26 June 2010

Tofu, Spinach, and Improvised Asian-Fusion "Noodles"

Foodwise, I've been on a bit of an Asian kick lately.  Normally, after repeated and prolonged exposure to any one cuisine, I'll reach a burnout point that signals me to find another culinary fixation.  But perhaps it is because the cuisine of that vast continent is so broad and varied that this recent Asian food bender hasn't left me sick of its flavors and staple dishes.  It probably helps that I have always had a particular interest in East Asian culture and, especially in recent years, have become more inclined to reconnect with my Filipino heritage.

Sometime last week, when my sister was still down here for a visit, she suggested we cook a few Korean dishes.  Having been directed by a coworker to an awesome site chock-full of Korean recipes, my big sis was all over what entree she wanted to make; she had even selected vegan-friendly sides that she thought I would enjoy.  After glancing over the recipes, I gladly agreed to assist my sister with dinner by preparing two simple, delectable vegan side dishes.
Making the Panfried Tofu with Spicy Sauce (Dubu buchim yangnyumjang) was my first task.  I followed the recipe almost exactly as written, using a little less oil than called for and substituting pure maple syrup for the sugar.  I also used super-firm tofu from a massive leftover block.  In a matter of minutes, I had delicious, spicy tofu cooked, plated, and ready for eating.

The Spinach Side Dish (Sigeumchi namul) came together even more quickly than the tofu dish, and was just as tasty.  I again utilized leftovers--unseasoned, blanched spinach this time--to complete the dish.  The garlic-sesame dressing jazzed up the greens quite nicely, which paired well with the sesame-topped tofu.

On a separate occasion, I drew inspiration from a take-out menu and the contents of my fridge and freezer when attempting to recreate a particular Asian-fusion dish.  The item of focus was Rad Na, a Thai-Chinese noodle dish I had recently enjoyed at a local Thai restaurant.  It featured wide, flat rice noodles (chow fun, which I love) and broccoli cooked in soybean gravy.  While the dish's traditional manifestation includes fish sauce and some type of meat, I was able to order a flavorful and completely satisfying animal-free version, with beef-style gluten strips and sans fish sauce.  Noodle-lover that I am, I fell in love with my vegan Rad Na and made a mental note to try to recreate it at home.

So a few days later, I made up my mind to do just that, using whatever I happened to have on-hand.  Unsurprisingly, I was lacking several ingredients, namely rice noodles, broccoli, Thai soy sauce, and Thai bean sauce.  I did, however, find Korean rice cake ovalettes (garaeddeok) in the bottomless pit of my freezer, and in the fridge, more blanched spinach, cooked soybeans, and fermented black bean-garlic sauce.  Figuring that garaeddeok was an adequate noodle substitute and being perfectly fine with spinach as the green veggie stand-in, I hoped that soybeans and black bean sauce could somehow make a good gravy, because I wasn't about to abandon my Rad Na experiment at that point in the brainstorming process.
And after all of the improvisation, I was pleased with the results.  Despite the fact that it wasn't quite like the noodle dish I enjoyed just days prior, I found it pleasantly reminiscent of it, with a similar sweet-savory flavor and chewy texture.  It reminded me of how much I like those little ovalettes--I am very fond of carbohydrates, after all--and that all is not lost if one is willing to be a little creative with what is already available.  Here is an approximation of the ingredients and process I used for my Thai-Chinese-Korean-fusion dish:

Rice Cake Rad Na (printable recipe)
Yields 2 to 3 servings

1 1/2 c rice cake slices/ovalettes (garaeddeok), boiled until al dente, then drained
1 c cooked soybeans, drained
2 T vegetarian "oyster" sauce
1 T soy sauce, preferably low-sodium
1 T fermented black bean-garlic sauce
1 T brown sugar
1 c vegetable broth, preferably low-sodium
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp water
2 tsp canola/vegetable oil
Greens of choice (I used approximately 3/4 c blanched spinach, drained of excess liquid.)
2 green onions, chopped
Ground black pepper, to taste
Sriracha, to taste

In a medium sauce pot over medium-high flame, heat the soybeans, "oyster" sauce, soy sauce, black bean-garlic sauce, brown sugar, and vegetable broth until it begins to boil.  In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with the water, then stir it into the contents of the pot until well-incorporated.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large, nonstick pan, heat the oil over medium flame.  Add the drained rice cake slices and cook for a few minutes, stirring and turning, until slightly crisp all around.  Stir in the soybean sauce to coat the rice cake slices. Add the spinach and green onions, black pepper, and sriracha. Serve hot.
I'm certainly not through with exploring Asian cuisine; there is so much I am eager to try.  The journey looks to be a delicious one.


  1. This is very timely--I have a bunch of those "ovals" in my freezer as well. Thanks for the idea!

  2. Wow, beautiful dishes! I don't know if I've ever had Korean food; it's hard to get it completely vegan when it's authentic!

  3. Nice to have found your blog! I love scrounging around the fridge and getting creative too. Nice job- I'm adding you to my blog list! :)

  4. Nice to have found your blog! I love scrounging around the fridge and getting creative too. Nice job- I'm adding you to my blog list! :)


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