BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Noodle of the Sea

A curious craze if there ever was one, kelp noodles have gained popularity in leaps and bounds, going from unheard oddity to pantry staple for many overnight. Though still a more difficult ingredient to procure, ever since I discovered one fateful package at a local international market, rather than an expensive specialty shop, they’ve been showing up on my plate more often.

Finding them mixed amongst the bottles of soy sauce and bean paste was inspiring, not only due to the substantially lower price. Despite their typically raw preparations, these chewy, translucent seaweed strands are a perfectly tasty ingredient for cooked dishes, and in fact, may be more palatable warm. A brief sauté seems to relax the tightly wound noodles, making them more like starch-based cellophane noodles or sweet potato dangmyeon. With this realization, it became crystal clear that these particular kelp we destined to become japchae.

Switching out the traditional beef for thinly sliced seitan, the dish came together in a snap. Packing in the fresh vegetables for a lighter rendition, this is the perfect dish for bridging the gap between winter and spring. Bright and colorful, the sheer variety of flavors and textures makes for a highly satisfying eating experience. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to japchae, so consider my instructions more as guidelines. The best additions are what’s in season and what’s on hand. Consider switching in some sliced asparagus and fresh snow peas to really celebrate spring, or give chopped kale a shot rather than the standard spinach. Of course, if kelp noodles still elude you, the traditional dried and cooked cellophane noodles are always a welcome swap.

Kelp Noodle Japchae

1 12-Ounce Package Kelp Noodles, Drained and Soaked Water with a Splash of Vinegar for 15 Minutes

2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil, Divided
8 Ounces Seitan, Thinly Sliced

1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, Thinly Sliced
1 Teaspoon Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
6 – 8 Rehydrated Dried Shiitake Mushrooms, Stems Removed, and Thinly Sliced (Soaking Liquid Reserved)
1/2 Cup Sliced Fresh Cremini or Button Mushrooms
1 – 2 Small Carrots, Julienned
1 Red Bell Pepper, Julienned

3 Tablespoons Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
6 Ounces Fresh Spinach
1 Scallion, Thinly Sliced
2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers, cut into 2-inch julienne

Toasted Black or White Sesame Seeds (Optional)

While the kelp noodles are soaking (which helps to soften them up a bit,) heat 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil in a large skillet. Once hot, toss in the seitan, and sauté for about 5 – 8 minutes until the pieces are all nicely browned. Move the seitan onto a plate, and let rest while you move on to the remainder of the stir-fry. Start draining the kelp noodles at this point so that they’re not sopping wet when you need them.

Add the remaining sesame oil to the pan, and start by adding in the onion, ginger, and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent and highly aromatic. Toss in the mushrooms, carrots, and pepper, along with about 1/4 cup of the reserved shiitake soaking liquid, and cook for another 8 – 10 minutes, until all the veggies are softened but still crisp. Mix together the tamari, agave, mirin, and pepper, and pour the mixture into the skillet, stirring to incorporate. Add in the kelp noodles and cook for 3 – 4 minutes, to allow the flavorful liquids to become assimilated. Finally, toss in the spinach, and cook for only 30 seconds or so to lightly wilt the greens. If using kale or any heartier greens, give it another minute or so to become tender. Turn off the heat and stir in the scallion and cucumber. Top with sesame seeds if desired. Enjoy hot or let cool and eat as a salad.

Makes About 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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The Kale Conundrum

Kale: The poster child for all things wholesome, healthy, and generally good. Once shunned as merely a frilly garnish for deli cases, no greater redemption story can be found in the produce aisle. Excellent both cooked and raw, agreeable with any flavors thrown at it, kale remains humble even after so much glowing praise has elevated it to super food status, willing to work with any supporting ingredients thrown at it. Joining the bandwagon like everyone else, I dutifully buy my kale, encouraged by those frilly, vibrant leaves, imagining a sea of recipes ideal for this fresh addition.

Out of the grocery bag back at home, it gingerly goes into the vegetable bin. A day later, heavier vegetables are moved around and get placed on top of the once firm stems, now quickly softening to imitate limp noodles. Another day passes, and surely I’ve forgotten I ever purchased such a thing; the tender green curls are crushed beneath a second load of re-sorted produce. Fast forward a week, and no doubt that same kale would still be there, beginning to yellow around the edges drooping like a neglected bouquet of flowers. Kale goes into the bin, and it’s time to go grocery shopping again. Oh, look at that kale, I should get some!

No more of this madness! I’ve had enough of throwing away perfectly good kale. My forgetfulness is inexplicable, but for some reason, kale just never seems to quite fit into what I’m making at the moment. Instead of repeating the same pattern yet again, I stopped the cycle halfway through, deciding that the only way out was to construct a new dish built around the greenery itself.

Typical kale pitfalls include: 1) Giant, uncut pieces that must be chewed for months to properly break down, 2) Overcooked, grey, and bitter leaves, and 3) Bland, boring and approaches simply too austere to genuinely enjoy. Shredding my raw kale finely and pairing it with bright, exciting flavors solved my last remaining scraps of hesitation with ease. Kelp noodles were sitting sadly at the bottom of the fridge, similarly forgotten, so I threw them in as well, but they turned out to be superfluous. With or without the noodles, I know this is one dish that will put the brakes on my poor kale-keeping habits.

A one-dish wonder that won’t weigh you down, this is a substantial salad that packs in edamame for protein, and plenty of good fats via avocado, pinenuts, and just a dab of olive oil. Above all else though, the invigorating lemon and ginger dressing makes it no chore to plow through a big bowlful of greens, no matter how remiss you’ve been on squeezing them into the daily diet before.

Crave-Worthy Kale Salad

Optional:
12 Ounce Package Kelp Noodles
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
Warm Water

1 Bunch Kale, Washed and Dried
3 Scallions
1 Cup Shelled Edamame
1 English Cucumber, Halved and Sliced
1 Ripe Avocado
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Big Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Salt to Taste
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts or Sunflower Seeds

If using kelp noodles, place them in a small bowl and add warm water to cover. Mix in the lemon juice and stir to combine. Let sit and soften for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the salad. Rinse and drain thoroughly before using.

Remove the large, woody stems from the kale, and then stack up the leaves on top of each other for easier slicing. Chop them into thin ribbons, and add them to a large bowl. Thinly slice the scallions, and toss those in along with the edamame and cucumber.  Dice the avocado and toss it with the lemon juice before introducing it to into the same bowl, along with any leftover juice. Finally whisk together the oil, mirin, lemon zest, ginger, cayenne, and salt, and pour the dressing over the greens. Toss everything very well to combine, and as well as the kelp noodles if using. Top each serving with pine nuts or sunflower seeds before serving.

Serves 4 – 6

Printable Recipe

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