Shiitake & Tofu Laksa

Well it’s been a full week of classes now and things are still (*knock on wood*) going smoothly. I’m absolutely loving my lectures. Finally, after four years of Physics and five years in the “real world”, I am studying what I’ve been wanting to study all along: Astronomy. Now I’ll admit it’s a bit surreal jumping headlong into academia again (oh wait, I can only afford two bags of groceries at a time? …you want me to ssh into where??…yes I do in fact know what it’s like to work outside school), but after having my Astronomy studies previously limited to Science Daily, this is just so cool! 😀

One of my biggest challenges so far hasn’t been the work – although my math skills are still VERY rusty – it’s been finding the time to cook even the simplest meals. I need at least two dishes’ worth of leftovers to sustain me through the week and there have been some days when I’ve given in and bought my food, not ok when you’re on a strict budget

…that is why, people, I love this dish. And if you are a person pressed for time with a weakness for flavor I highly suggest you make this soon! Laksa, I’ve learned, is a traditional Malaysian noodle soup marked by its main ingredients of curry, coconut milk, and noodles. Are you familiar with laksas? Is such a dish primarily Malaysian and just borrowed in other cuisines, or do other cultures have their own personal varieties?

Shiitake & Tofu Laksa (very slightly adapted from The Big Book of Wok and Stir-fry)

Ingredients:

2 fresh red chiles, seeded and chopped

1½” (4 cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

2  large garlic cloves, chopped

2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer layers discarded and inner stalks chopped*

small handful fresh cilantro, a few leaves saved for garnish

3   T   vegetable oil

3   C   vegetable stock

14  oz.  canned coconut milk

9  oz.  shiitake mushrooms, stalks removed and thinly sliced

1   C   firm tofu; drained, pressed, and cubed

2   T   tomato paste

2  packs instant ramen (without spice pouches)

2 – 3 scallions, sliced

salt and pepper to taste

*Note: I couldn’t find lemongrass at the time so I added scallions instead. Loved the scallions and bet the lemongrass would make the broth even more delicious so I’ve included both here. 

Procedure:

 1. Puree chiles, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, cilantro, and oil in a food processor until smooth. I deliberately left mine with small chunks in it because I wanted little bursts of flavor in the broth but I’m sure it’s just as delicious perfectly pureed.

2. Heat wok over Medium-high heat and add puree. Stir-fry puree for 30 seconds or until fragrant before pouring in veggie stock and coconut milk. Bring broth to boil. Fill a medium-sized saucepan with water and place on separate burner to boil.

3. When broth is boiling in the wok add mushrooms, tofu, and tomato paste and lower heat to gently simmer for 5 minutes. As broth is simmering, cook ramen in saucepan for just two minutes or so – until soft but not fully cooked (be careful here, it’s very easy to overcook instant ramen!). Drain noodles and set aside.

 4. Remove wok from heat. Taste-test your broth and add salt and pepper as desired. Using tongs or two forks, divide ramen into bowls (will serve 4 without leftovers) and ladle broth over the top. Garnish with sliced scallions and cilantro and serve immediately.

Beezer’s Notes:

I feel a tad guilty saying it, but I think this is the best Asian dish I have ever made. The guilt comes from the fact that this isn’t a Japanese dish, it’s not even an Asian dish I’ve eaten much of, yet I pulled it off better than any of my Japanese dishes attempted so far (speaking of which, I’ve been wanting to get back to those challenges for a while now but haven’t found the ingredients I need within biking distance – yet!). Even Brad, who’s a bit skeptical of international foods he hasn’t tried yet, told me it was really good. The best part? Easily-reheatable leftovers! Woohoo!

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

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Roasted Cauliflower with Shiitake and Sage

Let’s hear it for the first natural sunlight photograph in months! Woohoo! Wow, it really does make a difference…and reminds me of just how much I’m missing living where I do. My apartment itself is really nice compared to most in our area, but it sits at the back of the house in between two significantly larger buildings. Direct sunlight just barely makes it in our windows for about one hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon. I even began taking vitamin D this winter on a recommendation from my doctor and was amazed at how much better I felt. If you live in New England or other areas that have more clouds than rays, you might want to look into it. More energy, better attitude, deeper sleep? Yes please!

Now, while the photograph above makes me very happy, I have to admit that I just plumb forgot to take any photos until that last one…oops. This recipe is ridiculously easy, though, so I have no doubt that you can make it yourself without the photo tutorial. It also originally came from Terry Walters‘ new book Clean Start that I am loving more every day. I am not a “clean foods” devotee, but I definitely agree with her return-to-the-source attitude and admire her skill at making whole food meals both easy and fun to cook. If you missed the Green Fries in the last post, go check them out – they’re from the same book.

Roasted Cauliflower with Shiitake and Sage

(adapted from Clean Start by Terry Walters)

Ingredients:

1   large head cauliflower

1   dozen Brussels sprouts

½   lb.   shiitake mushrooms

2   garlic cloves, peeled

¼   C   fresh sage leaves (no, my love affair with this herb isn’t over yet, haha)

¼   C   fresh oregano (or 1½ T dried)

2     t   coarse sea salt

¼   C   EVOO

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Prepare cauliflower by removing and discarding outer leaves and inner stems. Cut florets into small pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Prepare sprouts by cutting away and discarding dry ends. Half sprouts (or quarter them if they are large) and add to cauliflower. Remove stems from mushrooms, slice into ¼” strips, and add to veggies.
  3. With food processor running, drop in garlic and process until minced. Add sage, oregano, salt, and oil and pulse to chop herbs and blend ingredients. Remove from processor and pour over vegetables. Toss veggies gently to coat evenly. Transfer to baking dish and roast for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven, toss to redistribute and prevent burning. Return to oven and roast for an additional 15 – 20 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Remove from oven and serve.

Beezer’s Notes:

You know, I wouldn’t have made this recipe if I didn’t think it would be tasty. That said, I really underestimated just how tasty roasted cauliflower, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts could be! The sprouts themselves caused me some anxiety because I have never ever prepared them before. What if I failed and they became all mushy? What if they cooked up fine but I hated the taste? I would be doomed to buy such a simple veggie from more talented cooks for the rest of my life!! …ok, maybe that’s a little overly-dramatic, but I was still too chicken to try cooking them until I read this recipe. And you know what? They turned out great!

Flavor combinations are really what make this dish a winner. The sweet sage/oregano blend really pulls all the earthy flavors together and balanced out the salt. While I thought this would be more of a veggie side for dinner, the depth of flavor in this dish allows it to stand front and center as the main course if you want – just serve it over rice or (as the source recipe suggests) with lentils and you’ve got yourself a hearty meal sans meat.

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

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