tale of two cities and one ingredient

Hello from still-frozen Chicago, where I am dreaming of lemongrass basil sherbet while my ice cream freezer accumulates a coat of dust about as thick as the snow accumulating on the sidewalk. I wish I was kidding. But the sunny side of spending my studycation in the Land of the Windchill Factor is that warm and hearty things are still very much in season here. The result of my first foray into cooking with lemongrass was a dish with one flip-flopped foot in Miami (bright flavors of lime, cilantro, and jalapeno) and one snowbooted foot in Chicago (comforting Udon noodles and fried tofu).

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There’s a lot of room for tweaks here- it’s the kind of recipe that is great for using whatever odds and ends you have in the crisper drawer. I can imagine that red pepper, snap peas, or edamame would all make great additions. For the cilantro-averse among you, I think subbing basil for part of the cilantro in the sauce would work well. You can cook the tofu any way that suits you or even leave it raw. Frying adds an extra, but in my opinion worth-it, step. Most importantly, if you can get your hands on some lemongrass, don’t skip it- all of the praises Joanna sings for it are founded.

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Next week’s ingredient is pomegranate- stay tuned…

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Lemongrass Udon Noodles

6 oz dried udon noodles

8 oz tofu, cut into small pieces

2 T flour

1/3 c vegetable oil

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

2 c thinly sliced red cabbage

2 carrots, grated

1 jalapeno, thinly sliced

1/4 c cashews or peanuts, roughly chopped

Salt and

For the sauce

1 T vegetable oil

2 stalks lemongrass, sliced

1 T chopped ginger

3 cloves garlic

1 large handful cilantro

2 T brown sugar

Juice of one lime

2 T soy sauce

Combine all sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until well combined and fairly smooth (about the consistency of pesto). Taste and adjust the seasonings to taste. Set aside.

Boil the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Put the tofu in a bowl, dust with flour, and toss to coat. Heat 1/3 c of oil in a wok and fry the tofu until golden (you may have to do it in multiple batches depending on the size of your skillet. Drain on a plate lined with paper towel.

Drain excess oil from the skillet you used for the tofu, leaving about 1 T. Cook the onion for 4-5 minutes until it softens. Add the noodles to the skillet and cook 1-2 min to heat. Add the sauce and the tofu, mix to combine everything, and cook just a minute more. Remove from heat and stir in all the vegetables plus the nuts.

Top with rice vinegar or lime juice and salt to taste. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.

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