Spicy peanut noodles with carrots and kale (4-5 servings)

One of the many things I like about both Whole Foods and the more local Durham Co-Op Market is the variety of ready-made salads, meals, and side dishes they both offer. A few summers ago, I had a cold noodle salad at Whole Foods and was inspired to play around with a couple recipes I found online to make my own version. I think I’ve finally perfected it! Unless you count boiling noodles as cooking, it’s a no-cook recipe, and it keeps well in the fridge for a couple days. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

Noodles & friends

  • ~10 oz dried rice noodles

  • ~2 cups torn curly kale leaves, washed and rinsed and dried lightly (Use a towel or salad spinner)

  • 2 medium carrots

  • Canola, vegetable, or sesame oil

  • Chopped roasted peanut or cashews (optional)

Sauce

  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce (Use coconut aminos to make it gluten-free)

  • 3 Tbsp smooth peanut butter (Almond butter would probably work well too)

  • 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup or agave

  • 1-2 tsp Sriracha, depending on spice preference

  • 2 Tbsp lime juice

Steps:

  1. Cook the rice noodles according to package directions. While the water boils, you can chop (or tear) and wash the kale if you haven’t done so already. Peel the carrots into strips or use a food processor to shred them. Place the kale and carrots in a large serving bowl and set aside.

  2. When the noodles are cooked, drain them in a colander and then toss them with a thin drizzle of oil to keep them from sticking together as they cool.

  3. While the noodles cool, make the sauce. Add the sauce ingredients to a mason jar and shake to combine, or mix them together in a bowl with a fork. (If it’s cool where you are — ha! — you might need to zap the peanut butter in the microwave for a couple seconds to thin it out.)

  4. Once the noodles are cool, add them to the serving bowl with the kale and carrots. (It helps to cut the noodles into smaller pieces and spread them out as you add them to the bowl.) Pour over the sauce and toss with tongs to combine. Serve cold or at room temperature, garnished with chopped peanuts, lime slices, and extra Sriracha if you like!

Vegan egg roll bowls (4 servings)

Imagine you microwaved an egg roll and it exploded in the process. This dish is a purposeful, less messy version of that predictable occurrence.

If you like egg rolls and want to make them at home but don't want to bother with a deep fryer, this dish is for you. It takes all the best fillings of egg rolls (lightly sauteed cabbage, crispy carrots, and zesty green onions) and turns them inside out into a bowl. It's quick, easy, and filling! Plus, it's way healthier than a deep-fried egg roll!

You will need:

  • 3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili-garlic sauce
  • 1 tsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 8 oz seitan, chopped into small bits or ground up in a food processor
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1" piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 medium napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • rice crackers for garnish

Steps:

  1. Pour the soy sauce, vinegar, and chili-garlic sauce into a small jar with a lid; shake to mix and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, rimmed skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add in the seitan, garlic, and ginger, stirring until the seitan is lightly browned. 
  3. Increase the heat to medium-high and push the seitan mixture to the outside of the pan. Add the cabbage, carrots, and scallions to the middle of the pan, and quickly stir fry the vegetables until they're softened. (It'll only take 2-3 minutes.)
  4. Turn off the heat and pour the soy sauce mixture into the pan. Toss the ingredients gently to combine and serve immediately, garnished with broken rice crackers.

I've only ever made this with seitan, but I'm sure it would also work well with tempeh or pressed tofu. The next time I make this, I want to try adding some sliced mushrooms in with the cabbage. 

Dragon noodles (4 servings)

Everybody loves dragons. Everybody loves noodles. So who wouldn't love dragon noodles?

I (very loosely) based this recipe on Budget Bytes' recipe, eliminating the egg, adding ginger, and pumping up the veggies and protein. The nice thing about this recipe is that depending on how much sriracha you use, you can end up with gentle Figment levels of dragonness or raging Hungarian Horntail levels. For my part, I made it Trogdor level -- filled with majesty but still able to burninate some peasants.

This dish is vegan, and with some slight modifications, it can be gluten-free too!

Click here for printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 8 oz dry lo mein (rice) noodles
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup or agave
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce (or tamari or coconut aminos, if choosing gluten-free option)
  • 1 Tbsp grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 - 2 Tbsp sriracha, depending on heat preference
  • 8 oz cooked/prepared protein of choice (I used West Soy's seitan strips and chopped them into smaller pieces)
  • handful fresh chopped cilantro
  • handful grated carrots
  • handful sliced snowpeas
  • 2 green onions, sliced

Steps:

  1. Cook noodles according to package directions.
  2. In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Use a small bowl or jar to combine the maple syrup, soy sauce, ginger, water or broth, and sriracha. Set aside.
  3. Once cooked, drain the noodles and return them to the pot they were cooked in. Add in the protein, cilantro, carrots, snow peas, and green onions; toss gently to combine. Serve warm.

Asian chopped salad (4+ servings)

Listen: This "recipe" barely even counts as such. It's much more like a formula -- some crunch from this, some protein power from here, some flavor from a splash of this, etc. But it's a delicious, delicious formula, and it's something I can see myself going back to again and again.

Chopped salads are delightful. They're colorful, crispy, and nutritious, plus they're so flexible. I was inspired by the outrageous hues of this salad when I stumbled upon the blog last week, but I decided to change up some of the ingredients for more of a Thai theme. Using the guide below, you can create your own splashy, crunchy showcase of nutrition!

