Szechwan Noodles and Your Grocery Store

I am lucky to live within 15 minutes of two really great grocery stores that carry an array of produce and that also put said produce on sale at AH-MAZ-ING prices.  Our rule of thumb for grocery shopping is to purchase what’s on sale for .99 cents/lb (or less), and spend a total of $60 at the most.  But…if I see red peppers, cucumbers, and limes on sale, I have to splurge and get the rest of the fixings to go along with my most favorite go-to pasta meal:  Szechwan (Sichuan) Noodles from Moosewood Restaurant Favorites.  {Have I convinced you to purchase this cookbook yet?}  I keep this recipe permanently tagged in the cookbook–I can’t think of an easier, better tasting, and check-all-the-cravings dinner!

IMG_5251sezchwan noodles

The recipe itself calls for just cucumber, scallions, and bean sprouts to be added to the noodles.  But I love, love, love adding as many veggies as I can to make this dish a crispy crunchy satisfying treat of a meal.  The magic is in the spicy peanut dressing–it makes the noodles creamy, spicy, peanuty and so slurpably delicious!  Stir fry whatever veggies your grocery store has on sale this week, and then add the sauce to your noodles, throw a couple lime slices and sliced cucumber on the side, sprinkle roasted and salted peanuts on top, and you will thank the high heavens for the bowl of goodness in your hands.  And again, the next day, when you are eating leftovers for lunch.

Lest you think I am a professional with a studio kitchen of sorts, and the food and plating is all staged, I need to remind you that I am actually photographing my dinner for you.  Right after taking a few shots (or lots and lots of shots), I sit down and devour my plate of food.  I undoubtedly forget adding a few toppings here and there, and in this case, I realized I had forgotten to sprinkle roasted, salted peanuts on my dish after I had already inhaled half of the bowl.  My one suggestion:  Don’t forget your peanuts!


SZECHWAN NOODLES

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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This recipe is adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant Favorites Cookbook, with the adaptation being the addition of all the veggies!  Use whatever veggies you have on hand, the more the merrier–the yummy secret is in the spicy peanut sauce (which is straight from the cookbook, not adapted).  Most of your time will be getting your veggies prepped–they all need to be julienned to match the thickness of your noodles.  Once they are prepared, though, your cook time will be a snap.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE STIR FRY

  • 1/2 pound long noodles of choice (linguine, angel hair, soba, udon, rice, etc.)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and julienned in about 2″ sticks
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and julienned in about 2″ sticks
  • 1 cup snow peas, julienned on the diagonal
  • 1 cup broccoli florets, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup cilantro chopped well
  • 4-6 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 tablespoon Szechwan Seasoning

INGREDIENTS FOR THE SAUCE

  • 1/3 cup peanut butter (I prefer using chunky)
  • 1/3 cup warm water (you can even use cooking water from your noodles; the warm water will help melt the p.b. and mix a smoother sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (or ponzu sauce)
  • 1 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1-3 teaspoons Sambal Oelek (Chinese Chili Paste with Garlic–you should be able to find it in any grocery store in the “Asian Aisle”.  Using less will equal less heat, using more will equal more heat.  You can add up to a tablespoon if you like lots and lots of heat!)

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS

  • Mini cucumber, sliced thinly (or regular sized cucumber, quartered and sliced)
  • Lime quarters
  • Sprinkling of more fresh cilantro
  • Sprinkling of roasted, salted peanuts
  • Sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS

  1. Boil water to cook your noodles and cook according to package directions.
  2. While the noodles are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of sesame oil on medium-high heat in a large saute pan or stir fry pan.  Saute the julienned veggies (carrot through broccoli) with salt and pepper to taste until they are just crisp tender, not soggy.  If you have Szechwan Seasoning, add 1 tablespoon while sautéing.  If you don’t have the Szechwan Seasoning, you can add red pepper flakes for a little heat, and top with sesame seeds at the end, but otherwise the sauce will be your source of flavor.
  3. Whisk all the ingredients for the sauce.
  4. Drain the noodles and immediately stir with the sauce, cilantro, scallions, and sautéed veggies.
  5. Serve with optional toppings.

