Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Japchae from The Ancestral Table

This year at PaleoFX, I had the pleasure of running into Russ Crandall of The Domestic Man in the cooking demonstration area.  We've met a few times and he was super nice as always.  He asked if I had a copy of his book, The Ancestral Table, yet and I did not.  He then says that he thought I was on the list to get one from his publisher.  A couple of Whoa! moments here: 1.  Russ Crandall actually remembers who I am.  2.  I was thought of to be on a list.  3.  I'm getting a new cookbook to try.  Whoa- indeed!  Well, within a few days, I found a lovely copy in my mailbox.  Thanks, Russ!

Those of you who have been readers of the blog know that Russ and I approach a paleo lifestyle a bit differently and well that's just fine.  Just as I can take a non-paleo recipe and make it fit my needs, which are more on the Whole30 side of the paleo lifestyle spectrum, I can make Russ's recipes work for me and they, hopefully, will be tasty.  

Russ acknowledges the spectrum of paleo lifestyles out there that I was happy to see that he provides a nice "stricter paleo" substitution guide in the book which I will be using.  He has also thoughtfully created an AIP guide to his book.  

With that said, I decided to let my hair down and try a recipe exactly as written, well almost, the Japchae.  I'd seen a picture of this in my facebook feed had been wanting to see how sweet potato noodles tasted ever since.  I gathered my ingredients and got to work. 

To honor his recipe, I decided I'd cook the recipe pretty much as written, including the honey. However, when I went to get the Rice Wine, I found that it contained wheat which means gluten, so I had to find a substitute.  Russ recommends a brand, but it too has wheat.  This site recommends pale dry sherry as a gluten free substitute.  I went to Trader Joe's across town to get the brand that's recommended, but they did not have any so I got a bottle of Taylor's.  The Kitchn says you can drink this stuff, but after taking a sip I'd not recommend it.  

With that settled, the first step in the recipe is to combine the marinade ingredients.  A small ramekin was big enough for this task.  Instead of wheat free tamari, I used coconut aminos, which is listed as an option in the web version of the recipe.  

I poured half of the sauce/marinade over the meat.   I used a lovely rib-eye steak.  I covered the meat with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for an hour.  Russ doesn't say to refrigerate it or not, but I decided that was the safest thing to do.  

Next, I did something I have not done in quite a while. I filled a pot with water to boil noodles.  My pasta pot has a drainer insert and I recommend using it if you have one as it makes it easier to remove both the spinach and noodles.  

Before cooking the pasta, you have to par-boil the spinach

Don't walk away from your pot, as the spinach only needs to be in the water for 30 seconds.  I used one of my broth cloths to help me drain and squeeze the spinach dry.  

Next, I measured out the noodles and cut them into 6 inch pieces as directed by the recipe.  I failed to get actual noodle cooking pictures.  Sorry.  I followed Russ's instructions and they turned out perfectly except for a sticking issue discussed later which is just the way the noodles are I think.  

While the noodles cooked, I prepped the vegetable ingredients.  I used my julienne peeler for the carrots.

The recipe doesn't say whether or not to slice the mushrooms.  I figured they should be sliced, so I removed the stems and sliced them.  Russ has since, via twitter, confirmed that the mushrooms should be sliced.  Whew.  

I also toasted the sesame seeds in my 12 inch skillet over medium high heat.  Watch these closely as well as they will go from toasted to burnt before you know it.

As this dish cooks quickly, you'll want to have all of the ingredients prepped and ready to go.

When the timer went off that the meat had marinated an hour, I heated some coconut oil in my 12 inch skillet as I do not have a wok.  I then stir fried the meat.  I cannot describe how good this smelled.  

Once the meat was cooked through, I added the carrots to the pan.  

Next, I added the rest of the ingredients per recipe instructions.  Despite having used sesame oil to coat the noodles to prevent them from sticking, they still stuck together a bit.  I added the second half of the sauce to the dish that had the honey and broth added.  The instructions say to cook until the sauce has cooked down.  There really wasn't much sauce to cook down once I mixed it into pan.  Last but not least, I added the toasted sesame seeds. Sorry for the lack of photos, but this really comes together very quickly.

Here's my plate.  

Accessibility & Cost of Ingredients:  You should be able to find most of the ingredients at your "big box" grocery store.  I found the sweet potato noodles at my local Asian grocery.  You can find them online, but they were significantly less expensive at the grocery.  I couldn't find my receipt but one package wasn't more than $4.  In the web version of the recipe, Russ says you can use Chinese broccoli instead of spinach.  I also bought the shiitake mushrooms at the Asian grocery as they are far cheaper there than any other grocery I frequent. I substituted the Rice Wine with Dry Sherry from the liquor store to avoid being glutened.   

Preparation & Cooking Time: The stated prep and cooking time came to 1 hour 20 minutes.  It took me 1 hour 9 minutes to get this dish ready to cook including the noodle prep.  It only took 10 minutes to cook the dish once all the ingredients were ready.  This gives a grand total of 1 hour 19 minutes.  I think this is one of the rare instances I've actually taken less time to make a recipe than the stated time, even if it's only by a minute.  Yay!

Clean Up:  I was able to put everything I used to prep this recipe in the dishwasher except for my pasta pot, pan and knife.  

The Paleo Review:  Thumbs Up!  I enjoyed the flavors of this dish.  It's fresh and light but filling at the same time.  The noodles are a treat, but not so much that I feel like I want to eat bowls and bowls of them as I would with a wheat or rice noodle.  The noodle itself didn't really seem to have a flavor.  The fresh ginger is the star of this dish.   

Having made it once, I will do a few things differently that I think will make it even more enjoyable. The recipe didn't make enough sauce for my taste.  It really was just enough to barely coat all of the noodles.  It's not that I'd want the dish swimming in sauce as I think one of the strong points of the recipe is being able to taste the individual ingredients, but I'd like a bit more.  Next time, I'll double the sauce and add until it's coated to my preference.  

I will also cut the noodles shorter.  They really stuck together despite my having coated them in a generous amount of sesame oil.  I think maybe having them shorter will make it easier to get the dish to mix together well and it might also help with my sauce issue.  Also, I couldn't really taste any sweetness from the honey, so next time I'll exclude it.  Sorry Russ.  

Also, as I have a good source for Chinese broccoli, I will use it in the future rather than plain spinach.  I think the stems of the Chinese Broccoli will add a nice crunch to the dish.  If you don't have a good source for Chinese broccoli, don't worry, the regular spinach was great.  

If you've been craving Chinese food, give this recipe a try.  The fresh flavor and treat of noodles will leave you full and satisfied.    

I've got quite a few recipes tagged to potentially review, but I'm curious, does anyone have any recipe requests from The Ancestral Table?  

Blog Note:  Thank you everyone for your patience.  What I thought would be a week or two off from the blog somehow turned into a few months.  Now that my schedule is getting back to normal the idea of sitting on front of a computer after a very long day at work will seem less like torture and more like the fun as it should be.  I'll be blogging through The Ancestral Table for a few weeks and then I have a great spice blend to share.  I will also be putting together a mega-review post of a few paleo snack products which might be helpful for food on the go for Summer outdoor activities.