On Monday, Waylon took me out to the Dahlia Lounge in downtown Seattle to celebrate the fact that we’ve been dating for two years. I know that’s a little corny, but things like that make me happy and my boyfriend knows it and doesn’t mind playing along–especially when it involves dressing nicely and going out to eat. We both had never been there before but after recently finding out who Tom Douglas is, we decided to give it a try. Do I sound too flaky if I say I’m now pretty much obsessed with Tom Douglas? I’ve even signed up to volunteer at one of his Seattle food events in August. (I hope I meet him!!) But really, how could you not be crazy about him? I love “northwest” cuisine (see my previous post), and Tom Douglas is basically the man that has perfected it over the past couple decades with an emphasis on fresh, local and organic food.
Needless to say, the scallops, crab cakes, salmon that we had on Monday were divine. The creme caramel and almond and cherry tart with cicely ice cream that we shared for dessert were phenomenal as well. I honestly don’t know how he and his staff make food taste so wonderful. And the thing is, he’s not taking food and masking its flavors to create something heavy and outrageous. He just makes really, really good food by making it taste like exactly what it is–I’ve never had spring vegetables of english peas, fava beans and corn taste so pure and I’ve never had salmon that tastes so… salmon-y. I apologize for the ineloquence but I hope you know what I mean. The food at the Dahlia Lounge just goes to show the best cooking (in my opinion, at least) is that which showcases pure, natural flavors.
I’m sorry for gushing for so long about my latest food-crush, but really that’s the only excitement in my life right now. The rest of my week has been spent helping out at a day camp at a local elementary school. As I’m sure you can imagine, my work consists of basically playing with kids all day which isn’t a bad job in my opinion. However, while it’s been pretty fun and interesting it also happens to be really tiring (or at least for me). My usual enthusiasm for making a large dinner and dessert for the family has waned and all I crave is something fresh, healthy, and not too heavy. That is where this otsu recipe comes in. It’s from Heidi Swanson, who happens to have a regular otsu recipe like this in her Super Natural Cooking, as well as a Black Sesame Otsu from her Super Natural Every Day. The sesame otsu recipe I made is basically a cold soba noodle salad (noodles made of buckwheat), dressed in a ginger-lemon-soy vinaigrette and tossed with pan-glazed tempeh, toasted sesame seeds, and chopped green onions. It fit all the above-mentioned requirements of being fresh, healthy and not heavy while being insanely delicious. I would love to fit this in a regular rotation of every day dinners and I already can’t wait to try the black sesame otsu recipe from Swanson.
Posted below is the otsu recipe I used, but I did make a few alterations. Firstly, I substituted tempeh instead of the tofu because that’s what I had on hand (and I actually prefer tempeh anyway). I would note, however, that if you’re going to follow the same substitution I would add some of the dressing while pan-frying the tempeh so it can become pan-glazed and yummy. Also I didn’t add any cilantro in the end, which I think I prefer. I loved the otsu I ended up with: a slightly spicy, flavorful, refreshing soba noodle salad that fills you up perfectly and satisfies without any heaviness.
From Heidi Swanson
zest of one lemon
1 inch cube of peeled, fresh ginger; grated
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 – 3/4 cayenne (depending on the spice you want)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup unseasoned brown-rice vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
12 oz. dried soba noodles
12 oz. extra-firm nigari tofu
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small handful cilantro sprigs
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
Make the dressing by combining the zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and shoyu, and pulse to combine. With the machine running, drizzle in the oils. (Amy’s Note: I used a simple wisk and bowl and it turned out fine.)
Cook the soba in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water just until tender (about 4 minutes), then drain and rinse under cold running water.
While the pasta is cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut it into rectangles roughly the size of your thumb (½ inch thick and 1 inch long). Cook the tofu in a dry nonstick (or well-seasoned) skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the pieces are browned on one side. Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, the ¼ cup cilantro, the green onions, cucumber, and about ⅔ cup of the dressing. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve on a platter, garnished with the cilantro sprigs and the toasted sesame seeds.