avocado

warm summer soba salad (gf, v) + buckwheat by Annie Jefferson

The word 'soba' means both 'buckwheat' and 'noodle' in Japanese. In traditional Japanese diet, soba noodles are led only by rice as a go-to grain of choice. Buckwheat is a seed, not a grass or a grain. It got it's name in part because of how the seed was utilized - as wheat. It's history is long, with first evidence around 6000 BCE in China, and incredibly, it's the world's highest elevation crop, cultivated in the Yunnan province on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, which - 14,800 feet in elevation - is called 'the roof of the world'.

Their ability to grow up in the sky adds to my existing sense that there's something special about buckwheat. To me, buckwheat noodles feel like the earth. Unlike regular white wheat pasta, their dark speckled grey hue is the color of something found in nature, like sand or the branch of a tree. Their flavor is nutty and earthy. Their texture firm, but yielding. I love the delicacy of their flat edges, the lightness of each noodle. They are grounding to all senses. Actual buckwheat flour has a consistency that makes me want to swim in it, and a color that I want to decorate my whole house in. The seeds are shaped like perfect little triangles and often used for porridge.

The hand production of soba noodles is a labor of patience and repetition, a lesson in mindfulness and following instincts. Masters of the trade are trained in precision and take great care to 'adjust their dough according to the humidity in the air, according to the variety of buckwheat, according to the grind of the flour.'

In "The Art of Homemade Soba Noodles" (Saveur, Francis Lam, February 2016), artisan soba maker Sonoko Sakai describes her house as a 'buckwheat monastery'. At her Los Angeles residence, Sakai 'teaches the meditation of noodle making... work(ing) in elegant, nearly ritualistic movements...and committ(ing) herself to the intimacy, the humanness, the smallness of a simple craft that you make, serve, and watch disappear over and over again.' Making soba noodles by hand involves many steps of kneading, forming, rolling, flattening, all requiring great attention to detail and extensive practice, eventually establishing a somewhat meditative state, where the mind is at rest and the body performs the ritualistic work without prompt.

'Soba saved me', Sakai says of the passion she found after leaving behind a career as a producer and buyer in the film world.

This salad is light and refreshing, a lovely choice for a summer day. The noodles are tossed in a combination of coconut oil, miso, sesame oil, maple syrup, and tamari, and then folded together with spring onions, sweet peas, arugula and fresh herbs, topped with lime juice and sesame seeds. It's easy to make and will leave you feeling fresh and maybe even zen.

A note on soba noodles:

Most soba noodles that you'll find at the supermarket are made of both wheat and buckwheat. I find my 100% buckwheat flour noodles at my local Asian grocery. Sometimes farmer's markets carry them. You can also make your own. All buckwheat noodles tend to be darker in color and stronger in flavor. Do be aware of the ingredients when you buy, especially if you're following a gluten-free diet. When you get the full buckwheat experience, you are getting loads of protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium 

INGREDIENTS
1 pack soba noodles
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
4 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tamari
1/2 cup sweet peas
1 large handful arugula
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade cut
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
juice of half a lime
optional: avocado

METHOD

Heat a large pot of water for the noodles. In the meantime, add the coconut oil to a saucepan and once hot, stir in the garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes until softened. Whisk in the miso paste. Add the green onions and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in the sesame oil, maple syrup, red chili pepper flakes, and tamari.

Once boiling, add the soba noodles to the water. They should only take 4 minutes to cook. With 1 minute remaining in cooking time, add your sweet peas (if frozen). Drain and rinse under cool water to prevent the noodles from sticking. Transfer the noodles and peas to the warm saucepan and toss with the miso sesame mixture. Fold in arugula, basil and cilantro. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with sesame seeds and lime juice.

