First published in August 2007, this updated pantry ingredient post features new photos, links, and a few tweaks to the recipe. The spicy pesto in this dish calls for equal amounts of basil and mint, and it's a pesto you can use in many different ways, from scrambled eggs to tomato salad.
Blue cheese, vinegar, wine, yogurt, fish sauce, yeast breads, sake.
If modern government-regulated food storage requirements of today had been in place hundreds of years ago, we'd have none of these products, because all are the result of storage mishaps.
Thank goodness for accidents, for food left out of refrigeration too long, left in a barrel for too many months, left out in the sun or in a dark cellar, or carried through the desert in hot saddle bags on a camel's back.
Sake (pronounced SAH KAY) most assuredly resulted from one of those fermentation accidents; somewhere in Japan, as early as the 3rd Century AD, some rice got wet and sat around, and turned into something drinkable. The process for making sake today is a bit more controlled. Fermented from rice and water, sometimes aided by the action of koji (a fungus enzyme) and yeast, sake is brewed (like beer), without carbonation (like wine) or distillation (like spirits). In Japan there are at least 65 varieties of rice that are used for making sake. Generally the final product contains 15-17 percent alcohol.
Sake is not aged beyond six months, and is made to be consumed soon after purchase. Stored in the refrigerator, or in a cool, dark part of your pantry, sake will last 6-12 months. Once opened, it really does need to be refrigerated. After 12 months, throw it away; it will not turn into something cool like sake vinegar.
There are various types of sake, and more than 800 breweries in Japan alone, so how do you choose a good one? Go to your local liquor store; you'll be able to find a drinkable American-made sake (the Gekkeikan company brews in California), that is quite affordable and perfect for cooking.
Spicy pesto soba
If you don't have soba, make this with any Asian noodles, or even with spaghetti. Adapted from Asian Noodles, by Nina Simonds. Serves 4.
1/2 lb snow peas, ends snapped, strings removed, sliced in half lengthwise
3/4 lb soba (buckwheat) noodles, cooked in boiling water until just tender, rinsed under cold water, drained (or other noodles or pasta, cooked according to package directions)
For the pesto:
1 hot red chile pepper, or 1 tsp red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cut into thin strips (can use rotisserie chicken or any leftover cooked chicken)
3/4 cup minced scallions
For the dressing:
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp soy sauce
6 Tbsp rice vinegar
4 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp sake
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the snow peas and blanch for 10 seconds. Drain, run under cold water to stop the cooking, and drain again. Blot dry with paper towels, and set aside.
In a blender, combine chile pepper or red pepper flakes, garlic, herbs and sesame oil, and process to a paste. Toss cooked noodles and pesto together in a large bowl. Arrange noodles on a platter or in individual serving bowls, and arrange the snow peas, chicken and scallions on top.
In a smaller bowl whisk together dressing ingredients. Drizzle the dressing over the salad, or serve on the side.
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Asian chicken and soba noodle salad, from Food Blogga
Peanut soba with stir-fried beef and broccoli, from Food Nouveau
Soba noodles with fresh vegetables and pan-grilled tofu, from Inspired Bites
Soba spring rolls, from Whole Grain Gourmet
Chilled soba with arugula, from Not Eating Out in New York
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