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Sustainable Eating...Family Style

Posted Aug 24 2008 2:46pm

Sushi table I don't mean to be a diva, but some days you wake up and you're Barbara Streisand... Courtney Love

Cooking for a crowd is one my favorite ways to spend a day: In the kitchen, focused on a delicious combination of flavors and ingredients, a little music in the background…Heaven.

Every year we host a dinner for a group of family members in celebration of the “Spring birthdays”. This year, it happened to fall on a day when the heat index was over 100° and even my normally cool stone house was getting steamy. I didn’t want to make anything that required a lot of time on the stove—or in the oven.

I decided on an Asian theme featuring sushi, spring rolls, sesame udon noodles and a cold snow-pea salad.

The menu was appealing on many levels: it was healthy, it was beautiful, and it made use of many local and seasonal ingredients. And because it did not rely heavily on meat or fish, it was also economical and sustainable.

{A few days later, Mark Bittman expounded on this “meat as accent” idea in an article in the NY Times food section. To me, this concept exemplifies the LifeStyle Revolution: doing things that are good for the body that are also planet savvy.}

The day before the dinner I combed our local farmer’s markets for veggies, and then #1 son and I went to our favorite Asian grocery to pick up specialty ingredients like Nori (seaweed for wrapping sushi), rice paper sheets (for spring rolls), rice noodles, organic sushi rice, a Korean radish (cousin of daikon), pickled ginger and fresh udon noodles.

Just about all of this meal can be made ahead and served at room temperature. Rolling sushi is actually quite easy with the help of a sushi mat, and there is ultimate flexibility to personalize the dish by simply changing the fish and the vegetables.

This celebratory menu served 12 people with enough left over for four lunches (I packed them up in recycled take-out containers).

Sushi close For a big pile of sushi:

Prepare the sushi rice:

I use a rice cooker (a kitchen tool I would not want to live without) for my sushi rice but it can also be prepared on the stovetop

  • 3 cups of rice
  • 4 cups of spring water
  • a small (3 inch or so) piece of kombu (kelp) is optional but enhances flavor and adds minerals.

When the rice is cooked, transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with Sushi Vinegar (available in specialty stores and many supermarkets). Mix together quickly with a rice paddle until it is moist but not too wet.

For this particular dish, I sliced a variety of organic veggies (a little wider than matchsticks): carrot, cucumber, Korean radish, red pepper and avocado…and grilled a 1/2 lb piece of tuna.

Following the specific directions for rolling sushi (see the above link) lay out a sheet of Nori, spread a thin layer of seasoned rice over the Nori, add some fish and veggies, roll it on up and slice it into bite-sized pieces (with a really sharp knife).

Serve with wasabi (Japanese horseradish), pickled ginger and soy sauce/tamari

For the springrolls:

  • Rice paper sheets
  • Rice noodles
  • Leaf lettuce
  • Cooked peeled shrimp, tails removed; sliced in half lengthwise. (Peel first and reserve the uncooked shrimp shells if you are going to make dipping sauce)
  • Bean sprouts
  • Assorted veggies (bean sprouts, carrots, Korean radish, cucumber)
  • Basil leaves (torn into slivers)

Spring roll Fill a large bowl with warm water

Dip a rice paper sheet in the water for 3-5 seconds (one sheet at a time)

Place the damp rice paper sheet on a clean kitchen towel (it will still be a little hard but will soften a it sits)

Add the filling:

Leaf lettuce, shrimp, sprouts, veggies, basil

Roll up (folding the bottom edge over the filling as you roll) and place on a platter.

Cover with a damp paper towel until ready to serve.

A couple of dipping sauces: (These recipes are adapted from something I cut out of a magazine many moons ago…)

Soy Dipping Sauce:

Combine together:

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup rice-wine vinegar
  • thin sliced scallions

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce:

  • Raw shrimp shells
  • 3 1/2 T fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • sprinkle of red chili pepper flakes or a few slices of Serrano chili

Place raw shrimp shells in a pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Strain, set aside and cool.

Measure out 1 cup of the shrimp broth (discard any remaining broth)

Add fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and pepper.

Stir well to combine.

Sesame noodles Sesame Noodles Adapted from a recipe in The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook ,

  • 1 lb fresh udon noodles (available in refrigerated section of Asian grocery)
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup unhulled sesame seeds, toasted (Toast the sesame seeds by heating them in a heavy skillet (I like cast iron) over medium-low heat until they are fragrant and beginning to color; set aside to cool)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 teaspoons rice-wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
  • 2 scallions, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced

Rinse the fresh udon noodles in warm water and transfer to a serving dish.

Toss with 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil and set aside.

To make the sauce:

Place the toasted sesame seeds, soy sauce, mirin, 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and the rice-wine vinegar in a blender; process until smooth and creamy.

Pour the dressing over the noodles and toss to combine.

Sprinkle with black sesame seeds and scallions.

Serve immediately or make up to eight hours ahead and refrigerated. Let stand at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Cold Sugar Snap Pea Salad

  • 3 pints fresh snow peas, steamed for a brief moment
  • 1 lb grilled Portobello mushrooms, sliced (I marinated mine in a mix of tamari, a dash of Dijon mustard, a few cloves of smashed garlic, the juice of an orange and a bunch of fresh herbs)
  • 1 quart grape tomatoes, halved

Combine the vegetables in a serving bowl; toss with a few splashes of toasted sesame oil and rice wine vinegar

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