Easiest Pasta Salad

Simple, colourful, and utterly satisfying. Probably prettier in a wooden bowl, but you know, beggars can't be choosers.

Simple, colourful, and utterly satisfying. Probably prettier in a wooden bowl, but you know, beggars can’t be choosers.

Last summer, I lived for a while with some wonderful folks with an amazing patio. You know, the kind that is level with the widest branches of the trees and suspends you above the rest of the city, filtered through the greenery? This location magically inspired food with lots of fresh vegetables. I ate a LOT of salad. Something about being outdoors inspires further freshness. But because raw veggies can only take you so far, I started finding ways to mix grains into my creations. The pasta salad of my youth was an egg-ridden, totally gross swamp of cholesterol, dodgy food standards and sodium. This variation couldn’t be further removed from that science experiment of a side dish.

This little pasta salad is easy-peasy, varied, and filling enough to be a meal in itself. It follows a simple formula, and the secret is in the sauce. No gross eggy-stuff required.

  1. Pick a cute little pasta. I like bowties. Things like shells tend to stick to each other too much. Macaroni is good, if you’re down with the retro-feel of the uniform elbows.
  2. Pick fresh, flavourful vegetables in four different colours. Colour is important to the appreciation of this dish. It symbolizes the variety and abundance of harvest times. I like crunchy veggies and ones that suck up sauces thirstily, like broccoli.
  3. Use good herbs. I use dried marjoram, thyme, and tarragon. And then fresh parsley and/or cilantro. The fresh parsley really contributes to the flavour of this dish, so try not to ditch it. Use the flat-leaf kind, it’s tastier and has a nicer texture.
  4. Infuse your olive oil. Take a good olive oil, and brown a whole lot of minced garlic in it. It will infuse the oil with garlic flavour, which will then distribute evenly through the pasta. If you want some kick, use dried chilis in your olive oil infusion. Go ahead and add some capers, sundried tomatoes, or marinated artichoke hearts for tang and depth. Stir in some nooch, dijon and almond flour enough to make a cream. Add lemon juice and cider or wine vinegar (yes, both) until it is thinned enough to just coat the back of a spoon. Toss liberally with your salad.
  5. I like fresh greens, such as rough chopped arugula, spinach or chard stirred in at the last minute. It makes it all feel fresher and brighter.
  6. Go ahead and add some beans. Chickpeas, small white beans and green lentils are nice.

This recipe makes me long for summer days and crisp, cool Rieslings sipped on the porch. Also, it pulls together in maybe 20 minutes. Can’t go wrong.

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Life in Montreal/ Slurpy Noodles (aka The Best Dish Ever)

I don't know why Elvis has a bandaid on his crotch. Probably tore his pants moving fridges.

Native Montrealers flock to run-down, old-timey second-hand stores for all their home appliance needs. The stale cigarette stench and glitter-plastered interiors are just a bonus. http://wikimapia.org/1695232/Ameublement-Elvis

First, you should know that Montreal apartments don’t come with fridges or stoves. Fucked if I know why. It’s not like 19 year-olds rolling out of college have savings lined up for the purchase of household appliances. They’re lucky if they’ve got beer money for the party next weekend. To make matters worse, we have had some of the weirdest architectural rules on the continent due to a sordid mix of terrible policy making, the mob, the church, the police, and the real estate board. That story requires a whole new post, but the gist is that you can’t get an apartment in the Plateau of Montreal without at least a flight or two of sketchy, half-broken, ice-covered external stairs that you have to move appliances up and down every time you bail on your lease in search of a noncorrupt landlord (good luck).  As a result of all this there is a thriving circulation of used appliances working its way through craigslist, second-hand stores, and the sidewalks of the student ghetto on the first of each month. None of which have ever made it into my home.

After careful consideration of the broken-ass stairs up to my third-story flat, my roomate and I decided that perhaps it would be best if we just got a mini fridge and hot plate rather than doing the traditional neck-breaking rite of passage that the locals endure to make it into their apartments.

This actually works surprisingly well for us, by and large. She mostly lives off my leftovers, I walk by three grocers on my way home from work, cold beer is available right across the street til 11pm. We have a system. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough.

