I decided that I will not allow myself to buy new produce until I use up most of what I have in my vegetable bins. I will permit a few onions, carrots and sweet potatoes to reside awhile longer. But the cauliflower and peppers must be used up, and soon. Today!
The cauliflower in my refrigerator is from my last delivery from Fresh Direct. I shall not admit to you how long ago that was. Let's just say that the cauliflower's time is almost up, pardner. Time to cook mon petit chou-fleur before it is too late.
Coincidentally, one of the Hetty McKinnon cookbooks has taken up residence on my kitchen table, patiently waiting to be read. It was kismet to make McKinnon's recipe for sweet and sour cauliflower with ramen for my next meal. Not only would I use up my quickly aging cauliflower, but the planets were aligning because I also had ramen noodles in my larder. The package of buckwheat noodles were from the food shop my son did for me at the start of NYC's covid-19 lock-down. Perfect! I would get to use the ramen in something more than this lazy human's meal of boiling noodles and eating them with gobs of butter. You have no idea how lazy I can be sometimes.
I recently watched a live concert on YouTube, by the singer Lucy Kaplansky. She, her husband, and her dog Lucy, have escaped NYC and are living in Cape Cod. When I see photos of her et la famille on social media, I envy their walks on the beach. During the concert, she commented about how she now spends her days. Her activities include walking the dog, and writing new songs. And like the rest of us, constantly cooking. She has never cooked so much in all of her life. Probably true for most of us, as we float, suspended in time during this pandemic.
One of the things I miss right now, as I tend to be quite cautious (strike one: a wee bit elderly; strike two: immuno-suppressed), is the ease of take-out food. Take-out food, where the dishes are more complexly flavorful than our always cooking at-home, home-cooked meals. I crave new flavors, maybe even something exotic. And this recipe for sweet and sour cauliflower with ramen noodles, satisfies this want for something more than the ordinary.
Now, surprise, surprise! This recipe calls for making tempura with the cauliflower. Because I have not made tempura since the wok craze of the late 70's / early 80's, this is a challenge.
My first job as a book designer in publishing had me commuting to an office in mid-town Manhattan off of Fifth Avenue. Walking West, around the corner from where I worked, the block was lined with Japanese restaurants. Most people eating there were on expense account lunches. Nonetheless, during some of my lunch hours, I ventured in alone. I would sit at the sushi bar. The sushi chefs would call out in unison to greet me, and I nodded back to them, I studied the menu carefully, and proceeded to conservatively order single pieces of a very small variety of sushi. More often, in my younger days, when eating dinner at Japanese restaurants with friends, I would only order bento boxes featuring tempura.
I recently watched a David Chang video wherein he cooked tempura for his family. His tempura would top a rice and protein dish. So, with Chang as my spirit guide, I gave cooking tempura another go. Chang is so relaxed when he cooks on his Instagram videos. Watching him gave me confidence that I could successfully cook tempura with ease. Because the timing of the fry so minimal, the tempura would be a healthy version of a fried food. Not oily, but airy and light, with that satisfying crunchy coating.
This recipe for sweet and sour cauliflower with ramen noodles is a fusion of a Chinese sweet and sour sauce with Japanese tempura and of course, ramen. Instead of the bento box style of separating out the tempura and dipping it into a tiny vessel holding the sauce, here, the sauce and tempura are incorporated into the whole. They sit atop a luscious bed of noodles flavored with sesame oil and brightly decorated with slivers of red pepper. Toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallions are sprinkled over the top, as a final, ta dah! And surprise, surprise, one of the ingredients in the sweet and sour sauce is a bit of tomato sauce, from the "Western" larder. A contribution from McKinnon's mom, who Hetty describes as being an "ingenious cook."
Try this recipe, and enjoy! If you like this recipe and are looking for another vegetable salad with Asian flavors try Cooking the Kitchen's Broccolini and Sweet Sesame Salad.Jump to Recipe
This, that, and the other....
I was working on a quilt top and listening to an audible version of Bene Brown's book, "Daring Greatly." Brown often tells personal stories to illustrate the point she is making. One that stayed with me was when Bene Brown described a day spending one on one time with her daughter. They were doing something outdoors, and having a perfect day. At one point her daughter stopped and Bene asked if she was ok. Her daughter replied that she was taking a picture of the day with her mind, so that she could remember it forever.
Here are some of my own mind snapshots of things seen out my front window, and on walks in the neighborhood during self-distancing in the time of covid- 19:
- Neighbor's daughter and her girl-friend sitting outside the entire day. Toward the end of the evening, one starts to play a ukulele and sings a song. I wished I could hear the music from across the street.
