Charles Phan's Glass Noodles with Crab


Oh, how far have I come. Do you see that little green sprig, so innocent, so gentle, lying up there sweetly on that pile of noodles? Just a few years ago, I would have rather chewed on a stick than put a bit of cilantro into my meal, and certainly not for a reason as frivolous as garnish. Feh. But today, bring on the cilantro in all its weird glory! I want to strew with it! I might even chew on it, for a bit.

This is what I like to call progress.

(See wan plate below for comparison: definitely in need of a little sprucing, wouldn't you say?)


Luckily, the dish itself is quite tasty even without the cilantro and, man, is it fast. I do believe this counts as one of the speediest meals I've ever made that involved turning on a stove (and that does not include scrambled eggs, thankyouverymuch).

A brief aside on the nitty gritty: First of all, I couldn't find glass noodles. I bought Thai rice noodles instead, because it's all I could find that was even close, even though this is a dish from a Vietnamese chef. Don't do what I did: the rice noodles really aren't right here because of their texture, even though I thought the dish still quite delicious. You need that sort of chewy, pliant wonderfulness of a glass noodle here. Second of all, I bought canned crab instead of fresh. It was way cheaper and wild-caught, which is more than I could say for the frozen stuff available at the fish store in Forest Hills. (Which, maddeningly, closes by 6:30 every night, without fail. And refuses to label where the fish comes from. And doesn't give a hoot about all of this stuff either. Out-of-work, ethically-minded, entrepreneurial fishmongers of New York: come to Queens, would you? We need you.) Ultimately, between all the flavorings and the ratio of noodle to sauce to crab, I couldn't tell that the crab was canned (it tasted pretty good, is what I'm trying to say).

The recipe comes from an old column called The Chef that used to run in the New York Times and that I adored. One of the section's writers, like Mark Bittman or Amanda Hesser, would go and spend some time with a chef (like Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco, or Gabrielle Hamilton of New York City's Prune) and just shoot the breeze for a while, watching them cook, hearing them tell stories. That would get distilled into a little piece or several little pieces about the chef, his or her work and the restaurant they ran, with a few, truly choice recipes alongside (miraculously perfect for the home cook). That column is long-gone, sadly, and I never understood why. Does anyone reading this know Pete Wells? Tell him to bring back that column! It was such a gem.

I found these noodles to be compulsively edible. They slip down easily and are pretty light to boot. Plus the combination of oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil is irresistible: salty, nuanced, toasty, just so good. This is fast food at its best, and if you buy canned crab, even if it's wild-caught, it's cheap food, too.

Glass Noodles with Crab
Serves 2 very hungry people or 3 to 4 regular eaters

2 packages (2 ounces each) thin glass (mung bean thread) noodles
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or canola
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup trimmed and minced scallions
1 cup crab meat, free of shell
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Fresh cilantro for garnish

1. Cover noodles in warm water for about 10 minutes. Drain.

2. Put oil in a wok or large skillet, and turn heat to high. A minute later, add garlic and half the scallions and, almost immediately, the noodles and crab. Toss, and stir to mix the ingredients.

3. Add the sauces, taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Toss with sesame oil and remaining scallions. Garnish, and serve.

Melissa Clark's Pasta with Turkish-Style Beef, Eggplant and Yogurt Sauce


Oof. That ever happen to you? You spend a big part of your evening grocery shopping, prepping, and cooking, only to find yourself - twenty minutes later - staring at the half-eaten plate of pasta in front of you, wishing you'd just fixed a salad?

I hate it when that happens. Especially when it's with a recipe I've been hoarding forever - and something that sounds as good as pasta with turkish-style lamb, eggplant and yogurt sauce. Right? Sounds tasty, doesn't it? The thing is, the meal indeed was pretty good. I used Melissa Clark's recipe, subbing ground beef for lamb (it's what I had in the freezer). What you do is roast eggplant at very high heat - a nice little trick in and of itself, since you end up with meltingly soft on the inside, super-crisp on the outside, addictive little eggplant cubes - and then combine that with sauteed ground beef flavored with shallots, minced garlic and a generous amount of Aleppo pepper.

(Aleppo pepper! Aleppo pepper. I could say that all day long. It just rolls off the tongue so nicely, wouldn't you say? Aleppo pepper!)

