During a phone call the other night one of my friends commented that when a challenge in life seems insurmountable, sometimes you just have to take it one little step at a time, and eventually you will get “there”. I thought about that for a few moments and realized that actually “there” never comes, and we never reach it…. or maybe not until we leave these bodies. It’s not about the there. Life is all about the steps, the lessons, the progress, the process, the here.
Feeling thus inspired, after the phone call I thought I would make some food for our lunches the next day! Honestly dear friends, I have not felt like cooking much lately, which might be surprising to know about someone who has a food blog and a new cookbook coming out in a few weeks. There are some transitions going on at work and I’ve been staying well past dark to organize projects, plan, and get ready for the next day. Thus, big pots of hearty soup or masala flavored mung beans and rice have been regular fare around here. It’s easy to whip up a potful that will last a few days. Last Sunday I made a lovely batch of Butternut Squash, Roasted Green Chile & Corn Soup which Hubby and I enjoyed through Wednesday. I crumbled an ounce or two of queso fresco on top of each serving and maybe had a piece of toast on the side. Pretty basic, but still so good, and satisfying too.
Now, however, I was thinking of something with veggies, tofu, and basmati rice. I had a new pack of mixed stir-fry veggies from TJ’s (As much as I love and appreciate cooking from whole fresh foods, I also recognize that we also are better off managing the best we can with the resources available, and time is a resource!) that I knew I could use along with a half bunch of broccoli. Spying some soba noodles in the pantry I pulled out a couple bundles. These would cook up faster than rice and just at that moment I realized I actually felt like eating noodles, not rice, and besides they look so pretty when they land in the bowl!
The key to great stir fries? Keep it simple. Use just enough seasoning to bring out and enhance the flavor of the vegetables. Cook them only long enough, uncovered, for the veggies to become tender, yet still retaining their vibrant colors. And, what to season with? Your choice. This night I used only a bit of fresh ginger, some freshly ground dried red chiles, tamari soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil. You may also like to add a clove or two of fresh minced garlic.
First I put a pot of water on to boil with a dash of salt. Then, I added a handful of dried sliced shiitake mushrooms to a small bowl of hot water and set this aside so they could hydrate. Next I poured a drizzle of oil into my stainless steel wok, turned on the burner, and by the time the oil was hot I had already sliced an inch of fresh ginger into thin 1-inch matchsticks and tossed them in, along with a dash of crushed red chiles. (Being out of crushed red chiles, I had whizzed a few whole dried red chiles in my spice/coffee grinder and, in a few seconds, voila! Crushed red chilies!) After they had sizzled a moment or two, in went the packet of TJ veggies along with a just-chopped stalk of fresh broccoli. Stir and fry, stir and fry.
Meanwhile a half bunch of green onions found itself washed, trimmed and prettily sliced in diagonals, and a carton of firm tofu was chopped into bite sized cubes. When the veggies in the pan were starting to settle just a bit I added the tofu and most of the green onions. While those were heating, I mixed a couple tablespoons of arrowroot powder with a cup of water. Into the wok went some tamari soy sauce, the arrowroot mixture, a dash of toasted sesame oil, and those lovely shiitake mushrooms along with their tasty soaking water.
Just about this time I tossed my soba noodles into the now boiling pot of water. In another minute or two the sauce in the wok had become translucent and thickened just right… and before it started to bubble and boil I turned the heat off.
Arrowroot, just so you know, is rather fragile in sauces. If it heats too long, or at too high a heat, its delicate strands break apart and the sauce will return to a watery state. So never bring an arrowroot-based sauce or gravy to a boil. For more stable results you can use cornstarch. Happily, you can now find organic cornstarch in natural food markets. For myself, however, having some years ago seen the enlightening and entertaining documentary, King Corn, I have become a bit on the anti-corn side and prefer arrowroot powder over cornstarch.
The noodles were done in another minute or two (they take just about 4-5 minutes total). I plopped them into a colander to drain, and then added to the vegetables. Since I was preparing lunches for the next day, I mixed the noodles with the vegetables for easier eating out of a lunch container. However, if I had been serving these, I probably would serve the veggies and tofu over the noodles. Sometimes I serve the noodles on top! I love the look of how the noodles fall.
All that was left to do was toss it together, garnish with the reserved green onion, a squirt or two of Sriracha, and pack up our lunches for the next day. Of course there were leftovers, which Hubby and I finished off in no time. For more flavor, you might like to add all of the green onions at the very end, as they really do not need to cook at all.
Vegetable & Tofu Stir Fry with Soba Noodles
Yield: 3-4 Servings
1 cup hot water
1 handful dried sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons oil (peanut, coconut, or other oil for frying)
1 tablespoon peeled & chopped fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies
1 lb. Asian stir-fry vegetable mix (or assorted sliced vegetables)
1-2 stalks broccoli (peel stems if fat/tough), cut in bite size pieces
1 carton firm or extra firm fresh tofu, drained and cut in 1/2″ cubes
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch mixed with 1/2 cup cold water
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 bunch (5-6 each) green onions
2 bundles soba noodles (6-7 ounces)
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
Sriracha sauce as desired
Place 1 cup hot water in a small bowl and add dried mushrooms so they are all immersed in the water.
Fill a soup pot with about 4 quarts of water, add a dash of salt, and place on high heat to bring to a boil.
Place large wok on stove, turn heat to high, and add oil. When oil is hot add chopped fresh ginger and crushed red chilies. Sizzle for a minute or two, and add chopped vegetables and broccoli. Stir and fry the vegetables for 5 minutes until they are slightly tender. Add cubed tofu and hydrated mushrooms along with their soaking water, and stir.
Add soba noodles to the pot of now-boiling water.
Stir mixture in wok until all are heated through and the mushrooms are completely hydrated (discard any stubborn tough stems). Re-stir the combined arrowroot/cornstarch and water, and then add to mixture in wok. Turn heat to medium. Add toasted sesame oil, tamari soy sauce, and most of the green onions. Stir.
Check noodles for doneness: Remove a noodle and take a bite. If it is done enough for you, remove noodles from heat now and drain. If not, keep cooking another minute or two.
Stir the vegetable-tofu mixture until the sauce thickens and becomes translucent. Add more tamari as desired to taste. Turn off stove/remove from heat. Drain water from cooked noodles in colander.
To serve, divide noodles between individual serving bowls or place in serving dish, and top with vegetable-tofu-sauce mixture. Garnish with reserved chopped green onions and a drizzle of Sriracha. Enjoy. We did!