A book about noodle, rice, and dumpling dishes reconsidered from an entirely vegetarian perspective was something I knew I was going to like. After reading my review copy of Bowl: Vegetarian Recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplings, and Other One-Dish Meals by Lukas Volger, I couldn’t wait to try several things. Dishes like ramen and pho have always presented a stumbling block for me both at restaurants and in cookbooks because although they often include lots of vegetables, the broth is usually red meat-based. Here, at last, is an entire book devoted to making meat-free versions. For the brothy dishes, there are recipes for vegetarian dashi, vegetarian pho broth, and vegetable stock. There’s also a recipe for vegetarian kimchi since it traditionally contains fish sauce or dried shrimp. In fact, there are recipes for every component of the dishes like pickles, flavored oils, chili-garlic sambal, and even homemade ramen noodles. The chapters are organized by type of starch. So, there are wheat noodle bowls, rice noodle and rice bowls, other grains bowls, and dumpling bowls. The Vegetarian Curry Laksa looks delightful with the spicy broth with coconut milk, the fresh green beans and cherry tomatoes, the shredded cabbage, and hard-boiled egg. There are bibimbap versions for every season, and they all include instructions for making a crispy base that mimics the results of the bottom layer of crusted rice when served in a traditional dolsot. The Grilled Vegetable Couscous Bowl with tofu, eggplant, corn, and tomato looks perfect for summer, and I’m looking forward to trying the Black Rice Burrito Bowl with black beans, chiles, lime juice, mango, and avocado. I didn’t mark pages in the dumplings chapter because I want to make them all. Chickpea Potstickers, Kabocha Dumplings, Rich Lentil Dumplings, and all the rest sound delicious. Right away, I set about making the Black Sesame Noodle Bowl because it incorporates radishes, and this is the height of their season.
Black sesame seeds were toasted in a dry pan and then coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle. After transferring them to a mixing bowl, canola oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, wasabi powder, and salt were whisked into the mixture. Eggs were hard-boiled, and tender greens like spinach leaves, radish leaves, and some pretty mache I found at Boggy Creek Farm were prepped. Soba noodles were cooked, rinsed, and drained. The drained noodles along with some minced shallots were added to the mixing bowl with the sesame mixture. To serve, greens were placed in bowls and topped with the noodles followed by sliced avocado, radishes cut into matchsticks, sliced green onion, shredded hard-boiled egg, and the top was drizzled with a little soy sauce rather than the kecap manis suggested.
I loved the flavors of the dressed noodles which got even better as the noodles sat. The egg and avocado added richness, and the green onion and radishes made it fresh and spunky. This was quick and easy to prepare, and the leftovers were a treat for lunch the next day. There are so many great ideas in this book, I might need to buy more bowls since I’ll be using them even more often.
Black Sesame Noodle Bowl
Recipe excerpted with permission from BOWL © 2016 by Lukas Volger. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
For this noodle bowl, I took inspiration from Heidi Swanson’s Black Sesame Otsu in Super Natural Every Day, in which a blanket of black sesame seeds is toasted until it smells heady, then pounded with a mortar and pestle and combined with some Asian pantry staples to make a thick, savory, and tangy dressing, here given a bit more punch with wasabi. Like other cold noodle dishes, this is a good dish for packing up, and in my experience has been wonderful on the beach. The shredded egg and wisps of radish incorporate into the noodles, the shallot brings crunch and zing, and the final drizzle of kecap manis—the Indonesian soy sauce— brings the whole bowl together in the most satisfying way.
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil
5 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 bundles (about 11.5 ounces) dried soba, udon, or somen noodles
2 medium shallots, minced 1 avocado
2 large boiled eggs, firm yolks
8 small-to-medium radishes
4 cups tender greens, such as watercress, upland cress, baby arugula, or tatsoi
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Kecap manis (Indonesian soy sauce), for drizzling
Place the sesame seeds in a dry skillet and set over medium-low heat. Toast, swirling the pan frequently, until fragrant—90 seconds to 2 minutes. Watch and smell carefully so that they don’t burn. Transfer to a mortar and coarsely grind, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, wasabi, and salt, and whisk until thoroughly combined.
Bring a saucepan of salted water to a gentle boil. Add the noodles and cook until tender, usually 4 to 7 minutes or according to the package instructions. Drain, rinse thoroughly under cold
running water, then drain again thoroughly.
Add the noodles and shallots to the bowl with the sauce and toss well, until the noodles are thoroughly coated. At this stage, the noodles can be transferred to an airtight container and kept in the fridge for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Quarter the avocado around the pit. Remove and peel the segments, then slice into thin strips. Peel the eggs and grate them using the large holes of a box grater. Slice the radishes into thin rounds. Stack the rounds on top of each other and slice into thin matchsticks.
Divide the greens among four bowls, then top with the dressed noodles. Fan the avocado over the noodles in each bowl, then add a pile of the shredded egg, radishes, and scallions to each serving. Drizzle a bit of kecap manis over the avocado and serve.
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