You serve that mixture over boiled pasta (orecchiette would be best) and top it off with browned butter and garlicky yogurt. Manti, deconstructed, as Melissa says. So, yes, it's all very delicious and interesting and all that, but still, I just couldn't get my appetite up.

Am I secretly - even to myself - considering vegetarianism? Was it just too much food (Melissa says this serves 2 to 3 people, but eyeballing my leftovers, I think at least 4 could be happy)? Did I get overwhelmed by the amount of leftovers staring me down? It's a Thursday morning mystery, is what it is. In the meantime, does anyone want to come over for dinner tonight?

Pasta with Turkish-Style Beef, Eggplant and Yogurt Sauce
Serves 4

1 large eggplant, about 1 pound, in 1/2 -inch cubes
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste
3 fat garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon red pepper, preferably Turkish or Aleppo, more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, more to taste
1/2 pound orecchiette or penne pasta
2 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, to taste (I barely used a tablespoon)
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Bring a pot of water to boil for pasta.

2. Toss eggplant with 4 tablespoons oil and a large pinch of salt (I also mistakenly added one minced garlic clove here). Spread on a baking sheet, making sure there is room between pieces, and roast until crisp and brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

3. In a large skillet, heat remaining tablespoon oil. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and the shallot and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add beef, 1/2 teaspoon salt, red pepper, and black pepper to taste. Sauté until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in mint and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir eggplant into beef. Taste and adjust seasonings.

4. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter: the amount is to your taste. Let cook until it turns golden brown and smells nutty, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, remaining garlic (well, I didn't have any remaining garlic, plus I don't like raw garlic, so I left the yogurt garlic-less) and a pinch of salt.

5. Drain pasta and spread on a serving platter. Top with beef-eggplant mixture, then with yogurt sauce. Pour melted butter over top. Sprinkle on additional red pepper and more mint. Serve immediately.

Francis Lam's Baked Rice

It may have to do with the fact that in just over 24 hours I'll be on an airplane to Paris with my girlfriends, for my first trip there since my mother and I met up in the Marais for a weekend four years ago, but I can't seem to focus on any kind of proper recipe at all right now. Instead, I'm thinking about being in Paris.

It's funny, how each time there gets sorted under a different rubric. For a long time, I associated Paris with my father, who took me there a few times in college, and who has his own ongoing love affair with the city. I lived there for a year myself, working and struggling, because despite the glorious city around me and the interesting work I had, it felt like a struggle to this then-21 year old, to be seen, to feel connected, to find a way - any way - to feel a little less alone there. I had to take a break from Paris when I left, had to banish it from my thoughts, because my experience had turned into something quite painful, a lost love haunting every memory I had of the place. But I've slowly been finding my way back, through blogs and stories and the soft passage of time. And now I'm so excited I can't sit still, can't wait to be back for a new experience this time: Paris with my girls. It's a whole new thing.

I'll be back next week with photos and stories for you, but before I go, I have to tell you about something that seriously made my week (already): Francis Lam's method for cooking rice. Embedded deep within an article he wrote for were just a few short sentences that me both smile and sit up straight:

"Warm up a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Give it a few nice glugs of olive oil. Don’t be stingy. Now throw in your rice and stir it around...until...maybe half the rice has turned opaque. Pour in your water; it will probably boil immediately. If not, make it boil. Then cover it and drop it in the oven. Pull it out 13 minutes later. If you’re one of those freaky people who can cook rice perfectly on the stove, do whatever it is that you do. Weirdo."

Freaky, indeed! Who, exactly, can cook rice perfectly on the stove? Not even my 12-grade boyfriend's Iranian mother and she had, like, 5,000 years of culinary perfection in her DNA. I use Martha Stewart's method and not even that is foolproof. So, clutching my computer and feeling determined, I marched straight into the kitchen and turned the oven on.

I had an inkling about those lines of Francis's, you know, that they would somehow change my life. Some of you might scoff, but the others know what I mean, right? Yeasted doughs, homemade pasta, soufflés, caramel, the supposedly difficult achievements in the kitchen that make you feel so proud when you master them, those achievements all fall away after being confronted by yet another pot of overcooked or undercooked, slightly chewy or frustratingly soft rice. So simple in theory, yet so difficult to master.

