Sunday, March 29, 2009

Scoping Out the Neighborhood

Little by little, I'm exploring our new neighborhood. I've yet to find a great butcher or fish store, but I can cross one thing off the list: a good health food store. It's Gary Null's Uptown Whole Foods Store. It has a big produce section, lots of bulk dry goods and a substantial Asian foods aisle... where Fork & I picked up mirin, rice vinegar, naturally brewed soy sauce and udon noodles. I was on my way to making Asian Noodles in Broth with Vegetables and Tofu, a recipe from Peter Berley's Flexitarian Table.

Berley's approach is along the lines of Almost Meatless; he gives instructions for making the dish with either flank steak or soft tofu. It's positioned more as a "please everybody" approach than an environmental or health-oriented one, but the idea is the same: a little less meat and a lot more veggies. We bought the flank steak, which Berley suggested, at Food Emporium. (Not sure I liked the store; while Fork thought their meat department was great, I found other areas lacking. But that's another post!) Turns out, the steak was the part of the dish we liked least. I don't think it has much to to do with Food Emporium; rather, flank steak is such a tough cut that marinating it would've gone a long way towards making it more tender. Instead, Berley has you slice the steak into thin strips and cook it in the broth. The broth, made from soy, mirin, rice vinegar and fresh ginger, was terrific, deeply flavored and smooth. But cooking the steak in it, even for just two minutes, resulted in a grey-ish meat that frankly was just kind of "eh."

Aside from the meat, though, this soup was really great. With udon noodles, snow peas (I used green beans because Food Emporium--ahem--didn't have them), mushrooms, radishes, carrots and scallions, plus a dab of hot sauce, it was well-rounded and filling. I'll definitely return to this soup, building on what I know now. And hopefully once I find a good butcher, I'll try it again, with a strip steak, or even just a sirloin. Like our new 'hood, this one's got lots of possibilities.--S

Asian Noodles in Broth with Vegetables and Tofu/Steak

serves 4 (2 servings tofu; 2 servings steak)

1 8-ounce package udon noodles

½ cup soy sauce
1/3 cup mirin
3 T rice vinegar
1 T finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 c snow peas, strings removed and halved crosswise on the diagonal
1 c thinly sliced mushrooms
6 oz flank steak, sliced against the grain into short thin strips
8 oz soft tofu, cubed

1 romaine lettuce heart, finely shredded
½ c thinly sliced red radishes or daikon matchsticks
½ c carrot matchsticks
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
Toasted sesame oil, for serving (optional)
Hot sauce, for serving (optional)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and divide among four large soup bowls.
2. In each of two small saucepans, combine 1 ½ c water with half of the soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, and ginger and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add half the snow peas and half the mushrooms to each pan, then add the steak to one pan and the tofu to the other. Simmer until the snow peas are crisp-tender, the meat is cooked, and the tofu is heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Divide the vegetable garnishes among the bowls and ladle the hot soup over the noodles. Drizzle each serving with a few drops of sesame oil and hot sauce, if desired. Serve immediately.

Recipe courtesy of The Flexitarian Table

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