Quick, Easy and Seasonal: Try This Udon Bowl with Salmon and Spring Vegetables

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If there’s anything better than a Farmer’s Market to stimulate me to get into the kitchen and create a fresh, seasonal recipe, I can’t think what it would be. Warm weather and long sunny days have already descended on the Bay Area, and with that comes an abundance of early-season produce.  This morning I found leeks, garden peas, fava beans, green onions and shiitake mushrooms, all of which figure in this light, yet comforting udon noodle recipe. At my local Asian supermarket I picked up a package of fresh udon noodles. Using these precooked noodles makes an already easy dish go together even faster, and I find these noodles to be thicker and more succulent than noodles cooked from dry.  A caution: often these noodles come with a favoring packet full of weird ingredients–just toss it away! Start with a well-seasoned stock, and you’ll end up with a hearty, satisfying lunch or dinner. I’ve added only a little soy sauce, there’s no ginger or garlic or spice or oil, so the favor of the fresh vegetables, salmon and noodles really shines. And I think you’ll appreciate that this recipe requires only one pot, and comes together in under 30 minutes.  Happy Spring!  (Full recipe after the jump)

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Great Food Fast: Make These Quick Pickled Veggies In Only 24 Hours

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While pickling can take weeks, if not months, it’s also true that light, crisp pickles can be made in hours. You could eat these Chinese-inspired pickled veggies after only a few hours in the brine, but I think you’ll enjoy them more if you let them rest over night. Pickling, of course, refers to the process of preserving food in salt or acidic brine, thus achieving a pH of less than 4.6, enough to kill most bacteria. Before the invention of canning, freezing and refrigeration, pickling allowed people who lived in cold climates to enjoy vegetables throughout the winter. And pickling is still a great way to prepare vegetables, as once they’re made, they rest in your fridge, always ready to eat. Truly, a healthy fast food.

If you’re worried about the salt content in homemade pickles, keep a couple of things in mind: salt is necessary as a preservative and for that traditional “pickled” taste. Also remember that much of the salt stays in the brine (which you won’t be eating), and that pickles are meant to be eaten in small quantities. They are always a condiment, never the main event. Rinse pickles under running water before eating, if you want to further reduce their saltiness. If covered by brine, these pickles will keep safely in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

This is a basic recipe. Vary it by using other seasonal vegetables, heat it up with pepper of some kind, if you like, or add herbs and spices. Enjoy with rice or noodles, and pickles are a great addition to most any sandwich. Recipe, after the jump.

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Veggies I used in these pickles: daikon, carrot, cucumber, ginger and garlic. You could also pickle celery, turnip, bell peppers or other seasonal vegetables in the same way.

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Summer’s Harvest: What To Eat On A Hot Day? Veggie Salads With A Refreshing Lemon-Mint Dressing

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Quick, satisfying, colorful, seasonal, nutritionally rich.  Isn’t that how you want to eat on a warm day? You’ll likely be able to get this salad on the table in 20 minutes or so.  Make the lemon-mint dressing while the corn steams, then it’s just a matter of slicing and arranging. Yes, arrange the little salads elegantly, but don’t be too fussy as this meal is meant to be casual. I’m providing a recipe, but it’s just a template–make a similar salad with whatever you have available or like best. Take a photo of  your salad and email it to me so I can post it. I’m sure other readers would love to know how you put yours together. Detailed recipes after the jump.

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Oodles of Noodles: You’ll Love These Noodles With A Spicy Peanut Dressing

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I’ve just spent four days cooking for fifty friendly and appreciative women from the Center for Spiritual Living of San Jose who gathered at the Saratoga Springs Retreat Center. Among all the things I cooked, this rice noodle salad with a spicy peanut dressing rated as one of their favorites. While clearly Asian, it’s hard to say whether this recipe is more Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian or Thai–perhaps it’s a bit of each. Although white rice noodles are an Asian staple, I’m suggesting you upgrade nutritionally by using brown rice spaghetti, which you’ll find at Trader Joe’s, and very likely at your local supermarket as well. Serve this as a side dish, or make it a light entree by adding a few ounces of seasoned tofu or tempeh, or whatever protein you fancy. Make plenty, because these noodles are so much fun to eat, I’m betting that even your skeptical non-vegetarian friends are going to want seconds (full recipe after the jump).

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Great Food Fast: Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms (For A Taste of Spring)

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It must be spring! Here in the Bay Area it’s gone from cold and rainy to sunny and hot in just a few days. When I imagine spring, I think of tender green vegetables such as asparagus, water cress and peas. And no pea is as versatile and easy to use as are sugar snaps.  If you’ve guessed that they’re a cross between Chinese snow peas and shell peas, you’d be right. The new variety was developed by a pair of plant breeders in Twin Falls, Idaho. Sugar snap peas are a lazy cooks dream, they don’t need shelling, and they stand up much better to high heat than delicate (although lovely) snow peas. Quick and light cooking methods are the way to go–I suggest either a brief blanching, or as in this recipe, a stir fry. Wash, and trim off the stem ends, that’s all the prep they need.  You could have this dish on the table in ten to fifteen minutes. Eat them right away though, they lose their charm if they sit around. The full recipe is after the jump. Continue reading

Great Food Fast: Try This Traditional Japanese Daikon and Apricot Sunomono

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I spent this past Saturday cooking with my friend Fumiko Arao in the lovely home she shares with her husband Ken in the hills above Silicon Valley. Fumi grew up in Tokyo and learned traditional Japanese cooking from her mother and grandmother and cooks in a style influenced by kaiseki which I would characterize as light, clean and elegant. We made six dishes which together compose a complete vegan Japanese meal.  In the next few days I will share with you everything we made, but I thought I’d start with the sunomono.

A sunomono is a traditional small side dish. Something between a pickle and a salad, a sunomono involves fresh, raw vegetables, sometimes cooked sea food such as shrimp or scallops, and always includes vinegar (“su” in Japanese). A sunomono which I’ve made many times combines lightly-salted, thinly-sliced cucumber with wakame, a sea vegetable, dressed with rice vinegar, a little sweetener of some sort, and sometimes a drop or two of soy sauce (not so much as give the dish a brown color). As these simple and quick-to-make dishes never contain oil, they are refreshing and low in fat (the vegetarian versions especially). Fumi’s sunomono, her grandmother’s recipe, beautifully balances the tartness of rice vinegar with the sweetness of dried apricots. Step-by-step instructions are after the jump… Continue reading

Great Food Fast: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brown Rice Crispy Treats

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When it comes to snacks, who doesn’t like chocolate and peanut butter combined with the crunchy goodness of brown rice crisps? Kids will love to eat and to help make these vegan, gently sweetened, easy-to-do sweets (adults in your life just might like them as much!). Full recipe after the jump… Continue reading