I've put an asterisk beside the ingredients I used in my salad last night!

1st ingredient: Crisp vegetables
Choose any combination of the following to equal 5-6 cups total. Slice or chop whichever veggies you choose into small pieces and place them in a serving bowl.

  • Baby corn
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots*
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans*
  • Napa cabbage
  • Red cabbage*
  • Snow peas*

2nd ingredient: Protein
Choose enough protein to equal at least one serving per salad portion, or 4 total servings of protein. (I hope that explanation makes sense!) Add the protein to the serving bowl.

  • Black beans
  • Edamame/soybeans, steamed and cooled
  • Flavored baked tofu* (I used Wildwood Royal Thai)
  • Fried firm tofu
  • Seitan
  • Tempeh

3rd ingredient: Flavor enhancers
Go ahead and choose a couple "accessories" to jazz up the final product. Sprinkle them on top of the vegetables and protein.

  • Asian-style hot sauce, such as Sriracha
  • Cashews, toasted and chopped*
  • Coconut chips or shreds
  • Grated ginger
  • Peanuts, toasted and chopped
  • Rice noodles
  • Sesame seeds, toasted
  • Sweet chili sauce*

4th ingredient: Sauce
Start out with a small amount -- just a few tablespoons -- and gently toss everything together. If you need more, you can always add on!

This recipe gives you a great excuse to "shop" the salad bar, especially if you live near a Whole Foods. The salad can be vegan or gluten-free, depending on which ingredients you choose to include. (If you're trying to make it GF, please remember that most soy sauces contain wheat!) I had leftovers for lunch today, and the salad was still nice and crispy!

Thai fried rice (3-4 servings)

For me, this summer has been all about trying new things and taking risks. So far, I've volunteered at the Orange County Literacy Council, started a new tutoring gig, revamped my blog, taken a digital photography class (and inadvertently discovered a crime scene -- long story), sent a Facebook message to a chef I'd never met before to ask if I could interview him (And he agreed!), met two new friends, and started a new fitness program. During the school year, I have so little time for myself because teaching takes over my life, so I vowed back in the spring to take full advantage of the time I'd have this summer. My life is so out of balance from late August to mid-June, and I don't always take care of myself as well as I should or give myself opportunities to explore the things I'm interested in. I'm turning 30 in October (I think that's the first time I've actually typed that out!), and I want to enter that decade feeling more balanced,  self-assured, open-minded, and healthy.

I've discovered that a risk doesn't have to be dangerous or unprecedented to be important and have an impact on your life. The very act of doing something even a little out of your comfort zone is liberating and encouraging. Each small success gives you courage and confidence to try something bigger.

So when I was looking for ways to use up leftover rice earlier in the week and found a recipe for Thai fried rice, I thought, "What the hell?" I'd never made Thai food before, but what was the worst that could happen? If it didn't turn out well, we could always get pizza from across the street. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Admittedly, it was a fairly simple and un-intimidating initial foray into Thai cooking. The measurements seemed pretty flexible, and the ingredients were accessible, plus it didn't require any specialty equipment (although I'm sure it would have turned out even better in a wok). I halved the original recipe and made a couple changes to the ingredients, but overall, I followed the recipe pretty closely to end up with flavorful, hearty, healthy results. This dish contains a lovely combination of fruity sweetness, tail-end heat, and savory salinity.

You will need: 

  • 1-2 cups cooked, cooled rice
  • 1-3 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/8-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, depending on your heat preference
  • 1 egg (skip it if you're vegan) 
  • a handful of frozen peas
  • a handful of sliced carrots
  • a little less than a cup of pineapple chunks, either canned or fresh (I recommend fresh)  
  • 1/8 cup dried currants or raisins (I used currants from Whole Foods' bulk bins) 
  • 1/4 cup roasted, unsalted cashews (I had to use sliced almonds after remembering I'd used up my cashews earlier in the week)   
  • a handful of bean sprouts (opt.) 

Steps: 

  1. Place the rice in a bowl and drizzle 1/2 Tbsp to 1 Tbsp oil over it, mixing it in with your fingers to break up any chunks of rice. (This will keep the rice from burning later on.) Set aside.
  2. Pour the soy sauce and curry powder into a small jar with a lid; put the lid on and shake the dickens out of it. Set aside. 
  3. Heat a large rimmed skillet over medium-high and add in the remaining oil. Add in the shallots, garlic, and red pepper and stir-fry the ingredients for about a minute, or until they're fragrant. (They'll continue to cook, so you don't have to spend much time on them now. The recipe says that if things start to stick to the pan, you can add a tablespoon or two of water or broth, but I didn't need to do that.)
  4. If you're using the egg, crack it into the pan and stir quickly for a minute or two until it's almost set. 
  5. Add the carrots and peas and stir-fry another 2 minutes (adding more water/stock if needed).
  6. Finally, add in the oiled rice, pineapple, currants, and cashews to the skillet. Drizzle the soy/curry mixture into the pan and continue gently stirring the ingredients for another 5-8 minutes, or until the rice begins to make popping sounds. If you're using the bean sprouts, throw them in right at the end of cooking. (The recipe notes to stop adding any more liquid at this point, because the rice will get soggy.)
  7. Serve with extra soy sauce and garnish with cilantro. (I know it's parsley in the picture! Shut up! Move along!)

Cooking a new type of cuisine made me feel proud -- and full!