sesame zoodles

Sesame Zoodles with Chicken Meatballs

Jump right to the sesame zoodles recipe—it looks more complicated than it is because of the ingredients, relax—or the sesame zoodles steps, or just keep reading to find out how I got there.

sesame zoodles

A bizarre thing has happened to me. Me, carb lover extraordinaire, now sees a big bowl of noodles and thinks….shrug.

Maybe it’s aging. Maybe it’s not having my own kitchen for 2 months and eating out every damn day, and going at one point almost an entire week without, as Queen Victoria would say, A Successful Movement. Well, the movie version of her said that.

sesame zoodles help successful movements
I feel ya, Vic

Now meanwhile, what I missed the most in 8 weeks of traveling was having my own kitchen. We did not have an AirBnB this time, but stayed with a family to up the immersion level (we’ve just returned from 8 weeks studying Spanish in South America). But I don’t like cooking in someone else’s kitchen, using their invariably crappy knives and cutting boards, and sharing the not-so-spotless fridge and stovetop. So what I looked forward to more than anything was cooking.

Then again, I didn’t want to think very much. If you follow my instagram (and if you don’t, I’d be deeply grateful if you would: @nanlechou), you have seen me downright rhapsodic lately about Tieghan over at Half Baked Harvest. Tieghan is a wonderful cook and photographer, and she prints her weekly menus in a really delightful post called “Nine Favorite Things,” which is more like 50. So I’ve been making her stuff, mostly verbatim, except for this dish, because…well, it’s mostly noodles. I also wasn’t crazy about ground chicken, because I prefer meatballs to little floaty ground chicken crumbles.

But please, if you like, cook Tieghan’s version. Here’s the link to her recipe for Better than Take-out Szechuan Noodles.

Sesame Zoodles: The Adaptation

This was a super easy adapation. I kept Tieghan’s sesame oil, which is kind of genius; I also had plenty left over to roast some veggies the next day. You can see the sauce in the main pic above; I didn’t think to get a solo shot of it.

I made the zoodles and threw in a carrot.

You can buy these already spiraled, but wow, they’re kind of pricey. The spiralizer was a gift from my late and deeply missed brother-in-law, Larry Cobler, so when I cook with it I think of him and that is delightful.

I have been planning to do a meatball post forever, and finally, whoomp, here it is. For these, I used (of course) ground chicken, a mix of panko and uncooked oats for the bread, soaking those in a mix of about 1/1 ratio of soy sauce and sake. I also added a bunch of parsley and dill. Cilantro would have been awesome, but I didn’t have any, and lately I’m truly digging the subtlety of dill in combo with Asian flavors. There’s also a chopped up kale leaf and some cabbage in the veggie mix.

sesame zoodles

Finally I added an egg and some salt and mixed it all up.

sesame zoodles meatball mix

For the sauce, I liked Tieghan’s idea of saucing the noodles with a mix of honey, soy sauce, and vinegar. But for me, sesame noodles have to have some kind of nut butter, because that’s how the take-out versions are in New York, where I learned to love them. So, as you’ll see in the recipe below, I just sort of screwed around and did my own thing.

The result was super yummy, filling without feeling heavy, and—gasp—actually completely paleo other than the grains (which a die hard paleo could leave out or replace with cooked quinoa).

So here they are: Sesame Zoodles fit for any hungry, hungry hippo on your list. Enjoy with a little green tea or a light rosé. Spring DOES eventually show up. This may help you remember that.

sesame zoodles with chicken meatballs

Sesame Zoodles with Chicken Meatballs: The Recipe


Tempeh Stir-Fry

There’s a reason I had to come up with a decent-tasting tempeh stir fry.

tempeh-stir-fry

Read about it, along with the step by step instructions, unless you want to just jump to the recipe. Also know that, if beef is your thing—or chicken or shrimp—this will work just fine.

I’ve been very open about my no-beef policy. But guess what picture stops my little heart every time I see it? (In a good way, mind you, not a CPR-requiring way.) Beef stir-fry. I see them all the time, the strips of meat looking all dark and salty next to bright green broccoli or asparagus and shocking red strips of bell pepper. And I think, hmmm, I want that. But….beef! Ick.

I’ve never been a huge burger fan, either, so this stir-fried beef visual craving is just plain weird.

(I’m not, by the way, going to try to convert any of you beef lovers out there. Truthfully, I don’t eat beef because the texture freaks me out, and I just don’t like how it tastes. BUT at a recent show at the California Academy of Sciences, this incredible museum in the middle of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, I saw the difference between the carbon footprint of a hamburger vs a turkey burger or veggie burger. Let’s just say I felt quite, quite smug and righteous, because that carbon footprint for one beef burger is Massive. Lessening your beef consumption really can make a huge positive difference to the planet. I mean, I believe the planet’s going to take care of itself; it’s just going to get pretty gnarly for us as a species to continue to live here, particularly with some of our more insane practices. One of which is destroying the rain forest—which we really require in order to breath—so MacDonald’s can make more money. And c’mon, those burgers are total crap, and also, how much money do those guys need? If you do eat beef, support a local ethical cattle farmer. They exist! That way, you help out a local farmer, which gets a big yay in my book, and you put higher quality fuel in your body. And if enough folks will make the switch, the rain forests and subsequently Planet Earth have a better shot at being healthy as well.)