But my inkling was right, my life changed: perfect rice, suddenly within reach. Plus, so easy, so stress-free. The oven did all the work and all I had to do was show up when the timer screeched. It was quite the mid-week surprise. We scooped out our nice grains of rice, cooked with just the right amount of moisture, and munched happily away, with plenty left over for fried rice the next night.

(The fried rice, you ask: I used Mark Bittman's recipe, which was okay, but next time I'll try something that looks more like this, or like this. Or maybe one of you has a fried rice recipe that you think I can't live without? Pretty please!)


Life-Changing Baked Rice
Serves at least 4

1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
2 cups basmati or long-grain white rice
3 cups (or 2 3/4 cups, if you like dryer grains) water
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the olive oil or place the butter in a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid (I used my Le Creuset soup pot) and set the pan over medium-high heat. Throw in the rice and stir it until the oil or butter coats all the grain. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes. The rice will look glassy and smell toasty.

2. Pour in the water, add the salt, and bring to a boil. Stir the rice once, then cover the pot and place in the oven. Set the timer for 13 minutes.

3. After 13 minutes, remove the pot from the oven. Do not remove the lid from the pot and let the rice rest for five minutes. After resting, fork through the rice to fluff it and serve.

Mark Bittman's Egg Noodles with Soy Broth


I may have been raised by a Roman in an extended family of Italo-Saxon gourmands, but I will have you know that I periodically, in high school, did indulge in an after school snack comprised of two slices of German Schwarzbrot sandwiching an oozy crimson layer of ketchup. Yes! It's true. I used to eat ketchup sandwiches. But, get this, that's not even the worst of it! Just to mix things up a bit - adventures of a latch-key kid, oh my - I sometimes boiled up a handful of pasta and sauced it with, you guessed it, that sauce of all sauces, ketchup.

Will horrors never cease? You probably think I should have my food professional license revoked.

But you need to know this to understand why, when I read this Minimalist column two weeks ago, my ears pricked up and my eyes widened. Who cares about authenticity? Noodles in a soy broth made with ketchup sounded like my kind of dinner - a throwback to my days on Bambergerstraße after school, gussied up just a wee bit with rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil.


Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Rice Noodle Salad


I don't know what it was like where you were on Saturday, but here - just a week after a snowstorm closed schools and streets, and dumped close to a foot of snow on some parts of the (sub)urban area - the sun came out, the snow melted, and my heart bloomed in the warmth of the air.

How is it that every spring, like clockwork, seems to surprise us all, captivate us with its newness and glory? How do we manage not to lose that reliable sense of wonder at the first shoots we spy pushing through the crumbly earth? The first real rays that warm our bones as we stroll down streets, pushing scarves once-essential off our suddenly sticky-hot necks? The relief we feel each year that the cold and the snow is just a passing thing, something to endure; that we'll be rewarded in the end for our patience with a rebirth of ourselves, our parks, our neighbors, our world?

Spring, oh, spring.

In honor of its valiant efforts to blow the cobwebs out of my head, I made a springy, herbal Vietnamese rice noodle salad for dinner, first spied here, and originally from here. I have a severe weakness for Vietnamese rice noodles and fish sauce. When I first moved to New York, I lived near a wonderful little Vietnamese restaurant on the Upper West Side and although I'd had my fair share of pho in college and of nem in Paris, I dare say that I didn't really fall in love until I was able to eat a plate of bun every week, the cold, silky noodles slipping gently down my throat, the heady mixture of fish sauce and lime and palm sugar making the juices run together in my mouth.

This salad is a spring-addled cook's dream. All you have to do is spend some time at your cutting board, deftly slicing cabbage and peeled carrots and washed scallions into neat little strips. In the meantime, you can poach a chicken breast or two. (So much easier than roasting or grilling - just bring a pot of water to boil, add some salt, a garlic clove, and a slice or two of fresh ginger, then slip in the chicken breasts and let cook, at a bare simmer, for about 15 minutes. Drain, cool, shred, eat.) In a moment or two, you can whizz together the dressing (so good that I briefly contemplated bottling the leftovers to swig surreptitiously, like a good bourbon from a flask) and "cook" the noodles. The rest is just a matter of assembly. Do you make neat little piles of the vegetables and herbs and toppings? Do you bang everything all together, willy nilly? It's up to you.

