The Udon That Changed My Life
Swirling, slurping, and sliding into noodle-fueled ecstasy on a family pilgrimage to Tokyo.
Butter, egg yolk, and starch enrich the soy broth, dressing chewy udon noodles in a silky sauce inspired by Hetty McKinnon's visit to Udon Shin, a restaurant in Tokyo's bustling Shinjuku ward. Sharp black pepper and scallions break up its deeply savory edge with light spice and fresh flavor.
Cookbook author Hetty McKinnon drew inspiration for dish from the bright, lively flavors of urap sayur, an Indonesian salad made with steamed or boiled vegetables. Traditional recipes often call for finely grated fresh coconut, but McKinnon uses large flakes for added texture and crunch. Pan-frying the aromatic blend of chile, shallots, garlic, ginger, and lime leaves intensifies and blends their flavors for a complex and deeply flavored chilled pasta salad.
Growing up, my Chinese mother devoutly served tong (soup) every night; it was an ever-changing concoction formulated to treat whatever “afflictions” she believed were ailing her family. These ailments weren’t necessarily sicknesses—sometimes just minor complaints such as a sniffle, a cough, a headache. The prime tenet of Chinese medicine is to restore the balance of yin (cool) and yang (hot). Having a cold signified too much yin in our bodies, so my mother would prescribe a soup to restore the yang forces. Her healing soups usually contained a mélange of meat, vegetables, fruits, ginger, ginseng, gingko nuts, goji berries, jujube dates, and more. They were often sweet, sometimes pleasingly savory, and at other times, intensely bitter. As a child, my mother would bribe me to drink bitter soup by offering me a small piece of candy with each sip; needless to say, it took me a long time to drink that particular elixir.Nowadays, the principles of Chinese medicine remain strong in my life. When I’m feeling poorly, ginger is my go-to. Ginger is a yang food and is thought to aid digestion and restore balance in the body. I love to steep freshly sliced ginger in hot water for a quick pick-me-up or add copious amounts to my everyday foods. A bowl of ginger fried rice is as delicious as it is restorative.During the winter months, this bowl of noodle soup is like a hug. The garlic oil adds an extra layer of aromatic flavor, a great way to bring cohesiveness to this curative bowl of soup. It’s bolstered by a robust ginger and turmeric base, which offers deep, earthy flavors along with anti-inflammatory prowess.That ginger-and-turmeric curry paste is vibrant in both color and flavor and is a great recipe to add to your repertoire; I like to think of it as my “universal curry paste,” as it can be used in so many tasty ways in addition to this soup. Whisk a tablespoon or two into eggs before scrambling, stir into Greek salad to make a memorable salad dressing, or use as the base for a Thai-style curry, chickpea stew, or a fragrant lentil soup. The paste can also be frozen, so make a double or triple batch to ensure that you always have some on hand for a quick meal.
Unlike many of my friends, I didn’t grow up eating mushy boiled brussels sprouts. In fact, I didn’t officially meet brussels sprouts until my twenties, and then it was love at first bite.The year was 2003, and my husband and I had just moved to London, into a small apartment right above Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill. Several days a week, the streets below would blossom with fruit and vegetable stalls, their makeshift tents and barrels of delicious treasures spilling out onto the road. Our first year there was also our first time living in the Northern Hemisphere, and every season bought new surprises. For our first Christmas, we hosted an “orphan’s lunch” featuring a motley crew of expats and displaced souls looking for that feeling of family far away from home. My husband roasted an unfamiliar bird (it may have been pheasant), and we dined on celery root soup and roasted brussels sprouts. From that moment on, and for every ensuing Christmas we spent in London, I vowed that brussels sprouts would always be on my holiday menu.Our brussels-sprouts-for-Christmas pledge hit a snag when we returned home to Australia to realize that December (our summer) was not the season for brussels sprouts down under. It was back to seafood lunches, cold ham, and salads for the holidays. And while we could find cold-storage brussels sprouts at larger supermarkets, it never felt quite right tucking into a plate of hot roasted sprouts while sweat collected on our brows.When we moved to New York, there was great comfort in being reunited with the holiday food we fell in love with years earlier. It was also a relief to be able to turn on the oven to prepare our Christmas feast. This Cheesy Brussels Sprouts Bread Pudding is one of the crowd-pleasing mains we consistently serve during the holidays. I started making it a few years ago as a hybrid recipe, inspired by the bread puddings we ate for dessert in Australia and the Thanksgiving stuffing that is served here in America. You can use any bread for this pudding, but I do adore the airiness of brioche.The best thing about this dish is that you can effortlessly prep ahead. I always put it together the night before, leave it in the fridge overnight, and then bake it the next day. There is definitely a skill in emerging from the holidays unscathed, and this recipe is a great one to have up your sleeve to give yourself a break when you need it most.