Tempeh Stir-Fry: Why Tempeh?

According to many vegan cookbooks, the go-to alternative to beef is wheat gluten or seitan, which is pronounced very close to the name of the Great Deceiver Himself. Appropriate, because are you seriously going to chew on a big old piece of gluten? I mean, that just seems so, so wrong. Tofu I like, but it’s tofu. Nobody’s going to convince you it’s anything else, and I recognize that for most of the world, tofu is to them what beef is to me, i.e. a really bizarre texture and something most folks just don’t want to put in their mouths.

Tempeh Stir-Fry: The Marinade

So tempeh. Tempeh comes out of the package looking a bit weird and pebbly. You could just fry it, but you will probably be sad. Let’s admit that, in the flavor department, tempeh makes you wish for bland. Because bland is more interesting than tempeh. Here it is after marinating, and it STILL looks pretty boring.

tempeh stir-fry

But that marinade is the solution. And while I’m still experimenting, so far in my experience, only a soy-sauce based marinade does the trick. Tempeh needs the salt pretty seriously, or at least the salt flavor. A low sodium soy sauce will do the trick just fine. Give it at least four hours to soak, but for this recipe, I let it sit for 36 with no detriment.

My tempeh marinade was inspired by tempeh stir-fry

Last of all mix up a little sauce from sake. Yes, you can use cooking sherry or white wine if they’re what you have on hand. Sake, however, is my go to for cooking. For one thing, unlike wine, I’m not tempted to drink it. But that flavor I’m not crazy about in a glass is glorious in a saute pan: clean, bright, just a little sweet. Other sauce ingredients should include a little more soy—about 1 part to 2-3 parts sake—and a splash of rice vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and 4 parts broth or water. Carefully sprinkle in some cornstarch or potato starch, about a tablespoon for 1/4 cup of liquid, and whisk til smooth. This is how you get that syrupy finish that makes a classic Chinese stir-fry, well, classic. Make sure you have it made up ahead of time so you can just throw it in at the last minute.

Heat your pan, then your oil, and fry the tempeh first, about 4 minutes a side. Then remove it to a plate.

tempeh stir-fry

Add a little more oil—you really do need to be pretty generous with it if you don’t want stuff to stick. First add your minced garlic and ginger. Then sauté the veggies in the order of longest to shortest cooking time. Of this batch, eggplant cubes took the longest, then bell peppers, mushrooms, green beans, carrots, and scallions.

tempeh stir-fy

Give the starch/broth mix one last whisk, then pour it in. Steam will rise dramatically, so have a lid handy to capture it.

After a few minutes, remove the lid and mix in the cubed jicama and, if you like, chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of hemp hearts, sesame seeds, or even toasted nuts or seeds if you like. I put some noodles on the side, because I love them.

Enjoy with chopsticks or—sigh—if you must, a fork.

tempeh-stir-fry

Tempeh Stir Fry: The Recipe

Watermelon Salsa

I confess that this will be a photo-lite post. I came up with watermelon salsa completely on a whim, or, as the French say, caprice. (I prefer caprice, don’t you? “Whim” sounds so, well, wimpy, but “caprice” trips across the ear in a sparkly way, like a little fairy dancing past my head. Careful, fairy! Don’t buzz like a mosquito, or you’ll be fairy toast.) So I didn’t do much planning, just snapped the final product. watermelon salsa with corn, scallions, and cilantro

Read this brief post about how I came up with this wondrous thing, or jump to the recipe.

I had been experimenting with a black-eyed pea and collard taco, based on an Isa Chandra Moskowitz recipe (from Isa Does It). I’m not publishing results for my version of the taco, because I’m still fiddling a bit to deem it shareable with y’all. I admit that most beans taste weird to me. Other people say “earthy”, I say “reminiscent of dirt.” I dunno what it is that bugs me.

Anyway, Ms. Moskowitz features an apple/avocado salsa on her black-eyed pea taco, a great flavor/texture choice. But heck, it’s summer. I don’t want to eat apples. Then I thought: Hey! Black-eyed peas/collards = southern U.S. states, therefore fresh corn and watermelon also = southern U.S. states = what I like to eat in summer. Suddenly, like Rapunzel’s pregnant mother, I could not get watermelon out of my mind. (In her case, she couldn’t get some European lettuce called rapunzel off her mind, hence her kid’s weirdo name.)

Dammit, I HAD to have some watermelon.

So I chopped it up, noticed some scallions in the fridge—the mildest of onions—and sliced them, shaved the kernels off a half ear of corn, squeezed in some lime, sprinkled in cilantro, and voila! Fresh watermelon salsa. Which I immediately ate with a spoon, and then I remembered my taco, which had turned into a collard wrap, and to which I’d added some sweet potato fries. Because southern U.S. states also = sweet potatoes.

watermelon salsa on a collard wrap

I imagine this marrying nicely to any kind of pale meat taco, particularly shrimp or chicken. Maybe even pork (though I only ever eat the stray piece of bacon or sausage, so can’t say for sure). The coolness and crunch of the ingredients complements spicy proteins in a lovely, light way. Enjoy!

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Watermelon Salsa: The Recipe