Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Weekend Cookbook Challenge

Yes, I realize that it's Tuesday. But the ever kind hosts of Weekend Cookbook Challenge have extended the deadline of the first challenge to December 15th, so all is well. The idea for this one is to pick out the cookbook I've had the longest and make a recipe from that book. This isn't my first cookbook (it was a spiral bound community cookbook that has long since fallen completely apart, a gift from my aunt when I was ten), but the first I purchased on my own as an adult. Back in 1990 I was living in Pennsylvania by myself with few friends and no family nearby. At the time I loved to raid my local Penn State library for anything that seemed interesting, especially cookbooks. Anything to avoid homework. I found World of the East Vegetarian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey during one of these basement library crawls, the copy reinforced with layers of clear tape that showed what my librarian friends like to term "years of love". I loved everything I tried making from it and kept renewing my loan again and again. Samosas, somen noodles, spiced basmati rice, baklava, it was all delicious. I think I had it for almost three months when someone else requested my copy. It was a sad day when I had to return it, and I vowed to get my own soon. It took a while to get the $25 together to buy it, but about a year later I proudly marched into Barnes & Noble and got my very own copy. Now it's falling apart, the pages only barely held together, full of notes and love. Need to get me a new copy soon.
The next part of the challenge was more difficult: finding a recipe to try. I've had this book for so long, it was hard to find a recipe I hadn't made before. I chose Chapchae, a Korean noodle and vegetable stir-fry that I often grab as a snack over at the asian market. Full of garlic, sesame oil, a hint of soy sauce, and thick, chewy noodles, it isn't a lot to look at, but the end results are quite satisfying.


Serves 2-4 (2 as a main dish, 4 as a side)

2 ounces thick mung bean or yam noodles
2 Chinese dried black mushrooms
1/3 pound tender spinach leaves
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small zucchini, julienned
2 medium sized mushrooms (I subbed red bell pepper - don't like fresh mushrooms), cut into matchstick pieces
2 large Chinese cabbage leaves
4 green onions
4 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 Tb. dark sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tb. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Soak the noodles in 6 cups of water for 30 minutes, then drain and set aside. Soak the mushrooms in 1 cup hot water for 20 minutes. When soft, cut off any hard stems and slice fine.

Blanch spinach in boiling water for a minute or so. Drain, then run under cold water. Squeeze as much moisture out of the spinach as you can.

Cut away the tender, curly part of the cabbage and discard. Cut the thick core crosswise into thin strips.

Cut the green onions into 2 inch sections. Quarter white sections lengthwise to make narrow strips.

Mix all the vegetables in a bowl, separating the spinach leaves.

Heat vegetable and sesame oil in a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds. Add the vegetable mix and stir fry for 3-4 minutes, or until vegetables are just tender-crisp. Turn heat to low. Add the noodles, soy sauce, sugar, and salt. Stir well and cook for 2-3 additional minutes. Taste for seasoning (I ended up doubling the soy sauce, sugar and salt).