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Resistant Little Heart

If you’re cooking for a woman, make a good risotto and a salad. If you don’t have time to make dessert, you can go and buy some macaroons to have later.”

-Wolfgang Puck

The man’s right. On so many levels that probably never crossed his mind when he said those words.

One. Women I know love risotto. While there’s evidently something very attractive about the idea of rice that’s so immensely creamy and sensuous that it becomes one with your tongue, I would argue that it’s the al dente heart of that rice, a proof of perfect sensibility and restraint, that makes risotto that much sexier than rice pudding. You can quote that.

Two. Women are defensive of their toys, I mean, kitchen. Because, just like how children are forever fearing that their out-for-the-evening parents are late to return because they’ve died in a car crash, we girls grow up to fear that boys will burn down our kitchens once 30 minutes pass. Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me. But that doesn’t matter – risotto only takes 25 minutes, phew.

Three. Women love men who can cook. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. It’s just that everyone loves to have someone close who will, on the right occasions, cook for them. It could be a best friend, a brother, perhaps from a different mother, who cares? Who cares if they bought the dessert? They cared enough to make you risotto.

I cared enough to make risotto.

In all honesty, that’s all you need to make a good risotto. It’s not some pretentious art as gastromedia casts it. The only thing, which isn’t even difficult, is the constant stirring. Stirring increases the amount of the rice’s surface area which comes into contact with liquid, which in turn helps release the starch. This means you will have a very creamy risotto as the “creamy” texture is essentially the married portion of stock and starch.

And at all costs, keep tasting – that’s key to catching your perfect al dente!

I remind you that you should

stir up the gift of God

which is in you through

the laying of my hands.

-2 Timothy 1:6

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As much as I love risotto, I think I would still appreciate it more if it goes along with several varying textural components, not to mention a even coverage of all the flavour bases. Here, aside from the creaminess and al dente of the rice, there is equally the buttery firmness of the halibut, the crunchiness of its skin, as well as the near-transparent crispness of the fried basil and ginger. The acidity of the lime is hardly detectable in the finished dish, but it is crucial to the balance of flavours – it’s what keeps you coming for another bite without feeling weighed down.

Ingredients for the green basil risotto, serves 6:

3 tbsp coconut oil

1 c diced white onion

1 1/2 c short grain rice, do not rinse this!

2-3 tbsp green curry paste, depending on its strength

4 c unsalted chicken/vegetable stock

1 can unpasteurized full-fat coconut milk

1 c gently packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 lime, juice only

sea salt, to taste

To make the risotto, melt the coconut oil in a deep saucepan or small pot. Add the onions and sweat them until soft, being careful not to brown them. Tip in the rice and stir until the grains are evenly coated with oil and are translucent. Stir in the curry paste until fragrant.

Pour in 1 cup of stock and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, still stirring and keeping the heat low for about 15~18 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree the fatty portion of the coconut milk with the basil and lime juice to a vibrant green milk shake. Chill until needed. Stir the remaining watery portion of the coconut milk into the rice.

Once all the stock has been absorbed, taste your risotto and see if you like the doneness. It should be very creamy, but still retaining a bit of nutty texture in the center of each grain.

Incorporate the coconut basil mixture and take away from the heat. Spoon onto warmed plates and top with the seared halibut, fried basil and ginger (follows).

Ingredients for the crispy-skinned halibut, fried basil, and ginger:

2/3 c mild vegetable oil, for frying

12 ginger slices, thinly sliced with a mandoline or very sharp knife

18 fresh basil leaves

1 lb thick halibut fillet, cut into 6 neat portions

sea salt

To make the fried garnishes, heat the oil in a small saucepan until a chopstick’s point submerged bubbles vigourously. Add half the ginger slices and fry, spooning the oil over the slices occasionally until golden and crisp. Take them out and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat with the rest of the ginger.

To fry the basil, lower a couple basil leaves to the hot oil – be careful, it will sputter. Fry for 5-10 seconds, until crispy and bright green. Drain on paper towel.

