Surfing solo: one ingredient inspiration
Strolling through the Türkischer Markt in Berlin the other day, wandering which of the piles of fresh produce would become dinner that evening, I happened to spy a crateful of green in the back of the fishmonger’s wares. It’s a type of seaweed that I first encountered in Edinburgh over a year ago, enjoyed thoroughly, and forgot about. Excited about the serendipitous stumble, I bought a large handful and proceeded to build a meal around it; an organic lemon, cucumber, a small fennel, a piece of ginger and some vegan fresh pasta (because it was discounted at half price). I had some smoked tofu and shallots sitting at home, and the whole meal came together quickly with a pleasant, subtly sea-scented flavour profile.
Sometimes there’s a particular recipe in mind, from someone else or your own creation, but sometimes you just have no idea what you want to put on your plate that day. In those situations, I like to take the “one ingredient inspiration” approach — browse through a market or a store, find an ingredient that strikes your fancy at this moment, and grab a few things that seem like they would go well together. Exact quantities and combinations aren’t the point here, you can always adjust at home as you’re putting the dish together and leave things out for another meal. It’s an excellent way to build self-confidence and practice creativity and freedom in the kitchen; and it works well in situations where you’re pushed for time and just need to pull something together quickly, as well as leisurely days when you have time to stroll, muse and let yourself be inspired by the market bounty.
This is a recipe for one; I cooked and ate it alone, and enjoyed every minute of the process. I often hear people say they’re not motivated to cook for themselves but I find it’s a good way to set time aside completely for yourself. Taking a look inwards, preparing food exactly as you feel like, and enjoying it quietly and alone, letting thoughts flow through your mind undisturbed, ain’t all bad.
Seaweed, lemon and ginger fresh pasta salad
A note on this seaweed: I don’t know what it’s called, unfortunately, but if you find it, I recommend grabbing it immediately. It has a wonderful, very slightly crunchy texture, not slimy at all, and a fresh, subtle, sea aroma that doesn’t overpower its plate playmates. If you don’t come across it, wakame could be a good choice for this recipe, or just a nori sheet or two, toasted and then crumbled on top. Adjust quantities according to your sea-taste preferences.
Serves 1 hungry person
~50g seaweed of choice (see note above)
1/2-1 mini cucumber, cored and sliced into thin rounds
~4cm piece of ginger, half sliced into thin matchsticks and the other half grated
1/2 organic lemon, zest and juice
A drizzle of sesame oil
Mint, a small handful of leaves, thinly slivered
~100-150g fresh pasta of choice
1 small fennel, finely sliced
~70g smoked or plain firm tofu, cut into matchsticks
1-2 small shallots, finely sliced
A large pinch of sesame seeds
A splash of soy sauce
A large pinch of brown sugar, or splash of maple/agave/birnel syrup
A splash of any vegetable oil, for frying
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat up the frying oil and sauté the shallots, ginger matchsticks, tofu and fennel until nicely browned. Add the sesame seeds, toss to coat, then add a splash of soy sauce and the sugar or syrup. Stir until evenly coated, take of the heat, and drizzle a little lemon juice on top.
Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, set a colander over it, and steam the seaweed for a few minutes (if using wakame or another type of seaweed, this may not be necessary: rehydrating it in some water may be enough). Add the pasta to the water and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, then squeeze the juice from the grated ginger on top of it, add the lemon juice and zest, a splash of sesame oil, the seaweed, the cucumber and the slivered mint and toss to coat. Turn out on a plate and top with the fried tofu and veg mix. Light a few candles, sit back, and enjoy slowly on a cool, late summer evening on your balcony.