Monday, July 28, 2008

Vegetarian Envy


I am not a vegetarian but I hold them in the highest regard. I wish I possessed the willpower and unerring commitment to better health, saving the planet and/or animal rights exhibited by most vegetarians. With only a few exceptions (and I shall not name names), my vegetarian pals are svelte, disciplined not only at the table but in life as well, and concerned with the well-being of the planet and her inhabitants. These are good people and sometimes I wonder if their goodness is a consequence of their vegetarianism or the reason why they became vegetarians in the first place. I, on the other hand, become a salivating, quivery lump whenever I smell bacon. And even though I love animals (not including birds or squirrels), I have no moral qualms about roasting them and slathering them in gravy. Every once in a while, usually after sharing a meal with one particular vegetarian friend (who invariably orders a salad with fat free dressing on the side... oh, the restraint!), I feel inspired to be a better person by cooking a meal composed solely of what grows in the soil. Should you someday also be so inspired, I invite you to prepare this delicious Asian influenced noodle bowl. This is a fun, slurpy dish with big flavors and lots of vitamins. Your taste buds and animals everywhere will thank you.


16 ounces udon noodles or your favorite Asian noodle
5 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 whole star anise
1 tablespoon grated or crushed ginger
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 carrot, julienned (cut into 2 inch long matchstick sized pieces)
6 ounces of baby corn, each piece cut in half lengthwise
4 scallions, cut into one inch pieces
3 cups of chopped bok choy (do not pack down the bok choy when measuring)

In a large soup pot, bring broth to a low boil over high heat. Add star anise, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. Add the carrots. Cover, lower heat to medium and continue on a low boil until the noodles are ready.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, cook the noodles according to the package directions, except undercook by 1-2 minutes. Drain thoroughly. If the noodles require less than 3 minutes to cook, do not cook them.

Add the baby corn to the broth. Add the noodles. If the noodles are uncooked, then boil for as long as directed by the package directions. (Tip: You might need to add an extra half-cup or so of broth if you use uncooked noodles and they soak up some of liquid.) Add the bok choy and scallions when the noodles are ready. Lower heat to low and simmer uncovered for a minute or two until the bok choy is wilted.

Ladle noodles, vegetables and a generous portion of broth into deep bowls. Serve steaming hot. Whomever gets the piece of star anise in their bowl has to stand up and sing a song for the amusement of everyone else.

At the table, try setting out various garnishes so that your guests can customize their noodles. Here are some tasty options:

soy sauce
sesame oil
chopped cilantro
finely chopped or grated lemongrass
chili garlic sauce
lime wedges
thinly sliced daikon radishes
toasted sesame seeds
bean sprouts
cubed, firm tofu (bring to room temperature before serving)

Serves 4.

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