For the halibut, blot the portions dry with paper towel and season the skin side generously with sea salt. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat.

Add a couple spoonfuls of the basil frying oil to the pan and swirl to coat in a shimmery layer.Place the halibut portions (don’t crowd the pan, do it in two batches if you need to), skin-side-down in the pan and leave them there for 3 minutes, to really crisp up the skin. Flip them over and cook for another 1-2 minutes, you want to see a thin line that is still translucent beige along the sides. Transfer them onto the plate, keeping the skin side facing upwards, and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before plating.

Plate up and serve with a salad as WP suggests or, if it’s a chilly day where you find yourself, consider steaming some green beans and yellow zucchini to brighten up your day!

Enjoy! (And for once, dessert is optional!)

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honey makes it hot

Parents are such sources of wisdom. Even if they’re fuzzy on the mechanics of things, they know the outcome. I guess, most of the time, that’s enough to help a kid grow up without slicing their hands open, putting a crater in their cranium, or in my case, scorching off my entire palate.

For that, in particular, I am so grateful.

I figured this out, not too long ago, and was very intrigued. I’m actually so excited to share this with you. Nerdy, whatever.

So let’s start with the basics. Water, that is, pure H2O, cannot stay in liquid form beyond 100 degrees C. Now, add anything, and since we’re in the kitchen, make that anything be salt or sugar. Now that boiling point temperature becomes higher. In other words, a pot of boiling salted water is hotter than a pot of boiling pure water.

Not cool, I know. Caught that? Good. Let’s keep rolling.

So what do you care? Well, that higher temperature is what makes your pasta taste better, as in with a bite that has a bit more bounce. In fact, the higher temperature results in a more quickly denatured (cooked) gluten (protein), which gives it a more resilient chew. On the other hand, you don’t want this to happen to your meat if you’re simmering or blanching it, the extra pinch of salt will make it tough, same principles.

What about sugar, though? Exactly the same. So, coating your carrots with honey, makes them cook more thoroughly, and results in a sensuously tender, rich, and sweet interior. This you cannot achieve by boiling, which adds water to the flesh, making it mushy, not by simply roasting, which takes forever and leaves them dry and chewy (or worse, with an uncooked center).

Yeah, so the 101 of this whole post: honey, squeeze that bottle.

Is not my word like fire,

declares the Lord,

and like a hammer

that breaks the rock

in pieces?

Jeremiah 23:29

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These carrots are basically candied, and would go well with cool, slightly acidic cheeses like labne, quark, or fromage blanc. Of course, an addition of some crunchy bits like toasted baguette slices, toasted pistachios and some coarse salt and black pepper would make these irresistible. Serve these as part of an appetizer or, equally fitting, a cheese or even dessert course. Just be careful, the carrots will literally burn off the insides of your mouth if you eat them straight out of the oven, and even five minutes after. Experience and my mother’s words of wisdom have taught me restraint when it comes to these.

Ingredients for the lavender honey roasted carrots:

450 g baby heirloom carrots (regular ones will taste just as good)

2 tbsp grape seed oil

1/2 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp chopped lavender leaves (or 2 tsp dried lavender)

1/3 – 1/2 c buckwheat or organic honey

To make the roasted carrots, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with the rack in the middle of the oven. Toss all ingredients, except for the honey in an ovenproof dish until combined. Roast for 20 minutes, or until starting to brown.

Add one third of the honey and continue roasting until the mixtures appear dry. Repeat until carrots are tender and well caramelized.

Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

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Pulled Over

“No sir, you can’t just throw barbeque sauce onto some grey pork floss and call it pulled pork.”

We all have something to fight for, something grounded jn the depths of our memory that we treat in a do-or-die sort of way. That is, if you’re going to do it, you better do it right, or don’t even.

Most often our brain’s preference of these subjects is based on our upbringing, in my case, that would be my mother. A treat to imagine though, that my timid, loving, born-and-raised in Taiwan mother is actually a barbeque pulled pork enthusiast.

