Ok, here’s the dilemma. You recently moved back to your favorite (abet, incredibly expensive) city after a soul-searching year traveling abroad in a country that did wonders for your well being yet wreaked havoc on your wallet. You realize after only a few days of settling in you are spending way too much money eating out, especially lunches when you are working. You decide you need to get better at bringing food to work, yet you don’t want to spend precious hours in the kitchen that could be spent catching up with friends, going to the beach or taking in movies and museums. You are also trying to make up for all of those late night shukos, tortas and tacos filled with less-than-high quality, hormone-free, pastured animal products and giving up meat for all of July. Where do you turn?
Rice noodles are a staple of every good pantry. You know them best as the breadth that, mixed with mung beans, ground tofu, shrimp or chicken and a couple of good dashes of fish sauce, make up pad thai, a dish you can find on almost every street in New York. They are thin, fast cooking ribbons made from finely processed white or brown rice mixed with water and formed into noodles. Imported from Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian countries, these days you can find at least a few varieties in almost every supermarket and corner bodega. They are great served hot or at room temperature and pair well with a pantry and fridge full of flavors. Most brands are gluten free. Best of all, they soak up any flavors you add to them. Toss them with snap peas, shredded carrots and a peanut sauce, sprinkle with chopped nuts of the same origin and you have quick peanut noodles. Saute ground shrimp, ginger, scallions, jalapeños and soy sauce together and plate over a bed of noodles tossed with neutral-tasting oil and a tablespoon of fish sauce.
Or you can take inspiration, like I did, from Sarah B. at mynewroots.org. She used a bounty of fresh-picked, home grown greens as the base for her sweet and tangy version. While tending a garden seems out of the realm of possibility (I think I would need to commit to a zip code first), the farmers market is bursting with all sorts of green things that lend their flavors and freshness to this dish. And it packs up easy for office lunch hour, which means less money spent on lunches and more money saved for school (going to the beach).
Flavor Bomb Greens and Noodles
Prep time: 10 minutes, cook time: 8 minutes or less; Serves 3-4
Brown rice noodles (approx. 125g for four servings)
A few large handfuls mixed greens (Swiss chard, kale, spinach etc.)
2 Tbsp. tamari
2 Tbsp. cold-pressed sesame oil (or olive)
2 tsp. raw honey (or maple syrup)
2 tsp. brown rice vinegar
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, minced
2 spring onions, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup slivered almonds
½ cup cilantro, chopped
½ cup mint, chopped
In a small dish whisk dressing ingredients together, reserving a few slices of spring onion and chili for garnish. Season to taste. Set aside.
Boil a pot of salted water, add noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water to halt cooking. Place noodles in a large bowl, pour half of the dressing over and toss well to coat. Add some mint and cilantro and toss.
In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast sesame seeds until fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside. Repeat with almonds.
Wash and greens and spin them dry. Remove any tough stalks, stack leaves, roll up and slice into thin ribbons. Add to a large bowl pour remaining dressing over, throw in some mint and cilantro (reserve some for garnish) and toss well to coat. Add dressed greens to dressed noodles.
To serve, allow each person to take their desired amount of greens and noodles. Place small dishes of toppings around the table for garnish and be generous! The more herbs, nuts and seeds the better this will taste. Go wild!