But right at this moment, only the second burner on my ancient hotplate is working, and the fridge is turning everything into inedible blocks of ice. Except the PBR. It’s actually making the PBR drinkable. So after feeding ice carrots and shards of crystalized arugula to Lady Rattington (the local cute fuzzy thing), my guy and I sauntered off to the store in search of nosh. An hour later, we were home with fixings for the Best Dish Ever.

My friends, without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce you to, literally, the best dish ever. What makes it so good? Let me count the ways!

  • It comes together in maybe 30 minutes.
  • It’s cheap.
  • You can get all the ingredients anywhere at any time of year.
  • There are a million substitutions you can make.
  • The most important ingredients are ones you can keep on hand in the pantry
  • It makes a ton or a little with about the same amount of effort
  • It is delicious. It’s literally stuff to write home about. People taste this shit and facebook it before they get to the second bite.

This is not so much a recipe as a serving suggestion, but I’ll do the best I can to make it clear enough for you to reproduce with reasonable success after a few tries.

Slurpy Noodles

Ingredients:

1 block Extra firm tofu, cubed
1 cup Dried shiitakes, soaked and sliced, or use fresh, or criminis, or whatever.
2 cups Greens- baby bok choy, soaked seaweed, kale, etc. I usually just go with one.
2 packs Noodles- the thick, vacuum-packed wheat noodles that stay inexplicably fresh outside of the fridge. They look like worms. Moreso when covered in saucy goodness.

Sauce:

1 tbsp Garlic chili sauce– careful, some brands have fish, etc. The measurement is a guide, adjust to taste
1 tbsp Tamari, or more at the end if things need more salt
1 tbsp Fermented tasty salty things- I usually use umeboshi, but fermented black beans work well
2 tbsp Mirin- preferably the real kind, can omit
1 tbsp Toasted sesame oil, plus more to drizzle over
2 tbsp Rice vinegar (use this to taste, be careful if using the seasoned variety cause it’ll throw off the balance of everything else)
Black pepper- I don’t know why, it just makes it for me.

Optional:

Peppers, bean sprouts, green onions, cilantro and lime, hot peppers, sesame seeds, etc.

For this recipe to work, all you need to do is brown your mushrooms in a hot oiled pan, then add the tofu to brown lightly, then add the greens. Mix the sauce ingredients together and add with the greens, toss on a lid to steam it all for a minute or two, and then mix in a big bowl with your noodles (boil them first to loosen them up, or nuke them in a bowl of water). Easy peasy.

Slurpy noodles

Seriously. You’ve got to try them. The tastiest worms ever.

Smooth and Bright Chickpea Soup

I make hummus all the time, but I never really thought of making pureed chickpeas into a soup until I saw this recipe. What a great idea! However, being vegan, I can’t really puree chickpeas in stock and call it a meal… I mean 90% of the time hummus is the only thing I can eat at a non-veg restaurant, so I pack back a lot of lightly seasoned chickpeas. I need a little bit of oomph behind them to make them work preparing at home. So, this is my take on a creamy chickpea soup. The inclusion of fresh vegetables slowly cooked in olive oil goes a long way to making this dish truly satisfying.

Smooth and Bright Chickpea Soup
Makes 2 servings

1 500 mL can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1 small carrot, minced
1 head garlic, minced
black pepper, to taste
2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 vegetarian chicken-style bouillon cube (for 2 cups of water)
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
red chili flakes, to garnish

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low until uniformly soft, fragrant, and beginning to brown. Add garlic, pepper, and rosemary, cooking quickly for 1 minute. Add chickpeas, then fill the chickpea can with cold water and add to the pot as well. Bring to a boil, add the bouillon cube, stir and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then allow to cool slightly. Add the soup to your blender of food processor and pulse until just smooth- not the consistency of baby food, you should still be able to see some flecks of carrot, but it should coat the back of a spoon smoothly and not seem too fibrous. Return the pureed soup to the pot with the lemon and parsley, warm over medium heat until good and hot. Enjoy with some red chili flakes sprinkled over, some good crusty bread and a glass of Cabernet. Or water. Whatever floats your boat.