Bitter Melon Greens & Tofu Soup – Soba Noodle Bowl

20150503_152518_resizedYesterday I stopped by the Asia Market close to my home to pick up some fresh tofu and Chinese broccoli. I love to explore its floor-to-ceiling packed aisles and experiment with newly found ingredients. Finds that have found a home in my kitchen include black rice noodles, organic soba noodles (big packs of 12 bundles), fresh tofu (I never see this in the natural foods markets), and all kinds of greens, some of which I still don’t remember the names of. Outside the market was an overflowing crate of greens, bundled in bunches about 30 inches long. Not sure what these were, I selected one off the top and put it in my basket.

20150503_140126These greens were soon joined by 2 pounds of tofu, a package of dry sliced shitake mushrooms, a pack of soba noodles, ginger root, and green onions. At the checkout counter I saw a clerk next to a big pile of other greens so bright with energy I thought they might have just been picked.

I asked her what these were and how to cook them. “Kang Kong,” she replied. “Stir fry is best. Boil the stems first, then add with the leaves. They cook quick. Don’t cook too long.” Then she added, pointing to the big bunch of greens I’d already put in my basket, “Not bitter, not like those.” “Oh, what are these anyway?” I said. I had thought maybe they were some kind of pea vine or shoots. “Bitter melon,” she said, “Those are bitter melon leaves. Vine is too tough, just take the leaves and stems. We make a soup. Very good for you. Make the broth first, and then add the greens. Remember, don’t cook too long!” I took a few bites of a leaf from the bitter melon vine. Definitely bitter, but not nearly as strong as a mature bitter melon. I imagined this would make a terrific soup with some ginger, garlic, and maybe tofu. If I wanted to do it “Indian” style, maybe something a la Potent Potato Soup, adding a bunch of these greens at the end. I love the combo of potatoes and bitter greens.

About Bitter Melon

Bitter melon is one of Nature’s most healing foods. Yogi Bhajan once told me it would “heal anything.” It is widely recognized for its anti-diabetic properties.

“In addition to being a food ingredient, bitter melon has also been used as a herbal remedy for a range of ailments, including type 2 diabetes. The fruit contains at least three active substances with anti-diabetic properties, including charantin, which has been confirmed to have a blood glucose-lowering effect, vicine, and an insulin-like compound known as polypeptide-p. These substances either work individually or together to help reduce blood sugar levels… bitter melon contains a lectin that reduces blood glucose concentrations by acting on peripheral tissues and suppressing appetite – similar to the effects of insulin in the brain.” (Diabetes.co.uk)

20150503_140048I decided to go with something on the brothy side, sort of Chinese style. First off, I filled my sink half way with cold water and plunged all the greens in there to give them a good rinsing. Then I pulled all the stems and leaves off the vines, piling the greens into a colander. 20150503_141935Among the vines some tender young stems had baby bitter melons! Most on the tiny side, and some as large as an inch long.

20150503_14124120150503_140533 I munched on a few slender curly tendrils, not certain how they might cook up. Similar taste as the stems and leaves, but a bit too fibrous and tough. Closer to the tips the tendrils were more tender. I decided not to include the tendrils in the soup, but would definitely use all the baby bitter melons!

With the greens rinsed and draining in the colander, I selected a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger and peeled and sliced it into short thin matchsticks and chopped 5-6 cloves of garlic. Now I was ready to start my basic broth. 20150503_143643I heated up a stainless steel pot with a tablespoon or two of oil. When hot, in went a pinch or two of crushed red chilies (you could also use 1 or 2 whole dry red chilies) and let them sizzle a few seconds to get toasted. Then added the ginger and garlic and sizzled a little longer.  20150503_152719After adding water and bringing to a light boil, I added a half-pound of cubed tofu, and some tamari soy sauce, along with a long piece of the melon vine… just to see how it cooked up. I figured one could use the vine pieces for flavoring a broth, and then easily pull them out. I let this simmer a minute or two while I chopped the now-drained greens. Into the pot went the chopped greens.

20150503_144833I let this simmer just about 5 minutes, until the greens were tender. The baby bitter melons (most had gotten cut in half in the chopping process – revealing no seeds!) were also just the right amount of tender, and really pretty tasty. Last in the pot flew 5 chopped green onions and a dash or two of toasted sesame oil.

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I served myself a small cup for tasting. The broth was flavorful and the greens were amazing, not too bitter. I thought this would be a fine soup as a first course or to complement a meal. But my heart (or perhaps my stomach) was thinking noodle bowl.

20150503_152135_resized I pulled out a bundle of soba noodles, brought about 6 cups of salted water to a boil, and in another 3 minutes had soba noodles ready to go. Much better. With a garnish of chopped cilantro and raw green onions, I thought, “My goodness, this looks simply perfect.” Let me assure you, it was!