- Up the block, another neighbor's family. A mom with three little kids. She has set up what looks like a pretty good telescope, and she is setting the lens for things to look at. I imagine that this mom may be tired of home-schooling. That she had the clever idea of buying a telescope as part of making learning fun and exciting again. Could they be looking at the sun? Maybe the moon, which is often visible during daylight hours.
- Another neighbor, across the street and down the block. He has set up folding chairs and is sharing an evening meal with friends, with whom he has formed a safe pod. The members of this outdoor dinner party are distanced. Some are sitting on the stoop. How sweet to share community over food again.
- In the park, a group of young boys playing kickball. All masked and socially distanced, but able to play sports again and having fun.
- Another group of boys in the park having a water fight with super soakers. They have basins of water where they can refill for the next round of the battle.
- A woman who tied aerial yoga equipment to a tree in Prospect Park, and is suspended like a trapeze artist, upside down in the air.
- A man sitting on a bench and reading. The bench is in front of a mausoleum in Greenwood Cemetary. Said bench is meant to be used by friends and relatives visiting their deceased loved ones. But this gentleman is making the most of it, in the shade, very distanced from all of the walkers, enjoying his book.
- In the streets, new outdoor restaurant spaces sporting tables with umbrellas, strings of lights suspended in the air above, and planters forming a protective barrier around the perimeters.. People are enjoying drinks and eating restaurant meals again, albeit outside. Reminds me of the first time my husband and I were in Rome, walking about one summer evening. In the open plazas, and along the streets and alleyways, all of the restaurants had outdoor tables for dining. That night, Rome felt like one big party, as does Park Slope now, day and evening.
- People wearing hats to protect themselves from the hot summer sun, tending their front yard gardens. Pruning and watering their shrubs and plants.
- Black lives matter signs in chalk on the sidewalk, in home made signs tied to fence posts, and taped on windows. And live demonstrations in front of the library at Grand Army Plaza. Last week I saw a line of demonstrators marching on one of the paths through Prospect Park, chanting names of the unjustly killed followed by "say his name, say her name."
Sweet and Sour Cauliflower with Ramen Noodles
This recipe teams "a classic Chinese sweet and sour sauce with chickpea-battered cauliflower and instant ramen noodles, in an irresistable salad to please all ages." Hetty McKinnon (Family)
- 9 ounces (250 g) instant (or fresh) ramen noodles
- 1 cup (100 g) chickpea flour I used all purpose flour, as that is what I had in my larder
- 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
- sunflower or vegetable oil
- 1 large cauliflower head (about 1-¾ pounds/800g), cut into florets You may substitute broccoli for the cauliflower. I had some eggplant, so used that in addition to the cauliflower.
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds (white, black, or both), toasted
- 4 scallions, finely sliced
- sea salt and white pepper
- 1 cup cold water or club soda or seltzer
Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 3 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
- 3 tablespoon tomato sauce
- 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the ramen noodles. Cook according to the package instructions, until the noodles are just cooked. Drain and rinse under running water until the noodles are completely cold. (I would add the sesame oil now, so the noodles don't clump together). Set aside.
In a bowl, whisk the chickpea flour, 1 cup (250 ml) of cold water (or club soda or seltzer), garlic and a big pinch of sea salt together until smooth. (I added an egg). (Note: Cold water slows the development of gluten, and that allows the oil to get into and around the batter. That's also why you want the batter to be lumpy - you don't want to work it too much.)
Place a frying pan (I used a wok) over a medium-high heat and add a layer of sunflower or vegetable oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan). When hot (test with a wooden chopstick or spoon; if it sizzles, the oil is ready).
Note: I dredged my vegetable pieces in flour before dipping then into the tempura batter.
Dip each piece of cauliflower into the chickpea batter and carefully place it straight into the oil. Fry for 1-2 minutes on each side, until golden all over.
Remove and place on absorbent paper towel. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Repeat the process until you have fried all the cauliflower, making sure you are controlling the temperature of the oil at all times-increasing and reducing the heat as needed-to ensure you get an even golden color.
Sweet and Sour Sauce
Add the sugar, vinegar, tamari or soy sauce, tomato sauce, and garlic to a small saucepan, and place over a low heat. Stir and bring to a boil.
Whisk the cornstarch together with 2 tablespoons of cold water until dissolved. Then slowly stir the cornstarch mixture into the pan.
Reduce the heat to low, and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes until the sauce is thickened.
Finishing and Plating
Combine the noodles with the red bell pepper slices and sesame oil. Season with sea salt and white pepper, and toss together.
Top the noodles with the sweet and sour cauliflower. Scatter the top of the dish with the sesame seeds and scallions.