Sometimes you fall at the first hurdle. I certainly did when I started cooking Yotam Ottolenghi’s gluten free dish: rice noodles with lime and crab chilli oil.
I trekked to the supermarket to get coriander but didn’t check that I had gluten free rice noodles in stock. Doh! No matter. In truth, this dish is good for both gluten freers and gluten imbibers – just use the appropriate noodles. As Yotam says: the star of the show is the crab chilli oil. It’s blooming delicious.
It feels a bit counterintuitive to hoy a pile of brown crab meat into hot garlic, ginger and chilli-infused oil (along with miso and tomato paste) and cook for 30 minutes. But there’s a wonderful alchemy here. A fishy, ozoney intensity that smacks of fish sauce but has a crab-induced sweet and savoury hum.
The chilli oil is hot as the fiery furnace – but this is a furnace you want to keep dipping into. A balancing citrus tang comes from the addition of a healthy slug of lime juice on the hot noodles.
Tofu is not universally celebrated in our house. The Husband considers it ‘blandness incarnate’. In some ways I guess he’s right. A bit like bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, tofu’s basically a vessel for flavour. But just look at the miraculous flavours and textures you can create using these superhero vessels.
If you are ambivalent about tofu, read on.
Our favourite tofu dish to date has been the ridiculously easy to prepare chilled tofu with soy sauce, ginger and katsuobushi (dried fermented tuna flakes) from Tim Anderson’s inspiring JapanEasy. In his introduction to the dish, Tim concedes that the dish sounds unprepossessing. However, he also says it’s a cracking dish. He’s right: it’s lipsmackingly delicious. A perfect introduction to bean curd for the tofu sceptic.
However, it’s time we branched out. London Daughter and I agree that Meera Sodha’s dry-fried beans with minced tofu sounds both straightforward and intriguing – a good weekend supper dish. Confession time: it was the mention of Sichuan peppercorns that caught my eye. I’d bought a sackload of them when London Daughter took on Ixta Belfrage’s (from Ottolenghi Kitchen)biang biang noodles with numbing oil and tahini soy sauce.
That was from Guardian Feast back in November 2020 before my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 began. And so to Issue No.180 and week 25 of the challenge.
Bring on Meera Sodha’s vegan dish: dry-fried beans with minced tofu
London Daughter and I both decide to cook Meera’s plateful. We head out for ingredients – me in Northumberland, her in North London.
I manage a pack of green beans from our Saturday market and pressed tofu and dried shiitake from our local organic gem the Green Shop. I receive a WhatsApp from London Daughter: ‘Got fresh shiitake but no green beans 😂. Only in Crouch End!’
London Daughter cooks her version of Meera’s beans and tofu the night before I do. From the pics, I’d say she makes a better job of the dish than me. I rather overdo the burning of the beans but hers look just right.
The combo of minced tofu and mushrooms gives an almost meaty chew to the dish and both the daughter and I opt to chuck in a few extra red chillies on top of the crushed Sichuan peppercorns as suggested by Meera.
London Daughter declared the dish ‘salty and crunchy, quite different’. For The Husband it ‘makes tofu interesting – no small achievement!’.
Praise indeed for this underrated superhero of vegan food.
Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles
Clearly at a loose end, London Daughter decides to use up her block of pressed tofu on another dish in Issue No.180 of Feast: Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles. I suggest she might like to blog about it for me. She sends pics and comments instead:
Erchen describes the noodles as a ‘simple, savoury dish’. London Daughter describes it as:
London Daughter couldn’t lay her hands on any black vinegar and used balsamic instead. In the taste test she judged it as having ‘lots of oil, not much veg, but it’s very tasty’. She thought the heat might defeat her, but slurped down the whole bowl. She says I should definitely cook it.
Rachel Roddy – gateau au yaourt
We were completely beguiled by Rachel Roddy’s wonderful tale from an Italian kitchen this week which involves an elderly gentleman, yoghurt and a careless supermarket trolley driver. The Husband, London Daughter and I agree it would make the youngest daughter weep. We discovered through lockdown that anything involving elderly men and vulnerability (in films, cartoons, stories) will for some reason set her off.
London Daughter was so beguiled by Rachel’s story that she cooked the yoghurt cake of the tale. In the end, she was a little underwhelmed by it. She wondered if it was to do with ingredient quantities: the cake rose magnificently but remained rather dense and a ‘a bit bland’. Fortunately the youngest daughter is on her way to London to visit her sister and loves an olive oil cake (and she’s always hungry!).
I’ll sign off this week with three cheers for two superheroes of the kitchen: tofu (and its sidekicks heat, rice and noodles) and London Daughter.
I’m celebrating my love of the food columns and supplements in The Guardian by trying to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021. Find out a bit more about that here.
Like Lara Lee, I’m a huge fan of ‘two-minute noodles’ – although I’m not a great lover of the flavour sachets that come with them (the eldest daughter declares that ‘sometimes that’s just the flavour you want’). Anyhow, I was sold on Lara’s noodle recipes in Guardian Feast Issue No.160 when I saw the distinctive tangle and curl of those little packet wonders.
After my slight wobble with the sublime coffee mousse with tahini chocolate sauce in the same issue, I’m determined to read the recipe for Lara’s spicy soy pork and peanut instant noodles carefully and follow it. I just know this sticky, meaty, spicy dish is what we need for supper on a freezing, gusty Northumberland Sunday in Berwick-upon-Tweed. And I have every ingredient – except pork belly which is in the freezer. What I do have is a chicken. And lashings of goose fat left over from our Christmas goose. Chicken plus goose fat is practically pork belly, isn’t it?
I really resent paying a premium for jointed bits of chicken. It’s so much cheaper to buy a whole bird, butcher it yourself and make delicious stock from the carcass. Yes, it adds prep time but it’s worth it on so many levels – more flavour, less cost, less packaging, the satisfaction of a job done well.
I once butchered a pig. It was a daunting task but really informative. The key thing I learnt is to be guided by the bones, joints, muscles and sinews of the animal you’re butchering. A chicken is so easy – and the more you do it, the better you get. I’m sure there are loads of YouTube tutorials on hacking up a chicken so I won’t describe that. All I can say is, the more I do it, the better I get.
Lara’s recipe requires 250g skinless, boneless pork belly slices. I decide that both thighs and one breast will be roughly equivalent and use goose fat for all the fat requirements of the recipe – the chicken skin goes in the stockpot.
It is really easy to romp through Lara’s recipe and I get the dish on our plates within the half hour guide cooking time she gives. I don’t quite get the fat hot enough to get our eggs crispy. No matter. This is a brilliant midweek supper dish. Easy to make and richly, lip-smackingly satisfying to eat. With its glossy fat content, I can see that belly pork would be the perfect meat for it, but my chicken version’s not half bad.
The Husband declares that he could: ‘just go on eating it till I burst’. He’s a keeper.