Serve with sliced avocado and fresh basil leaves.

mexican molletes by Annie Jefferson

Think of Molletes as the Mexican answer to the cold cut sandwich. They're a simple staple found in food stalls and coffee shops across Mexico. They're best made at home, however, thrown together in minutes using three main ingredients - bread, beans and cheese - and grilled under the broiler until the cheese is toasted and bubbly. The word 'molletes' is actually Spanish in origin and refers to a flatbread made out of an oval-shaped loaf of bread and traditionally served for breakfast with olive oil and rubbed garlic. In Mexico, it refers to the grilled bean and cheese sandwich that belongs in your Mexican food repertoire immediately.

Last summer I served last-minute molletes at a picnic using french bread - in place of traditional Mexican bolillo - because that's what we had lying around. It was truly a successful marriage of cuisines, with crispy-soft baguette being the best of sandwich breads and beans and cheese the most accommodating of ingredients. I also put them together like a sandwich, rather than open-faced as is typical, with two slices of bread and grilled on each side, like a panini. Immediately this turned them from a snack into the main course, and served alongside guacamole, pico de gallo and salad greens, they were easily one of my favorite meals of the summer.

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Traditionally molletes are made with refried pinto beans. Here we use black beans, dried, soaked, simmered with aromatics and seasoned with spices, which takes some time and planning, but is well worth the effort. I cook black beans from scratch at least once a week and love getting lots of flavor and heat into them as they soften. See the spices below and play around with the ingredients using what you like. Sometimes I'll throw in a tablespoon of soy sauce or maple syrup to add a range of flavors, and always a splash of apple cider vinegar. However you go, it's important to get some acid and fat in there at some point. For the bread, I used what I and LA Mag agree is the best baguette in Los Angeles, from the Rose Cafe in Venice. And rather than traditional chihuahua cheese we use simple cheddar for it's sharp flavor and divine melting power, but again, you can use whatever cheese you like.

This sandwich works so well because of the crisped up crunch of the bread crust and the pack of rich, savory flavor in the middle. It's served hot and melty, but this is tempered by the fresh sides - guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled onions, etc. The best part is using an unexpected medium - french bread - to deliver familiar Mexican flavors to your mouth.

MEXICAN MOLLETES
Makes 4 sandwiches

INGREDIENTS
1 loaf of french bread, or bread of your choice
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups refried beans (recipe below)
cheddar cheese, shaved or thinly sliced

METHOD
Remove the ends of the baguette with a sharp knife, and cut the remaining into four equal pieces. Cut each in half lengthwise and lay out the four pairs open face in front of you. Spread a thin layer of butter on each. Next, spread two spoonfuls of beans on each piece of bread and then layer several slices of cheese on top. Place each top piece back on top of its pair, so that you have four sandwiches. 

Heat a large cast iron over medium low heat and melt a knob of butter, swirling it around to cover all surface area. Working in two batches, place two sandwiches at a time in the pan and place a second cast iron on top of the sandwiches to press them down. Heat for about 4 minutes, checking for burning, and then flip. Cheese should be all the way melted when they come off the heat. Repeat with the other two. Alternatively you can use a panini press. The molletes will keep warm and melted in the oven.

Serve immediately with condiments, such as guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled onions and hot sauce. You can also cut each sandwich into two or three pieces to make them more bite size.
 

BLACK BEANS

INGREDIENTS
1 cup dried black beans
sea salt
1 small onion, halved
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 carrot, peeled and cut into large pieces
1 celery stick, cut into large pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons coconut oil, olive oil or butter
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon paprika


METHOD
Pick through beans and rinse under cold water. Place beans in a large bowl and add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Soak overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans in a colander until the water runs clear. Place in a large saucepan and once again add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Add a pinch of salt, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, bay leaf and lemon. Stir to combine and allow to come to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for about an hour, stirring when you think of it.

After an hour or so, remove aromatics and stir. Continue to cook without the lid until most of the water is absorbed. Once the majority of the water is absorbed, add apple cider vinegar and allow to cook off for about 5 minutes. Stir in oil or butter, then spices and taste for salt. Remove from heat and allow beans to rest with lid on for about 20 minutes before serving.