Saturday, October 30, 2010

squirmy wormy noodle salad

Recently, I asked a question in my facebook status line: what food scares you? This innocent query drew a healthy bunch of comments, from the earnest "brussels sprouts" to the very creative "snouts and beans" (beans and sauce, with slices of sausage that have nostril holes poked in them). With food, as with most other things, presentation counts.

Something that is normally yummy can be rendered repulsive, by a small change in details, or even a creative name. And vice-versa. When my son was 5 years old, I took him to lunch at a wonton house. The place was crowded, so we shared a table with a Chinese Grandpa, who was sitting by himself. I ordered wonton soup and a plate of chow mein. My son tucked into the chow mein with gusto, but balked at the funny-looking soup. Our table companion noticed this and said to Alex, "You know, those are just Chinese tortellini." Alex took a tentative bite - YUM! Then he slurped down all of the wontons, leaving me the soup broth (he never has been a soup guy.) I thanked the man for his help. He told me that his grandkids are Canadian, and they were convinced to eat wonton soup by the same description.

So when I had to come up with a "hairy, scary and yummy" contribution to our monthly staff potluck lunch this week, I thought about Chinese tortellini. My friend Linda served this once to adults and called it monkey brain stew. But I remembered that my unofficial role in our staff team, when it comes to eating, is vegetable-bringer. You see, I have a nearly pathological fear of potlucks without vegetables. A table groaning with all carbs and protein and desserts makes me run away in fear that even if I eat even a modest selection, I will fall asleep for the rest of the afternoon. I am highly susceptible to the soporific effects of starchy and rich foods, you see. So I always bring vegetables, lots of them, usually a salad, but sometimes something cooked. So I decided to come up with a scary salad.

Colour is (almost) everything when it comes to first impressions, so I went to the veggie store and selected vegetables in Halloween colours:

yellow and orange bell peppers
purple cabbage
red onion

Texture comes second. I know people who can't eat porridge or squash just because of the texture. I dislike mashed potatoes for the same reason, but I do love porridge and squash. Go figure. I decided that a modest proportion of noodles would add the squirmy, wormy texture that I desired in this concoction. I chose the noodles at the top of this list, but you could choose your favourite. Think one part noodles, four parts vegetables, by volume:

fresh Japanese ramen noodles
fresh chow mein noodles
udon noodles
rice stick

You get the idea. You could use fresh or dried, cooked up. The trick is to just barely cook the noodles, because they will soften a bit in the salad.

Finally, the dressing and additions. I'll tell you the basic, then suggest some things you might want to consider, depending on your taste and who will be eating the salad (careful about food allergies, vegetarian commitment, and cultural/religious food restrictions when you bring food to a party).

Basic dressing (with variations):
3 parts canola oil (you could use another kind)
1 part rice wine vinegar (you could use lemon or lime juice, dry wine, sherry, other vinegar)
rooster hot chili sauce to taste (or whatever form of heat you prefer)
soy sauce to taste
a few drops of sesame oil (if nobody is allergic)
chopped fresh ginger
chopped fresh garlic
(you might also add peanut butter or tahini if nobody is allergic)

tofu, chicken, prawns or fish
chopped peanuts
sesame seeds
bean sprouts
scorpions, tarantulas, beetles (oops, I'm getting s-carried away here)

How to make it: Chop and shred the vegetables so they are mostly long and skinny (slaw style). Cook the noodles but not too much. Assemble just enough dressing ingredients in a container with a lid - you'll have to decide how much is just enough to thoroughly moisten all of the salad bits. Toss it together with the veg and noodles. **I like to do this part just before serving, because it tastes best when the flavours are newly combined. You can prepare the veg and the dressing well ahead of time, then toss them together just before you are ready to eat. Add any of the toppings or garnishes that you like to suit your taste, and depending on if it's a side dish or main course.

This salad was devoured at the potluck. I liked it so much that I made it again last night for supper. I was all out of tarantulas, so I served it with sauteed chicken. It is yummy and crunchy, and definitely satisfies a craving for lots of veggies and some chili spice.

question: are you a potluck lover? or do you have secret potluck fears? (or both?)

mompoet - okay with potlucks, as long as I bring vegetables

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