Thus, by default, I fall somewhat in that category too. Genetics, man.

But I think that gene is secretly inherent in any human being. Seriously, that moment when the pork fibers fell apart at the tip of my fork, the steam burst forth, and the dark amber fat cap unraveled to reveal the rusty pink hued, scallop textured flesh beneath…something instinctive resonated within me.

Epic.

Four ingredients is all you need,

so thank me for blowing your mind up, you’re welcome.

Finishing is better than starting.

Patience is better than pride.

Ecclesiastes 7:8

 

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You don’t need a smoker or anything fancy for this. All you need is time, and not even that much of it compared to some other methods you’ll find. One could certainly power through the entire recipe and have it on the table in 7 hours, otherwise you can chill it after shredding for up to 5 days, then finish with the last 2 hours of baking before serving, which thickens the sauce into a sticky, molasses-like glaze. The choice of fruit juice is arbitrary, but I like mango because it reduces into the richest glaze.

Ingredients for the pulled pork, serves 16:

8 lbs local pork shoulder, choose one that’s well marbled

3 tbsp kosher salt

1 bottle (400-425 ml) barbeque sauce ,use your favourite, but if don’t have one, get a darker one that’s more smoky than sweet

1 bottle (400-425 ml) mango juice (I’ve also succeeded with pomegranate, peach, and apple)

To make the pulled pork, remove any string from the pork if it’s in the form of a tied roast. Make a deep cut to butterfly the pork so it is about 3-4 inches thick throughout. Do not trim any of the fat.

Rub the pork all over with salt and place, fat side facing up, in a roasting pan. Squeeze the barbeque sauce over the pork without smearing – you want the sauce to form a cap and sit on top of the meat. Fill the barbeque sauce bottle with the juice and shake it to dissolve the bit of sauce remaining. Pour the mixture around the pork.

Seal the pan tightly with aluminum foil, overlapping a couple of sheets.

Bake at 295 degrees F for 5-5 1/2 hours, until the fat is rendered and meat shreds effortlessly. Shred the pork with two forks while it’s still hot in a separate large bowl and return it back to the pan of pork jus. Discard any visible lumps of fat.

Bake at 300 degrees F, loosely covered for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until the sauce reduces into a thick glaze and the color intensifies.

For the coleslaw I did not want anything heavy or mayonnaise-y at all since the pork itself is rich enough. In fact, this method of making coleslaw is inspired by the Taiwanese pickling technique of first making a vinegar simple syrup, then pouring the hot syrup over the vegetables and letting it sit for three days. The result is something incredibly flavourful with a gutsy balance of acidity to cut through the pork’s fattiness just barely mellowed by a touch of mayonnaise.

Ingredients for the lime slaw:

100 ml rice vinegar

100 ml sugar

1 kg coleslaw blend (shredded green cabbage, purple cabbage, and carrots)

1 lime, zest and juice

3 tbsp good quality mayonnaise

To make the lime slaw, dissolve the sugar with the vinegar in a small sauce pan. Pour over the coleslaw blend and mix thoroughly with the remaining ingredients. Cover and chill at least overnight, though it will be best three days later.

To assemble the sandwiches, just pile the warmed pork and cold slaw onto your favourite buns, I recommend a stronger-bodied bread, but really, anything goes. You can’t go wrong with pulled pork.

Enjoy! (And don’t forget the napkins!)

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A Scrappy Panegyric

The typical home cook may not have a sous-vide, smoke gun, nor all those chemo-gastro tricks and bits in their cupboard. But in my experience, refrigerator purgation is a fun enough sport of its own.

I have no doubt that by this age, any conscientious cook would be well aware of the amazing efficiency of North Americans in wasting food. And I’m equally certain that many of you secretly do a victory hand gesture when you come up with something perfectly delicious out of seemingly nothing.

Story of these banana scones.

