When I stopped at Cox Market on Saturday, the spotty shelves were like an insight into the American psyche. Gone: bread, spaghetti, apples, chicken broth. Aplenty: grapefruit, a variety of greens, every mushroom under the sun, and soy sauce. It’s looking like we won’t go hungry, but some people may have to start learning to cook some new kinds of foods.
With this series, I’m going to delve into some pantry staples with a brief explainer and some easy tried-and-true recipes for those of you who may be a little nervous to venture into new territory. If you can’t experiment with recipes during a quarantine, when can you? You’ve got the time. You can include the kids. And the core ingredients I’m going to focus on are available in bulk and can, for the most part, store indefinitely. So let’s have a little fun.
Rice Noodle 101
You know the stuff. It comes in your pad thai and your Singapore stir fry. They are white and can be thin like vermicelli or wider than fettuccine. The best way to cook them is to put the noodles in a bowl, then pour boiling water over the top. Let them sit for as long as the directions on the package instruct. If you have kids handy, give them a fork and tell them to poke at them a little as they soak and soften. Drizzle them with a little sesame oil or vegetable oil to keep them from sticking.
You can eat them hot or cold. They are more texture than flavor, so you can top them with anything. Try cocktail shrimp, fresh basil and mint, chopped cucumbers and carrots, a sliced chile of your choosing, a sprinkle of roasted peanuts, and a squeeze of lime. Or serve hot with some sautéed garlic and jalapeño, halved cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, and olive or chile oil. Better yet, put different ingredient options out on the table and the members of your family can each customize their own bowl.
Slow Cooker Short Ribs and Shiitakes with Rice Noodles
I found this recipe in Bon Appetit years ago, and I modified it for the slow cooker one day when I didn’t have 3 hours to slowly braise the meat in the oven. It quickly became my go-to weeknight party dish. You won’t believe how delicious and easy this is. Note: there are generally two main types of short ribs. There’s the fat, rectangular, meaty kind with one bone per piece that you find at Whole Foods and Central Market (often called braising ribs); and then there’s the thin, cross-cut kind with multiple bones that you commonly find in Mexican and Asian markets (often called flanken or Korean ribs). Both work equally well in this recipe.
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds of short ribs (see note above)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound shiitake mushrooms
1 bunch scallions, chopped (white and green parts divided)
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cups beef or chicken broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sake (feel free to substitute rice wine, rice vinegar, or even bourbon)
1/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark is fine)
1 cinnamon stick
8 ounces wide noodles (or whatever kind you have on hand)
Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large cast iron pan or skillet. Brown short ribs a few at a time, for about five to 10 minutes per side. Place ribs in slow cooker, but keep oil and drippings in pan.
Separate the mushroom caps and stems. Trim any dirt off of the mushroom stems, and add to the pan. Cook stems over medium-high heat until they began to caramelize and soak up the drippings. Add mushroom stems to slow cooker, along with the whites of the scallions, ginger, broth, soy sauce, sake, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Add water or broth so the liquid just covers the ribs. Turn slow cooker on low, and let cook for the day (at least six hours on low).
When you’re ready to eat, slice the mushroom caps. Remove the ribs from the slow cooker and place in a serving dish to keep warm. Strain the broth and discard the solids; set broth aside. Heat pan over medium-high heat. Skim some of the fat off the top of the broth and add to the pan. Sauté the mushroom caps until they are brown and tender, about three minutes.
Cook rice noodles according to directions on package. Drain noodles and arrange on a large platter or serving dish. Top the noodles with the short ribs, and pour about a cup of the broth over the top. Sprinkle with the sautéed mushroom caps and sliced green scallions. Enjoy!