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Noodles with Red Lentil Curry

red lentil curry ingredients

Equals

red lentil curry intro

This is it.  This is the perfect recipe to use up the last zucchini your garden may be giving you, as well as add a little curry heat to warm you up in the cool evenings.  I adapted this recipe  from Forks Over Knives–a super simple and super delicious two-pot meal (one for the curry, and one for the noodles)!

Just saute your veggies, add the lentils and curry, saute a bit more…

red lentil curry 1

Then add your greens and stock and let simmer for about 20 minutes, and voila!

red lentil curry 2

The recipe calls for spinach, but I had swiss chard on hand, so I used that.  In the past I’ve also used the green power mix from Costco.  I know this looks like a lot of greens, but they’ll cook down.  I’ve also used whatever pasta I had on hand–fettuccine, angel hair, or even short pastas.  This particular time I actually used what the recipe called for–brown rice noodles.  Adding lemon zest makes all your food dreams come true–it’s just the right amount of zip to brighten whatever you’re making.

red lentil curry 3 red lentil curry 4Using red lentils also makes me think the lentil sauce is going to be this appealing orange color, but probably due to the greens, the lentils don’t retain their orange color.  Feel free to use green or brown lentils if that’s what you have on your shelf.  Chef Sroufe notes in his recipe that red lentils cook quickly, have more flavor, and end up with a creamier texture, but I am no respecter of lentils, and they all cook within 20 minutes, so I think it’s personal preference (and pantry availability).


NOODLES WITH LENTIL CURRY

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from Forks Over Knives Cookbook

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large zucchini, diced
  • 1 cup lentils (red, green, or brown)
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder (you can add more if you want a bit more heat)
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • 6 cups packed dark greens (spinach, swiss chard, kale, or a mixture)
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon, and a second lemon sectioned and served with bowls
  • 1 pound rice noodles or 1/2 pound of “normal” pasta (angel hair, fettuccine, or short pasta)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Saute the onion and zucchini over medium to medium-high heat in a large pot.  Add a little salt and pepper to help sweat the onion and zucchini.
  2. Once onion is translucent, add the lentils, curry powder, and sesame seeds and stir until you can smell the curry.  Add 3 cups of vegetable stock and the greens.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and let simmer until the lentils are done (soft but not mushy), about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You may need to add up to one more cup of stock during this process, to make it a little saucier.  Oh yeah.
  3. While the lentil curry is simmering, prepare the noodles according to package directions.
  4. When the curry is done, stir in the lemon juice.  Serve in bowls topped with lemon zest and lemon sections on the side.

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No-Brainer “Not Dry” Dinner

We moved this summer, the first week of June.  We spent the last week of May gradually packing things, including the kitchen, and we ate off paper plates and used paper cups, and meals were mainly of the cupboard-non-perishable variety.  And then we spent the first two weeks of June unpacking and getting settled.  I knew it was taking me too long to get things “settled” when I asked my boys what they wanted for breakfast, and my oldest replied, “Dry stuff and water.”

So.  We went grocery shopping the next day, and I grabbed a few items to make a No-Brainer “Not Dry” Dinner.  We all need one of these every so often, right?  Something that’s fast, easy, nutritious and not a bowl of something microwaved…and not dry stuff.

I’ve heard and read this phrase often in the food world: “If it grows together, it goes together.”  I was feeling a bit Mediterranean, so I beelined it over to the olive bar and filled a cup of marinated artichoke hearts and a cup of Calamata olives, then from the produce section grabbed a fresh bunch of parsley, tomatoes, and a lemon, and knew I had the rest of the non-perishable ingredients at home to throw together a pretty good no-brainer pasta salad.