1. Bananas: leftover and on the verge of becoming the breeding ground of fruit flies.

2. Cream cheese: leftover and mistaken for butter due to its dehydrated state of being.

3. Sour cream: leftover from (now on vaycay) cousins frozen pierogi endeavours.

4. Butter: the last stick – hey, that’s barely enough for anything.

Perhaps you can now begin to understand my excitement when I used all of them up and popped these golden babes out the oven!

So tell me, what’s the most outrageously delicious thing you’ve done to redeem ingredients that’ve passed the point of no return?

He feels pity

for the weak and the needy,

and he will rescue them.

He will redeem them

from oppression and violence,

for their lives are precious to him.

Psalm 72:13-14

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Ingredients for the Roasted Banana on top:

1 large banana, sliced into 12 1/4-inch thick rounds

2 tbsp sugar, to coat

To make the roasted banana garnish, dip one side of each banana slice in the sugar to coat generously.

Ingredients for the Banana, Cinnamon, Cream Cheese Scones:

makes 12

3 c AP flour, you can substitute up to half with whole wheat

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 c cold butter, cubed

2 tbsp cold cream cheese, cubed

1 large, overripe banana

1/2 c sour cream

scant 1/3 c heavy cream

1 large egg

2 tsp vanilla

To make the scones, preheat the oven to 365 degrees F, with the racks spaced evenly in the oven.

Put the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a food processor and blend until even. Pulse in the cold butter and cream cheese until a coarse mixture forms and there are still some small, visible bits of butter remaining. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and chill in the fridge until needed.

Puree the banana, sour cream, heavy cream, egg, and vanilla until very smooth in a tall container using an immersion blender.

Take the flour mixture from the fridge and make a large hole in the middle. Pour in the banana mixture and stir gently with a fork just to combine – it should hardly even come together. Divide the mixture in half and knead each portion at most twice to bring it together. Gather each into a mound and press it into an inch-thick disc. Cut each disc into 6 wedges and transfer to 2 baking sheets, leaving 1-inch space in between.

Brush with a little extra cream and garnish with the sugar coated banana slices. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until pale golden and risen.

Serve warm or at room temperature…

…with a cup of black, obviously.

 

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the Original Drive-Thru

It’s always in the simplest, purest of ingredients that you notice the biggest difference. This time, I’m shining the light on a local farm that treats their hens right. And of course, happy hens => happy eggs => happy eating.

What’s even better? I don’t even have to stand in line at the farmer’s market to get them. They have a drive-through right at the farm, and literally all you need to do is “honk for service”. Yup, an egg drive-through. Where do I even come from, right?

Maple Ridge, British Columbia. And the adorable farm is called “Never Say Die” Nursery. See? Adorable.

But back to the eggs, gorgeous doesn’t describe them. And the term #yolkporn disgusts me. Seriously, don’t adulterate something so natural and nourishing. Whenever I come across a good egg it always makes me momentarily breathless. It must be the combination of the yolk’s bright tangerine color (#f28500 hex color code, look it up), the way the yolk stands so proudly in a visibly distinct sac of albumen when you crack it open that inspires me to treat it well.

This time, it’s poaching. There’s something about the tenderness of spring asparagus, the whimsy of sweet peas, and the viridity of a jiggly poached egg that makes them, together, instinctively irresistible.

As for those limp, watery eggs that have a sad, deflated, pale yellow yolk swimming inside of them, hide them in a box-mix cake or something. Do not attempt to serve them in their form. Also, never buy them again, for those eggs are from caged, drugged hens (in the name of mass economical production! oh joy!) and should not even be produced.

Hopefully you’ve seen the light as far as the topic of eggs, now go and convince your taste buds!

Take no part in

the unfruitful

works of darkness,

but instead

expose them.

Ephesians 5:11

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Believe it or not, this is my very first time poaching an egg. So as you can see, it really is nothing to be scared of. To be honest, I was pretty terrified right up to the point I lowered in the egg, but immediately I realized that you are physically incapable of messing this up so long as you follow along this little tutorial. Also, as if I have not drilled it into your kitchen backsplash, a good free range egg is not negotiable – you and your family deserve at least that.