As a thirty-something eager to discover the exoticism of the land where East meets West, I visited Turkey on a trip that would irrevocably change the way I think about flavor. Somewhere between the grand bazaars of Istanbul and the bougainvillea-lined streets of Kas, a small seaside town on Turkey’s southwestern Mediterranean coast, I fell heavily in love with this country—and all of its eggplant dishes.The vegetarian food of Turkey is light and lively, resplendent with spice, and bursting with color. Vegetables are the headline act in Turkish meze, the small plates of appetizers shared at the beginning of every meal. There is cacik, ground cucumbers mixed with yogurt, garlic, and mint; dolma, grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice; zeytinyağlı taze fasulye, green beans cooked in tomato, olive oil, garlic, and onions; and muhammara, a spicy red pepper and walnut dip. But it’s the silky eggplant meze plates that shine brightest in my memory.Eggplant is central to Turkish cuisine and culture; there’s even a folkloric tale that tells of a time during Ottoman Istanbul when many houses burnt down due to unsuccessful attempts to fry eggplant. Today, fried eggplant remains a summertime staple. In fact, there are innumerable eggplant dishes in Turkish cuisine, all beautifully spiced and irresistibly aromatic. A few of my favorites include patlican salatası, a smoky grilled eggplant similar to baba ghanoush; şakşuka, an eggplant and tomato stew; and imam bayildi, a famous dish of eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, onions, and garlic.This elegant salad is an emphatic nod to the celebratory eggplant dishes of Turkey. Velvety eggplant is paired with a tart-yet-earthy relish of toasted walnuts, cilantro, and pomegranate seeds. Toasting the walnuts brings out their full nutty, slightly bitter character, which plays well against the bright pomegranate seeds, which provide fresh bursts of juice and sweetness. The burrata brings unbridled decadence to this dish, providing an oozy, creamy backdrop for the eggplant and relish. If burrata is not your thing (although honestly, how could it not be?) or you can’t find any, there are many alternatives. You could opt for fresh mozzarella, a generous swipe of rich Greek yogurt or ricotta, a few flecks of goat cheese, or a dollop of tangy labneh. For those looking for a dairy-free option, you could enjoy it with cashew cream or, for a heartier alternative, serve on a bed of bulgur wheat or brown rice. When the weather is warm, grill your eggplant for an even deeper smoky flavor.A Note about Eggplants: Eggplant, or aubergine as it is known in England and Europe, is a member of the nightshade family that also includes tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. Many home cooks ask about how to choose the best eggplants, since they range so much in size and skin color. Generally, choose eggplants with smooth, shiny skin that are uniform in color and heavy for their size. Test for ripeness by lightly pressing a finger against the skin—if it leaves an imprint, the eggplant is ripe. Smaller eggplants tend to have fewer seeds and are, hence, less bitter. A green stem is a good indicator that an eggplant is ripe.
Hetty McKinnon used to pedal around Sydney on her bike, delivering salads. As the sole owner of a meal-delivery business, McKinnon dreamed up salads in her home kitchen and built a community around sharing meals. Now based in Brooklyn, and the author of three cookbooks, McKinnon has filled her latest book, Family, with comforting, uncomplicated recipes meant to be shared. This Cacio e Pepe Broccolini with Crispy White Beans and Burrata captures the rich, elegant, simple flavors of the classic Italian pasta and rounds them out with bitter charred Broccolini and crispy, creamy, flash-fried white beans. It’s a hearty and healthy late-summer meal.
My upbringing in Australia was unequivocally cross-cultural. Growing up in the suburbs of Sydney with Chinese parents, food was the pipeline to our heritage. My mum was a fervent cook, wowing her three hungry children with complex Cantonese flavors from her motherland. Our palates were accustomed to big flavors—stir-fried Asian greens laced with sharp fermented bean curd, steamed ‘porkcakes’ spiked with salted black beans, and hotpots that sang with salient notes of ginger and umami. With these punchy flavors as our dinnertime norm, the day my mum served steak with peas was always going to be memorable. While I still ate and appreciated meat during my early teens, it was the vibrant mound of peas that got my attention. Sure, I had eaten peas in omelettes and fried rice before, but I had never experienced peas as a side dish, so naked and unadorned. As I popped them into my mouth, each pea burst with a grassy sweetness that thrilled me. Soon, I would part ways with steak forever, but peas remain one of my ultimate comfort foods.While I enjoy peas all year round (you will always find a bag or two in my freezer for quick pantry meals), there’s sweet relief when the first peas of the season, in all their incarnations, appear. The arrival of green peas, snow peas, sugar snaps, and pea shoots signals promise and renewal, and the chance to reset our mind and our diet with a greener outlook.I usually kick off early summer by excessively gorging on peas. Sugar snaps and snow peas don’t even require cooking—snack on them raw or slice razor thin and add them to salads. And while it’s great to find pre-podded peas, there is something intensely gratifying in methodically tearing open a fresh pod and sliding out the pudgy, tender spheres. When purchasing fresh peas, choose pods that are bright green and plump, and on the smaller side—overlarge pods can house starchy peas. Make sure you don’t discard your pods – I recently discovered that the empty pea pods can be used to make veggie stock. The Venetian dish risi e bisi, a soupy rice with peas, is traditionally made with pod stock, which delivers an assertive pea flavor.This salad brings fresh flavors to the plate with confidence and swagger. Barely blanched peas mingle with pan-fried sugar snaps, snow peas, and another of my favorite spring ingredients, asparagus, which are cooked on high heat until just tender yet still crisp with the slightest hint of charring to add smokiness. I’ve chosen farro as the workhorse grain in this salad—its distinct chewy, nutty texture is substantial both to the bite and to the appetite. Salty, lemony, and herbaceous, the feta-mint dressing will likely become your summer stalwart, as it is also perfect served with grilled vegetables, folded through warm pasta, or slathered on crispy roasted potatoes.