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Bittermelon Greens & Tofu Soup or Soba Noodle Bowl

This brothy soup is great on its own. For a light and satisfying meal, include tofu and soba noodles.
1 large bunch bitter melon greens (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons peanut or coconut oil (oil with high smoke point)
1/8 tsp crushed red chilies, or 1-2 whole dry red chilies
2-inches fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into short, thin matchsticks
2 quarts water
¼ cup tamari soy sauce
½ pound tofu, cut into bite-size cubes
½ bunch green onions, finely chopped
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
2-3 tablespoons chopped green onions (for garnish)
Additional tamari or Bragg Liguid Aminos to taste
1 bundle soba noodles (for heartier meal, 1 bundle per serving)

Plunge greens in a sink full of cold water to rinse clean. Pull or snip off tender stems and leaves from the vines, including any blossoms or baby bitter melons. Avoid tough tendrils. Discard tough vine pieces (these may be used to give more flavor to broth and removed, or just chop up and add to the compost pile). Let greens drain in colander while you prep other ingredients.

20150503_152501_resizedHeat oil in bottom of gallon-size stainless steel pot over high heat. Add red chilies and sizzle about 30 seconds until toasted. Add chopped fresh ginger and sizzle another 30 seconds or so. Add water, bring to boiling point, and let simmer on medium/low while remaining ingredients are added. First add chopped garlic, cubed tofu, and chopped greens. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Add toasted sesame oil. Adjust taste with additional tamari or Braggs.

Ladle soup into serving bowl and garnish with cilantro and green onions.

For noodles (optional), cook them separately and add at end. To cook, bring lightly salted water to boil, add noodles, stir to break them apart, and boil for 3-4 minutes until done. Serve soup into bowls. Using tongs, add noodles to soup and garnish with chopped cilantro and green onions.

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Green Chile Mango Lassi

Hello dear friends. Over the last months I have been working on redesign of this blog and it should be going live within the next week. I think you will find it easier to navigate, and there will be some new features too. As always, I welcome feedback and will be delighted to read your comments on the new design.

This week I have been in Florida at a conference and far away from the kitchen. Even though I’m away, I want to share a quick and easy recipe with you. This recipe is actually included in a post from a few months ago about how to roast green chiles, but I want to repost so it is easier to come upon.

Mango Lassi (luhsee) is a favorite Indian beverage, usually made with fresh mango, homemade yogurt, a little water or milk, perhaps a dash of cardamom powder, and sweetener. Some folks might call it a  yogurt-mango smoothie. I’ve discovered that adding a  piece of roasted green chile or a couple pinches of red chili powder gives the lassi  a very lovely kick of flavor and heat. Traditionally, the lassi would be poured over ice. For a thicker, slushier beverage blend ice with the mango and yogurt and/or ice.

Feel free to play with proportions…. using equal amounts of yogurt and mango, more mango than yogurt, etc. All delicious!

Green Chile Mango Lassi

Yield: 1 serving

For best results, be sure all ingredients are cold (or serve over ice).

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 cup fresh or frozen ripe mango cubes (1 small/medium ripe mango)
1/2 inch piece roasted jalapeno or dash of red chili powder
squeeze of lemon
honey to taste
water or milk (if desired for thinner consistency)

Place all ingredients in blender jar and blend until nice and smooth. Pour over ice into a glass. For a thicker, slushier result, use frozen mango and/or add some ice to blender. Garnish with a fresh mint leaves.

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Lessons in Gardening (No. 1)

It’s been over 10 years since I’ve had a vegetable garden. Three houses ago, in Los Angeles, we had a little two-bedroom place with a big back yard where I put in four 4×8 beds plus a few smaller plots, along with hundreds of feet of soaker hose, and grew just about all the produce we could possibly need. Much of these organic veggies also found their way into the homes of friends and neighbors, and into the dishes I prepared for my Yogi Eats catering company. I did all that work, digging, double digging, composting, weeding, squeezing off the suckers from tomato vines, and, of course, the best part of all: harvesting basketsful of vibrant veggies and being able to bite into a tomato still warm from the sun, or an ear of corn picked only a moment before. This is a sacred heaven, yes? Sometimes when I would walk back there, especially in the early morning after sunrise, the air itself seemed filled with a magical energy. Magical like faeries and elves, garden sprites and butterflies.

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Apricots are coming in! With the drought and less watering this year,, both the apricot and the plum tree look like they’ll have sparse fruit.

As we all know, life happens and things change. The garden got smaller, and then one year I just could not get around to preparing the soil and getting things planted. Time went by and my good intentions couldn’t keep up with it. After that, it was a good year if I got a couple of tomato starters planted.