So here goes:

How to poach an egg

Step 1: If your egg has been sitting in the fridge, bring your egg to room temperature by submerging them in a bowl of warm tap water for 5 minutes. Pat your egg dry and crack it into a small bowl. If your egg’s already at room temperature, just crack it into a small bowl. Take care not to break the yolk. (This should not be difficult as fresh free range eggs have very robust yolks!)

Step 2: Add 2 tbsp white vinegar to a large pot of water and let it come up to a rolling boil.

Step 3: Turn off the heat and use a spoon to stir the water quickly in a clock-wise direction to make a whirlpool in the pot’s center.

Step 4: While the current is still strong, gently tip the egg into the middle of the whirlpool.

Step 5: Cover and let it poach for 150 seconds (2 1/2 minutes), then carefully lift it out with a slotted spoon.

At this point you can either serve it immediately, or place it in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

Now let’s get on with the recipe!

Ingredients for the Penne with Pan-Roasted Asparagus, Sweet Peas, Pesto, and Caramelized Lemon

serves 4

340 g organic corn penne, or your preferred chunky pasta (I like penne because it’s the same shape as the asparagus)

1 large lemon, scrubbed clean and halved

3 tbsp olive oil

600 g asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch sticks on the diagonal

1/2 c basil pesto (recipe follows)

2/3 c white wine (whatever you have on hand, I used chablis)

1 1/4 c frozen sweet peas

lots of fine sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil to season

To make the asparagus penne, cook the pasta as directed on the package.

Meanwhile, heat your cast iron on the stove until very hot. Place the lemon halves, cut sides down in the hot pan and hold them down firmly for 30~60 seconds, or until the surface is well-browned and caramelized. This will completely change the flavour profile of the lemon and give it a sweeter, deeper dimension. Slice off and reserve the caramelized parts only. (Use the rest for lemon water or something.)

Keep the pan on medium heat, add 1 tbsp of the oil just to coat the bottom and add the asparagus. Season generously and let it sit undisturbed for 20 seconds or so to get some browned, crispy bits. Stir a couple times, just until all the pieces are bright green.

Transfer the asparagus into a large salad/mixing bowl. Stir in the frozen peas to stop the cooking process. By now the pasta should be cooked. Drain and toss it with the vegetables.

Keep the element on and add the remaining oil to the pan and stir in the pesto to wake up its flavour. Deglaze with the white wine and stir until the alcohol burns off. Pour the sauce over the pasta mixture and stir through. Check and adjust the seasoning.

Divide between four plates. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, top with an optional (but definitely recommended) poached egg, and serve with a slice of caramelized lemon.

Enjoy!

To make a vegan pesto, throw 50 g sweet basil, 2 garlic cloves, 3 tbsp toasted pine nuts, 3/4 tsp sea salt, and 1/2 cup olive oil in a small food processor and whiz to a textured puree. Store in a glass jar, pour a thin film of olive oil over top to seal and cover with the lid. This will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks.

 

 

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Take a minute

I just realized that I’ve never actually posted a blueberry recipe here before. How do I even call myself a British Columbian right? I do have a handful of blueberry recipes rolled up my sleeve, but it can be tough sometimes to actually go and feature something when you are figuratively swamped by it.

Yeah, yeah, I know this sounds super bratty and ridiculous (like those people who say “sorry, I only have fifties”), but I’m not complaining at all. It’s just that I don’t even bother to do anything remotely (subjectively) worth mentioning or creative with those blues. Most of the time I just eat them like popcorn (I imagine this would be an appropriate comparison though I don’t even eat popcorn), straight out of the bowl.

Thankfully, this post will fix that. And for those of you folks halfway around the world gawking at pictures of fresh blueberries (because you only have mangoes and papayas, you poor souls) you can use frozen blueberries. It doesn’t even matter if they’re small and tart, it actually means you’ll have more fresh blueberry flavour once the cake’s done.

Coffee, anyone? And this is best eaten warm and crisp from the oven, so share!