I found a great tip in an Eating Well Recipe Magazine:  A great pasta salad takes 5 steps:  1. Pick and cook a pasta.  2.  Load up on veggies.  3.  Add a lean protein (this doesn’t have to be meat, by the way–could be beans, nuts, seeds, hard-boiled eggs, etc.).  4.  Boost flavor (dried fruit, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, pickled vegetables, etc.).  5. Dressing.  (You don’t need to have a mayonnaise or cream-based dressing to make a pasta salad satisfying–make an easy vinaigrette with an acid, oil, salt and pepper.)

not dry pasta salad


No Brainer Mediterranean Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: no brainer
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This recipe is for a Mediterranean Pasta Salad, but remember the 5 Pasta Salad steps to turn any ingredients of your choosing into a great pasta salad: 1. Pasta 2. Veggies 3. Lean protein 4. Flavor 5. Dressing.  If it grows together, it goes together!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 pound pasta, cooked
  • 8 oz mixed Calamata olives, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 15oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup roasted/salted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • Vinaigrette: 1 lemon juiced, 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and divide among serving bowls.
  2. Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients and drizzle over the salads.

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Zucchini Noodles and the Cauliflower Craze

I truly and sincerely believed I had been the first one to stumble upon creamy, alfredo sauce goodness in the form of cauliflower a couple summers ago.  I was ready to call the patent office, or Gordon Ramsay, or the Food Network, or whoever controls food recipes today, because I had just invented the world’s best veggie alfredo sauce.

And then I Googled it.

You know how Google works–confirming all your fears and dashing all your hopes…Not only was creamy cauliflower sauce already in existence, but I also discovered cauliflower “pizza crust”, cauliflower “mac&cheese”, cauliflower “rice”, cauliflower “buffalo chicken bites”…I’d had no idea the cauliflower craze was out there in full swing!  I have found many different variations of the cauliflower alfredo sauce, so I don’t know who to credit, but this is my version: Cauliflower Corn Cream Sauce.  I use this white sauce as alfredo sauce for noodles, lasagna, mac&cheese, the white sauce for a pot pie–the list can go on.  It is delicious and creamy and full of veggies.

For this recipe, I made sautéed zucchini noodles and red pepper and topped it with my Cauliflower Corn Cream Sauce, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and sunflower seeds.  It was all the pasta-y goodness of fettuccine alfredo without that big-stuffed-full-pasta-y belly!

zucchini pasta with cauliflower corn cream sauce


ZUCCHINI NOODLES WITH CAULIFLOWER CORN CREAM SAUCE

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS FOR THE SAUCE

  • 1 head cauliflower, trimmed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups of corn, fresh or frozen
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • 2-3 tablespoons of half-and-half
  • 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
  • Optional: you can also add 1/2-1 whole red bell pepper or a handful of fresh parsley; this will turn your sauce an orange-ish or greenish hue, respectively.  Also, if you wish to make this vegan, omit the half-and-half and use nutritional yeast instead of the parmesan cheese–it will still end up creamy and sweet and delicious.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE ZUCCHINI NOODLES

  • 4 medium zucchini, finely julienned, or “noodled”*
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted/salted sunflower seeds
  • sprinkling of parmesan cheese (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Start with the sauce:  Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the cauliflower, onion, and corn (and red pepper, if using), and salt and pepper to taste.  Saute until the cauliflower is golden, then add vegetable stock until the vegetables are covered and allow to simmer until the cauliflower is just tender.  Load everything into your blender (a BlendTec is nice because it all fits!), and add the half-and-half, parmesan cheese, and parsley, if using.  Blend until you get a creamy consistency.  Play around with adding water/stock/half-and-half until you get the consistency you want.
  2. While the vegetables are simmering for the sauce, heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the zucchini noodles and chopped red pepper, salt and pepper to taste, and saute 5-7 minutes–the zucchini should be just tender, not mushy or cooked until it’s falling apart.
  3. Timing tip:  while the sauce veggies are simmering in the pot, you can prepare your zucchini noodles.  While the zucchini noodles are sautéing, you can blend your sauce.  Everything should be ready right on time for a hot dish!
  4. This will make large servings for 2 or smaller servings for 4; divide evenly among your bowls.  To plate, you can add the sauce on top of the zucchini noodles in the pan and coat everything evenly, or place the noodles in your bowl and top with sauce, however you prefer your noodles.  Sprinkle with roasted/salted sunflower seeds and parmesan cheese.

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zucchini tool
* I found this handheld noodler/julienne thing at TJ Maxx for a couple dollars and it’s been a dream.  I’ve seen vegetable noodlers out there, but this has worked for me.