You know it doesn't really matter, of course. What matters is what happens when you put that first forkful in your mouth: sweet, spicy, sour, slithery, crunchy, this salad is a joy to eat. It's fresh and cooling and the herbs play off each other just so, the fish sauce giving the salad this lovely, moody depth. I added mint to the original recipe, because mint simply seemed to belong there and wouldn't you know, we polished off the whole thing - leftovers meant for lunch this week! - in one go. Sigh. I don't blame us. It was just so good.


Molly renamed this Almost-Summer Rice Noodle Salad and so it's only natural that in my mind, now, it will always be called Almost-Spring Rice Noodle Salad. Because, of course, this weekend ended and a rather nasty cold rain moved in and I spent the day drinking hot tea and shivering in my inexplicably cold office, my toes cramped in their wet shoes. What I'm trying to say is, we're not quite there yet. But the other night, with the windows open and the loamy scent of new earth in the air and a salad fit for warm evenings and balcony dinners, I let myself believe that spring was right around the corner.

Rice Noodle Salad
Serves 4

1 pound thin rice noodles
3 large cloves garlic, peeled
½ cup Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
2/3 cup water
½ cup fresh lime juice
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ to ½ cup brown sugar, to taste
1 to 2 hot chilies (red bird, jalapeño, or serrano), seeded and minced, or to taste
6 to 8 leaves Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
8 scallions, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded or julienned
1/4 cup mint leaves, sliced
1/4 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 grilled or roasted chicken breasts, shredded
1 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the rice noodles, stir gently, then turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the noodles in a colander, rinse with cold water, and place them in a large bowl.

2. Place the garlic cloves in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse to mince. Add the fish sauce, water, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, and chilies, and purée them together. (The mixture will get quite frothy.) Taste, and if necessary, add more chile and adjust the sweet/tart balance.

3. Toss the vegetables, herbs, chicken and peanuts with the noodles, and pour dressing to taste over the salad. Toss well and serve. (Save any remaining dressing in the fridge - I used the leftovers plus a bit of olive oil to dress a big bowl of baby arugula mixed with a diced avocado and some cold poached chicken breast for dinner the next night.)

James Oseland's Soto Ayam (Indonesian Chicken Soup with Noodles and Aromatics)


(Do not reach to adjust the brightness dial on your computer: that is, indeed, the color of the soup. And the color of my silicone spatula. And the color of my bespattered linoleum counter. Oh, turmeric, you madden me with your lovely flavor and your ability to turn everything you touch to bright, unmoveable yellow.)

Whenever I leave Europe after vacation, I arrive back in the States with a knot in my heart and a serious craving for fresh, spicy Asian food: clear broths, incendiary peppers, bright flavors. I'm not really sure why. Last summer, I read Fuchsia Dunlop's Shark Fin and Sichuan Pepper on the flight back from Italy and I arrived with a watering mouth and unholy hankering for dan dan noodles. I couldn't rest until I drove myself to Flushing one night after work to go down into the rabbit warren of food stands that is Golden Mall.

This time I made a crucial mistake. I thought that making my own Asian food would be just as good as leaving it up to the experts. What I didn't realize is that part of what I look forward is the sheer ease of being able to show up somewhere in New York and have utter confidence that what you're about to order is authentic, delicious and not to be replicated at home. Berlin may have many things, but superb Asian food available at a moment's notice is not one of them.

Anyway, instead of just hopping in the car and going to to Flushing one night, I read Julia Moskin's article about curried noodle soups and decided to cook my own happiness instead of buying it. Well. I won't be doing that again. Not when I'm in the still-delicate fog of jet lag and melancholy. It's not that the soup was bad. It wasn't. It was fine. Well, a little greasy, perhaps, and the flavors a bit muddied, it's true, but it wasn't awful.

(What an endorsement, right?)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this soup just wasn't right for me this week. That's the silliest thing I might have ever written on this blog, but it just so happens to be true. I don't doubt that this soup soothes millions of souls, but all it made me feel was foolish and slightly cheated. I learn easily enough, though. Next time, I'm going directly from the airport to Chinatown and letting the professionals do my palliative cooking. Ooh, I'm excited already.

