Kohlrabi Ramen

We’re in the midst of a big rain storm in the Bay Area, which happens about as often as a lunar eclipse. We’ve been trudging along for three years in a drought-induced haze, giving the stink eye to the neighbor who’s washing his car with the hose running, turning off the shower water between shampooing and rinsing, convincing ourselves that our brown lawns are eco-cool, wondering whether giving up H20-sucking beef was enough or if now we even need to give up almonds… all these stupid inconveniences distracting us from the fact that we really just miss hearing the sound of good, old-fashioned, life-filled rain.

Rain is such a rare sound now that when it starts, I turn everything off. No more NPR on my car radio, no more music while I cook, just the cadence of five thousand drops per second hitting my windowpane, quickening with the swells of wind. That’s the sound I’m hearing now as I write. And it’s the sound that put me in the mood earlier today — for ramen.kohlrabiramen.jpeg

Ramen is the perfect food for cold, wet weather (well, I can’t exactly claim that this 59-degree storm counts as “cold weather,” but it’s at least safe to call it wet). If you’re like me and don’t have a fireplace, you may agree that the only consolation prize capable of filling you with the same coziness of a crackling fire is a steaming bowl-full of ramen.

I created this recipe on a rainy day back in December for an article I wrote for the San Jose Mercury about livening up the winter doldrums with some fun, not-so-common produce. Kohlrabi is one of my favorite winter vegetables, delicious cooked or raw, and perfect for this vegetarian version of ramen. The key to this meat-free broth is adding back some of the strained stock bits to the liquid and then pureeing it to give the broth that thick, meatiness that makes it stick to the noodles. SLURP. YUM.kohlrabi.jpeg

If you would like to read more about kohlrabi including its health benefits, check out this earlier post for kohlrabi lettuce wraps. Otherwise, just get to work on the ramen so you can sit back and slurp it up to the sound of the rain before it passes us by.

Kohlrabi Ramen

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 2hr 30mins
  • Difficulty: medium
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  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon yellow or white miso paste
  • 8 ounces ramen or Japanese noodles
  • 2 kohlrabi, greens and stems chopped, and bulbs peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 red chile
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced in half
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 soft-boiled eggs
  • 3 green onions, chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; saute for 8 to 10 minutes or until the onion begins to caramelize. Add stock, water, dried mushrooms and soy sauce. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 60 minutes. Strain the broth, reserving 1/2 cup of the solids. Add these back to the stock, along with the miso paste, and run it through a blender until smooth.

Cook the ramen according to package directions.

In a large wok or skillet set over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Add the kohlrabi, chile, ginger and fresh mushrooms; stir-fry for 5 to 6 minutes, until the kohlrabi is tender but slightly crisp. Stir in the sesame oil and soy sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning.

To serve, fill four deep bowls with the noodles, top with the kohlrabi mixture, and ladle hot broth over the top. Garnish with half of a soft-boiled egg and chopped green onion.

Splendiferous Salsify Soup

You probably think I’m crazy. Salsify is a food photographer’s worst nightmare. Why would I ever choose something so ugly for my blog? I have to throw out my usual hashtags of #foodporn and #veggieofthegods in place of #eatmuddysticks.wpid-img_20151025_105951272_hdr.jpgIf you’ve ever seen salsify at the farmers market or a specialty produce store, you probably walked right by thinking they were literally the sticks they used to dig up the real root vegetables like carrots and beets. Or perhaps you thought they were parsnips that they found at the bottom of a compost heap. So why, you ask, do I bring you a recipe for these muddy sticks instead of all the glorious fall veggies at our fingertips?

Well, reason one is because this blog is about creating yummy recipes for exotic produce, not your run-of-the-mill butternut squash. But reason two — the far better reason — is because salsify is delicious! If you get over the fact that they look like decomposed witch fingers, they are actually pearly white inside and oh so yummy. They have an earthy taste a bit like artichokes crossed with parsnip, and can be used any way you would eat other root veggies — mashed, scalloped, fried, or in soups (my favorite fall treat).wpid-img_20151025_120805331_hdr.jpgIf you need more convincing, here are its nutritional highlights: it beats bananas in potassium, beats almost everything in inulin (a super-special fiber that acts as a prebiotic to keep your gut healthy), is a good source of protein, iron and copper, and has some C and B vitamins to boot.wpid-img_20151025_123938871_hdr.jpgI served this to my family on a beautiful fall day in Sonoma County and we sat around all conjuring up theories on salsify’s origins and relatives (my research now indicates we were waaaaay off). Turns out that salsify is in the dandelion family (if you’ve ever pulled up a giant dandelion with a big, onerous taproot from your garden, it’s not hard to see the relation). Black salsify, like the one I use in this soup, was first cultivated in Spain which is why this variety is also called Spanish Salsify and was apparently popular in the 1500’s because it was thought to ward off the plague (about as kooky a theory as not bathing to ward of the plague). Salsify Soup from MyBerkeleyBowl.comWhether this will protect you from the plague next time you go to Yosemite or not, this is a wonderful, mild soup for a fall day. I hope you enjoy the balance of flavors the ingredients afford: the green apple gives it a hint of sweetness,  the splash of vermouth brightens up the earthy flavor of the salsify, and the crispy salsify chips give it the bit of crunch that takes any pureed soup to the gourmet level.