Whoever has two tunics

is to share with him who has none,

and whoever has food

is to do likewise.

Luke 3:11

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Ingredients for the Blueberry Almond Double-Crumble Coffee Cake, 9-inch:

for the batter:

3 c oat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1/2 c almond milk or other milk of choice

1/4 c coconut oil

1 large ripe banana

1/2 c packed brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 large lemon, zest and juice

generous 1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (do not thaw)

for the crumble topping:

1/2 c packed brown sugar

1/2 c oats

1/2 c oat flour

1/3 c pure almond butter

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

To make the blueberry crumble cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with the rack placed in the center of the oven. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with parchment.

Make the crumble topping; mix together thoroughly all ingredients for the crumble in a small mixing bowl. Set Aside.

Prepare the batter; whisk together all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Puree the almond milk, coconut oil, banana, brown sugar, lemon, and vanilla in a blender until smooth. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir just to combine. Fold in the blueberries.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top. Squeeze a handful of the crumble mixture to let it clump up, then break it coarsely over the  batter. Repeat with the remaining crumble mixture.

Bake for 35-40 minutes if you used fresh blueberries. If you used frozen blueberries, bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the top is browned and toothpick inserted comes out with moist crumbs.

Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing. Don’t fuss over getting clean, beautiful slices (there’s double crumble, so just forget it).

Enjoy with your favourite coffee!

 

 

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Mien Attitude

Noodles, beyond any other food group has the richest history and diversity. One can tell plenty of dish’s origin by simply reading its name as long as it involves a noodle of some sort.

I am, by no means, an expert on noodles – especially so when it comes to western pastas. BUT, to be honest, if your food memories have been pickled since childhood in Taiwanese gastro-culture, you probably know a thing or two about an iconic bowl of #saucyasiannoodles.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, noodles are very revealing. Just as how table manners of a kid will show you the discipline of the parent, a humble bowl of noodles will tell you the style of its cook, and maybe get even more personal.

This recipe here, please don’t smash it to bits, because it got me through freshman year. It’s unpretentious, but it insists on keeping the details. It’s cheap, but not so it should apologize. And it’s so damn delicious it will fix all of your problems.

That’s just me though, so I have no idea what this bowl of noodles will say to you.

Guess you’ll have to find out for yourself ! But in case you missed it, I’ll start you off and tell you that this is a “dan” good bowl of noodles! (No, do not excuse that pun!)

But solid food is for the mature,

for those who have their powers of discernment

trained by constant practice

to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:14

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Ingredients for the Szechuan dan dan soba with kale and chili oil, serves 2:

2 tbsp Chinese sesame paste (not tahini or the pastry filling)

4 tbsp natural smooth peanut butter (unsweetened)

2 tsp brown sugar

1/3 c soy sauce

1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 tbsp Szechuan fried chili in oil and more to taste

1 bunch kale, trimmed and torn

3 bunches buckwheat soba noodles

3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

To make the dan dan soba, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Meanwhile, combine the sesame paste, peanut butter, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and Szechuan chili in a bowl and stir well.

Once the water is boiling, blanch the kale until wilted and lift them out to drain, then squeeze out any excess moisture. Separate the kale leaves and put them in a large bowl. Add the sauce on top.

Keep the pot boiling, and add the soba noodles to the pot to cook until tender, not al dente (this is one of the biggest differences between Asian noodles and Italian pasta.) Lift the noodles out and transfer them straight into the bowl of kale. Make sure you are combining piping hot noodles with the sauce as the heat is what makes the sauce aromatic. Mix and toss thoroughly, adding a couple ladles of hot noodle water to reach your desired consistency. (Again, don’t just add plain water, as that will break the sauce.)

Divide among two big bowls, and garnish with the scallions and more Szechuan chili oil. (I usually add an additional teaspoon to my bowl, but I’ve been told as having a pretty h-core heat tolerance. However, I strongly recommend starting with a whole tablespoon in the sauce as a starting point.)

Enjoy with a cup of hot green tea!