Soto Ayam (Indonesian Chicken Soup with Noodles and Aromatics)
Serves 4

1 free-range chicken, about 3 pounds, quartered
2 stalks fresh lemon grass, bruised with the handle of a heavy knife and tied in a knot
6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen  (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
5 shallots, peeled and halved
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh turmeric, or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 tablespoons finely minced ginger
3 tablespoons peanut oil
4 ounces glass noodles or thin dried rice noodles, called vermicelli, bihun or bun
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves, mint, Thai basil or cilantro leaves
2 shallots, thinly sliced and fried in vegetable oil until brown (optional)
Quartered limes and chili paste (such as sambal) for serving
Cooked white rice  (optional)

1. Place chicken in a medium pot with lemon grass, lime leaves (if using), salt and 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any foam and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes, skimming as needed to make a clear broth. Remove chicken pieces from broth and set aside. Remove and discard lemon grass and lime leaves; reserve stock in pot. When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and shred meat into bite-size pieces.

2. Meanwhile, combine peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a small food processor. Pulse until ground. Add halved shallots, garlic, turmeric and ginger and pulse to a thick paste. (Add a little water if needed.)

3. Heat peanut oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. When very hot, add spice paste and cook, stirring until paste is cooked and beginning to separate from the oil, about 5 minutes.

4. Add cooked spice paste and chicken meat to stock. Bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes.

5. Cook noodles according to package directions.

6. Turn off heat under soup and stir in lime juice. Taste for salt.

7. To serve, divide noodles in large soup bowls. Ladle chicken pieces and soup on top and sprinkle with celery leaves or herbs, and fried shallots, if using. Pass lime and sambal at the table.

8. Eat from soup bowl, or serve a scoop of rice on a side plate, sprinkled with more shallots, and put a mouthful of noodles and chicken on rice. Combine on a spoon, dab with sambal, and eat.

Tagliatelle with Braised Kale and Ricotta


I came into an inordinate amount of ricotta last week. Tubs worth, really. Some from Di Palo, some of this stuff. How on earth do I work my way through it all?* Short of making ricotta cheesecake (because I just don't feel like cheesecake in November, do you?), I've been throwing spoons of ricotta in with our weekly pasta, mixing it up for a creamy, rich sauce. This works well if the pasta is dressed with a very simple tomato sauce (seriously simple: a clove of garlic, some canned tomatoes, a bit of salt, a line of olive oil and maybe some basil, if you've got it, if not, none).


The other night, though, we were out of canned tomatoes and a pathetic pile of kale sat in the fridge, staring up at me balefully every time I opened the door. Okay, I thought. I might as well do some clean-up cooking. That kale isn't going to eat itself.

So I braised the kale (using this technique, sans vinegar, or you could use this one) and boiled some tagliatelle (penne, too, would be nice here). I spooned some of the thick and fluffy ricotta curds into a bowl and then stirred in the hot kale. The starchy pasta water worked as a thinner - you want the ricotta and kale to be saucy without being soupy. You know?


What's important here is the seasoning: if you don't salt properly, the pasta water and the kale, I mean, you risk ending up with a dish that's quite bland and forgettable.  You need the salt for this to work, and then the ricotta smooths out all the rough edges of the gently sulfurous kale and slicks the chewy pasta with a nice, creamy finish.

We ate this right up, no leftovers, and Ben kept doing that thing where he nods and murmurs with his mouth full and points at his plate with his fork repeatedly, brow furrowed in delight, looking mightily approving.

* Seriously, I've still got more ricotta in the fridge than I know what to do with. What's your favorite way of using up ricotta? Other than in lasagna.

Tagliatelle with Braised Kale and Ricotta
Serves 2 to 4

1 bunch of kale (curly, Tuscan, what have you)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and red pepper flakes
2/3 cup fresh ricotta
Enough pasta for two people (I used about 8 ounces of dried tagliatelle)

1. Wash the kale, strip the leaves off the ribs, chop the kale into ribbons and put them in a pot with olive oil and garlic, some salt and a few grinds of red pepper flakes. Cook over low heat, uncovered, for 10 minutes, until the kale is good and wilted.

2. Add a cup of water, partially cover the pot and let it cook for another half hour. In the meantime, put the ricotta in a serving dish. Boil water, well-salted, for the pasta. When the kale is cooked, add it to the ricotta and mix well.

3. Dump the pasta into the boiling water and cook until al dente. Use some of the starchy pasta water to thin the kale and ricotta mixture, if needed. Drain the pasta and toss with the kale and ricotta. Grate a very generous amount of Parmigiano over the pasta and toss well before serving and eating immediately.