BTW, if you can’t find salsify, go aheaed and give the recipe a try using parsnip — I’m sure it would be delicious!

Splendiferous Salsify Soup with Salsify Chips

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 50 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
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  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 salsifies, peeled and chopped, plus 1 salsify with the peel on for the chips
  • 1 potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 green apple, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 40 oz vegetable stock
  • 1 splash of dry vermouth (or dry sherry)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5-10 minutes until onion softens but does not brown. Add the celery and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped salsify, potato, apple and sauté for 5 minutes until vegetables begin to soften. Pour in the vegetable stock and vermouth and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 30 minutes.

While the soup simmers you can make the salsify chips. Wash and scrub the salsify and dry with a towel. Slice very finely into thin chips. Heat some cooking oil in a small pan over medium-high heat. Drop in the salsify chips and deep fry until they begin to get a bit wavy and toasted. Remove with a slotted spoon and lay them out on a paper towel to cool slightly and harden.

Next, pureé the soup until very smooth. Stir in the cream/half & half. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly cracked pepper. If you prefer your soup thinner you can add more stock. Serve hot and topped with salsify chips.

Green Papaya Gazpacho

Gazpacho is my absolute favorite summertime food. But because the cornerstone of the dish is ripe, juicy tomatoes, I only get to make it a few months out of the year. When it’s that time, I go buy tomatoes by the flat at the farmers market (negotiating like a crazy pirate woman) and keep a couple gallons in my fridge at all times so I can guzzle a glass for breakfast, have a bowl for lunch, drink a cup-full as a snack when I get home and — you guess it — slurp up a big bowl-full for dinner.

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Well, unfortunately, tomatoes are not “exotic” enough for this blog (no offense, tomatoes of the world). And they’re not in season yet anyways. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and boy do I have a will for gazpacho.

When I saw this green papaya at Berkeley Bowl I thought, “hmmmm…” and then I thought “heeeeeey!!!!” when the idea struck that I could make gazpacho out of it. Cucumbers, green pepper, garlic, and tanginess are what goes into gazpacho, and I have also enjoyed all of those paired with green papaya in East Asian dishes.

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The key to a good gazpacho is blending the olive oil, garlic, salt, and vinegar first in a good blender so that the olive oil emulsifies into a creamy elixir of the gods that will permeate the whole dish. Once you’ve blended those ingredients, you can start heaving the rest of the ingredients in the blender in no specific order. Because I like to make big batches all at once, this usually requires a couple blender-fulls, which would mean you’d need to save some of the liquid to distribute in each batch. I pour each batch into one “master mixing pot” that I stir, taste, adjust the seasoning, and then blend the whole thing all over again to get it really smooth and creamy.

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This exotic version of gazpacho happens to be even more healthy than the original. That’s because papaya is a super food, not to mention the mother of all super foods — avocados — which, along with the olive oil, pack this gazpacho full of omega fatty acids. Green papaya is just a papaya in its unripened state, most commonly used for cooking because it is very hard and not at all sweet. But the green papaya is even healthier than the ripened papaya because a) it has much less sugar, and b) it is much higher in papain, a powerful enzyme that helps us digest protein and keep the gut healthy. It’s also a great source of so many vitamins and minerals like copper, magnesium, folate, potassium, and vitamins A and C. And with 5 grams of fiber per serving, it fills you up, protects you from cancer and heart disease, and keeps things moving!

So blend up a big batch of this gazpacho and enjoy as much as you want of it, guilt-free, on a hot summer day. I served mine with a drizzle of crème fraîche with fresh mint, but that’s just being fancy. It’s just as good straight out of the ladle.

Green Papaya Gazpacho

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 20 minutes + chill time
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1.5 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/3 cup lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 1 medium to large cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1/2 green papaya, peeled, seeds removed, and cubed (about ~3 cups cubed)
  • 1 small avocado, flesh only
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced

Put the garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, cumin, and salt in a good blender and blend until frothy and emulsified. Then, add the sliced vegetables in batches, using some of the water with each batch, and blend each batch until smooth. Pour the contents of each batch into a large pot, bowl or pitcher to serve as a mixing container. Once all the ingredients have been blended and poured into the mixing container, stir it and taste. Adjust the seasoning by adding more salt, more acid (lime juice or vinegar) or more water depending on your preference. Once the seasoning is to your liking, put the mixture back into the blender to blend through one more time to obtain a smooth and creamy texture. Chill in the fridge before serving.

Optional: you can serve this with a drizzle of crème fraîche into which you stir fresh chopped mint.