Saturday, July 2, 2011

just not into the jerk

I've mentioned before how treacherous a place a recipe finds itself if it has to hang on to one of the last spots on the menu.  There are so many different reasons that could happen - normally it's a time concern, although other times I've lost interest.  Tonight, I dealt with kind of a combination.

See, we have a tie for "last place."  Tonight's choices for dinner were either Mama Pea's Chickpeas and Dumplings, accompanied by the spinach, lentil and tofeta salad from The Low GI Cookbook or Jerk Seitan from VwaV.  I have every faith in the universe that I will absolutely love the Chickpeas and Dumplings....yet, I've fallen out of love with the idea of cooking from my company-endorsed cookbook.  Too many bland/uninteresting recipes will do that to a person's drive.  Regardless, there were two things that kept me from making that meal tonight: first, it's hot as can be in my second-floor, non-corner-property apartment and by the time the A/C did anything effective, I'd have eaten my own fist (an hour and a half commute usually results in a pretty hungry Natalie by the time I get home).  Second, the tofeta needed to marinate for an hour, which was definitely not in the cards.  For the same reason, the Jerk Seitan, though delicious, fell out of my favor when I confirmed my suspicions - the seitan also had to marinate for an hour.

A person might think that after working their butt off all week, like I did, a dinner where most of the prep time involves sitting and screwing around while something marinates would be ideal.  That would be logical.  However, I am to the point of delirium and exhaustion where I fear what would happen during that idle time - I don't like pre-dinner naps, so I wanted to make something active.  Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, I'm pretty darn hungry by the time I get home from work, so sitting around would just make me focus on that hunger.  I wanted to keep my mind and hands busy enough that even though dinner ended up taking just as much time as it would have if I'd let the tofu or seitan marinate, I was active the whole time.  Was I sweaty by the time I plunked dinner down on the table?  Yes, but was I awake?  Yes, so I consider it a win.

This, I also consider a win.  Since I vetoed both of the remaining dinners, I now had two new options: go out to Cedars or Stella for a relatively inexpensive dinner I didn't have to prepare or clean up, or improvise.  Since Horizons called me this evening to confirm our 9pm reservations there tomorrow night (the last night! boo hoo!!), I decided it was far more fiscally responsible to make something up as I went along.

I opened up my mind and the refrigerator to take stock of what I had to work with.  Gathering up the green pepper meant for the Jerk Seitan, as well as the seitan itself, I also grabbed my big bag o' carrots, the tamari, and my tub of white miso.  Oh yes, and also the wine.  Happy Friday!

Five-Spice Seitan Noodle Bowl
serves 4
8 oz rice noodles
12 oz seitan in broth, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 generous cup of julienne carrots
4 cloves of garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp peanut oil
1/2 tsp dark sesame oil
3 Tbsp tamari/soy sauce
2 tsp miso, dissolved in 1/3 cup hot water (steal from noodle water before you drain the noodles but after it stops boiling)
1 tsp Chinese 5-Spice powder

Prepare the noodles according to package directions.  If possible, coordinate the pasta's cook time with the time you start sauteing the vegetables.  Julienne the carrots and slice the pepper thinly, lengthwise.

Heat the peanut oil on medium heat.  Add garlic, peppers, and carrots - stir well to coat evenly with oil. 

Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3-5 minutes, until crisp-tender, then add the sliced seitan and stir well to combine.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until seitan begins to brown, then sprinkle on the 5-Spice powder and tamari.  Mix well and lower heat to medium low. 

The noodles should be ready by now.  Remove from heat and steal 1/3 cup of the hot water to dissolve your miso, then drain the noodles.  Whisk together the miso and hot water until completely dissolved, then pour into seitan mixture along with the sesame oil and drained noodles.  Cook, stirring constantly, about three minutes more, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

It was very easy to eat - the savory notes of the tamari balanced by the sweetness of the white miso I used.  As is the intention, the 5-spice powder completed the flavor spectrum in an extraordinarily subtle way - you really had to be paying attention to know it was in there.  I was hesitant to add fresh ginger, but I think the dish will benefit from just a bit of it in the future.  Due to the generally savory nature of the dish, Mister asked if it was "beef" stroganoff.  I didn't have a response other than to just stare at him until he retracted it and I pointed out that we were using chopsticks to eat, which usually indicates an Asian-intentioned meal.

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