Since we moved to our home in Bakersfield, I have had tomatoes for most summers. It seems a sin to not at least have a potted tomato plant or two. I have wanted to put in a vegetable garden, but the amount of physical work and energy it takes to get the soil ready and make lovely raised beds has been far too intimidating. I am 20 years older than I was when I started that last garden and while I feel I am pretty strong, healthy and energetic, I’m just not up to that laborious prep. I also could not decide on where in our lovely yard to put the beds.

20150413_184029Yesterday I turned a new leaf! David, my gardener, and I went out to the lumber store and I bought enough untreated redwood to make 2 4×8 raised beds. No more double digging for me! David got the first one constructed by the afternoon. Isn’t it beautiful? This one is right outside the French doors of my bedroom, so each morning when I part the curtains to welcome the day, I will see it out there and be reminded to go out, get my hands in the earth, and say hello to my sprouting babies. That morning ritual of walking in the garden, pulling some weeds, thinning out the radishes, and other tasks, is like a garden healing meditation. That’s really what it is. Every woman should have a garden.

Next week David is coming and is bringing a pickup truck full of soil from his farm, where he and his wife Lili have their own organic vegetable garden and raise cows, goats, a horse or two, and some chickens… all on the kind of feed these animals are designed to eat… happy, cared for animals… that happen to poop. He will take some of that manure, good soil, and some of my compost (I’ve been composting for the last year, getting ready for this day) to get a good mix. I am leaving it up to him. He knows what’s he’s doing. He’s got the men,the muscles, and the time.

20150413_183634Today I went out and bought some soaker hose and the splitter for the backyard faucet, one side for the regular hose and the other for the soaker hose, and a timer.

It’s a little late in the season to start a garden. Especially here in Bakersfield, where summer is about 7 months long. So I will look for some good sized starters at the farmers market… heirloom tomatoes, zuchetta, green beans, cucumbers… really whatever I see that strikes my fancy. I also noticed that I may have some kabocha squash growing out of my compost pile. I’ll move some of those into the raised bed… after the soil has had a few weeks to rest a bit.

20150413_184107I’ll write here once in a while about how it’s going, what’s growing, what’s not, and share some photos and stories of the meals I prepare. Stay tuned!

 

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Red Lentil & Vegetable Soup with Ginger

With the turn of the seasons, from Winter to Spring, comes yearning for taste of lighter things! From stews, grains, hearty soups, and breads…. I’m hoping for something lighter! brothier! and veggie-ful instead! If you too welcome warm weather’s harbinger…. try out this lovely, brothy, red lentil soup with ginger! And if this rhyme is just a little more than you expected, don’t worry another minute, it’s officially ended!
20150406_202815But, seriously, this lovely soup is seriously simple, simply drunk with flavor, with a luscious yet light red-lentil based broth that is deliciously seasoned with ginger, cumin, coriander and cilantro. Divine!

With a little bit of time and space management, you can have this soup ready to go in just about an hour’s time. It’s a one-pot deal so, first off, get your water in the kettle and set it to boil on the stove. While it’s heating up, Continue reading

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Tofu Scramble with Stir Fries over Brown & Black Rice

Don’t you agree that home-cooked meals are so much better than cafeteria or restaurant food?  It’s about the loving vibes, the pure content, the flavor we want, and of course the $$ savings. Sometimes making lunch for hubby and I every day seems like more than I have energy for. I cook at night when I get home from work and pack up quart-sized containers with whatever’s on the menu.

20150331_184930The challenge is keeping a nice variety, avoiding long prep time, and still coming up with delicious, vibrant, nourishing meals.  Over time I’ve come up with some easy-to-prep standards that are simple to vary with seasoning or whatever veggies or grains I’m using. Continue reading

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Yogi Bhajan’s Tofu Veggie Rooter

The last time I made a batch of ghee I got inspired to share with you a post about its special healing qualities and how easy it is to make. I took some spectacular photos and have been saving them on my phone for the post, which I planned to write tonight!

straight down rooterBefore getting started I sat down to upload the photos from my phone. That’s when I saw, right at the top of my photos, the photo of the photo of the “dress” – you know the gold and white dress that was all over the internet a few weeks ago because there were so many people who somehow believed it was a blue and black dress. Really!? Continue reading

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East Bay Eateries… a weekend getaway

A weekend trip to the Bay Area is the perfect remedy for the Bako blues! Hubby and I went up last weekend to visit our daughter, see her new apartment, and go to the Warriors vs Knicks basketball game. We managed to fit all that in, plus go out to eat at some of our fave dining spots and try something new too. So here’s the rundown on Continue reading

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