn golden, approx. 10 minutes. Add a dash of salt and pepper.

2.) Add quinoa; sauté mixture until grains begin to brown, approx. 5 minutes. Add a dash of salt and pepper.

3.) Add stock or water. *I didn’t have stock and so cheated a bit by adding in a chicken flavor seasoning packet left over from a packet of ramen noodles.

4.) Once water begins to boil, give the mixture a final stir. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and let cook for 15 minutes.

5.) While quinoa cooks, boil water in a saucepan. Blanche broccoli florets 2 minutes, or until they turn bright green. Immediately drain into strainer and run under cold water.

6.) Test quinoa for doneness: grains should be fluffy and soft. If the kernels are still hard, add a touch of liquid to the pan (so that the bottom stays moist) and return to heat for another 3-5 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and grains are fully cooked.

7.) In bowl, top quinoa and corn mixture with broccoli florets and tomato halves. Grate with fresh Parmesan to taste.

Serves: 2

Lunch: Riot of Color at Green Symphony (Good-for-You Food In Midtown Alert!)

I am a little overwhelmed. Korean-style chicken and organic kale salad? Hawaiian-style turkey meatballs and potato samosas? All at the same hot/cold buffet, for only $7/lb? 

photoGreen Symphony, I am so glad I found you. (And all it took was a little desperation.)

Having reached threshold for the paltry healthful food options in Midtown southwest, I decided to open my search in a direction I haven’t really explored yet: North of 42nd Street.

To venture that way from the mid-30s is no joke. The Port Authority and the New York Times building/adjacent construction — which collectively sprawl over several blocks of Eighth Avenue — create a formidable passageway that is both heavily-trafficked, virtually devoid of comforts, and turns you out on the fringes of Times Square. Bleh.

photo(2)But Green Symphony is worth every jostle, every unpleasantness. In part because once you get through those doors, this modest little spot feels worlds away from that mess outside. Sunny, cozy, every nook used purposefully, serving fresh fruit smoothies, healthy sandwiches, some interesting hot Korean entree options and the aforementioned hot/cold buffet, Symphony Green may as well be in the East Village … or San Francisco. (Which makes me all the more grateful for its presence.)

photo(3)On my first, of what is sure to be many, visits, I had to go for the buffet, which had probably about eight hot-food options and about twice as many cold-food options. When eating at a buffet, I try to pick foods that are harmonious, which means I skipped the Mediterranean items and the creamy salad options in favor of light, fresh — and with a kick. Just look at this riot of color!

We have, clockwise from top right:

Soybean sprout salad (sprouts mixed in a tamarind sauce). A little acute in flavor, very acidic. But plays well off stickier, denser flavors, such as the chicken.

Caribbean style cole slaw (red cabbage, mango, onion, raisins, sherry vinegar and umeboshi vinegar). Sweet and refreshing. So much better than its oft-wronged American counterpart.

photo(5)Korean-style chicken (on top of organic brown rice). Chicken legs baked in a heavy Korean-style barbecue sauce. I loved how the rice soaked it up.

Organic kale salad (sesame oil, ginger, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds). So refreshing, with the ginger, sesame oil and lemon flavors … because sometimes all a girl wants is a serving of kale.

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Dinner: Who’s Afraid of Hearty, Bitter Greens?

I had no real agenda for dinner; I figured that since I’d be stopping in four different markets for research for an upcoming article on sorbet, I’d let some market discovery inspire me. And that’s exactly what happened: 

photo-6photo-7                                                  In Gourmet Garage, I discovered a very interesting new line of fresh, prepackaged leafy greens, by a company called Satur Farms. They’re based out of North Fork, Long Island, so it’s all locally-grown, minimally-transported and has the potential, at least, to be vibrant and fresh. It’s also cheaper. Where 6 oz. size plastic containers of Earthbound Organic lettuces go for $4.99, Satur Farms’ lettuce mixes were priced around $3.50. 

Gourmet Garage was sold out of all but Satur Farms’ “stir fry greens,” which is hands down, the most ambitious prepackaged lettuce mix I’ve ever encountered. This is not a mix for beginners. Even I couldn’t visually identify every single leafy green included (although I got most): “May contain Swiss chard, ripini mustards, kohlrabi, chicory, kale, beet tops, amaranth, bok choy, spinach.” 

photo-5Hot damn. That is some mix. So much potential, which I look forward to exploring, but for tonight I decided to keep it fairly simple by sauteing the thickest-stalked greens with a bit of onion and celery in some sesame oil, and mixing in half a container (7 oz.) of these prepackaged Macro-Vegetarian udon noodles, which have a nice, light, pusedo-Asian flavor, and finishing off the whole thing with a healthy squeeze of lime juice and shake of red pepper flakes. I’ll tell you what: It worked!

Linner: Monday, April 20, 2009

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photo312Yeah. Linner. It’s sort of what happens when you end up not eating lunch until after 4p, it becomes some weird twilight-lunch/early-dinner hybrid.

When I finally did get around to eating a proper meal, I went for something nice n’ easy: The Fire Rock burger from Quantum Leap, which involves a veggie pattie that is comfortable being made of vegetables and grains (no faux meat taste or texture required), on a whole wheat bun with smokey chipotle sauce, jalapeno slices and mock bacon (salt quotient).

All Quantum Leap’s burgers come with a legitimate side salad (good greens) and housemade carrot ginger dressing, and either fries or another vegetable option.

photo50As I sat there waiting for my take-out, I was reminded that Quantum Leap has to have one of the coziest ambiances in the East Village for just the sort of day it was yesterday: Orange-hued walls, indoor greenery, big windows looking out at the rain coming down, the yellow cabs and occassional brightly-colored umbrella or golashes dots of color in the gray blanketing the world outside. It almost made me take my meal to stay, instead.

COST: >$10
PREP TIME: few lost minutes