Cooking for Others: Sunday Supper with Sister & Friends

EVENT: Sunday Supper
VENUE: Cara’s Apartment, Park Slope
TYPE: Simple dinner
PARTY SIZE: 4 total
MENU: Spicy black bean dip; Rice noodle salad with vegetables and cashews; Asian baked tofu; Thai cod; Minted fruit salad and cookies

One of the excellent perks of my neighborhood is the fact that it’s really easy to park on the street. This numbers among the reasons it’s easy to convince Jill, my older sister who lives in Gramercy and is now the proud city driver of a car, to come for dinner over the weekend. Since she hadn’t seen her friends Nate and Callie in almost twenty-four hours, she invited them to come over too (they live around the corner from me). Crucial also was that she brought along a discarded chair of hers, making me the proud owner of four whole chairs to set around my table. Two of them even match!

When I wrote to my mom asking her for the exact proportions of the very simple dressing we always like to put on our soba noodles (from the back of the soba noodle box, I’ll admit), she emailed back with the right proportions of rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil—and, more importantly, to say that noodle salad was among Jill’s favorite dinners. Somehow, I don’t think I knew this. Anyway, I substituted rice vermicellli noodles for the soba, since they’re what I had, but they absorbed the sauce and melded with the veggies nicely.

I rounded out the salad with two sources of protein: cod in a simple Thai sauce and tofu baked in a marinade that when all was said and done wasn’t so different than the noodle dressing. But that just means their flavors went well together, right? What was most amazing about the dinner, though, was just how quickly it came together. One minute I thought I’d be chopping carrots into matchsticks forever, but the next there was a meal on the table. As good a meal for a weekday, I’d even claim, as for a Sunday!

From my kitchen, where apparently things come together in a flash, to yours,



Black Bean Dip

This is embarassingly easy and versatile and takes its inspiration from our launch party’s dip-fest.

You take a can of black beans and put it in the blender with about a tablespoon of canned tomatoes or salsa (if you have them; both optional), about 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder, and a sprinkling of cumin. Blend until smooth, adding a bit of water if the mixture sticks in the blender. Taste for salt—it may not need any if the canned beans were well salted.

Serve with tortilla chips and veggies and garnish with chopped cucumbers or cilantro.

Thai Steamed Cod
Serves 4

1 1/2 lb cod (or other white fish)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 scallions, white and green parts chopped
about 1/4 cup chopped mint, cilantro, and basil, if you have them—some or all

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a baking pan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, and vegetable oil. Add the fish and sprinkle with the scallions and whichever herbs you’re using. Put on the lid and bake, 20-25 minutes, until the fish is white through and flakes easily. (All the moisture in the marinade gives you some leeway with cooking time—in other words, no need to stress about it.)

Serve, sprinkled with more fresh herbs, on a plate with edges deep enough to contain all the sauce.

Serve, sprinkled with more fresh herbs, on a plate with edges deep enough to contain all the sauce.

Rice Noodle Salad with Vegetables and Cashews
Serves 4

This salad takes a bit of chopping, but not much else. You can prepare it ahead of time, but don’t put on the dressing more than an hour or so before serving—the noodles will absorb too much of it if you do.

6 ounces rice vermicelli noodles
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 cups mixed greens
2-3 scallions, chopped
about 12 cashews, coarsely chopped

Cook the rice noodles according to package directions—usually 2-3 minutes in boiling water. Rinse them in cool water and drain. On a cutting board, cut them into 4-5″ lengths. Toss them with 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.
In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar. Set aside.

In a salad bowl, mix together the vegetables, noodles, and cashews, reserving a few scallions and cashews for garnish. Toss well with the dressing and sprinkle with the garnish.

Asian Baked Tofu
Serves 4

1 package firm tofu
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons grated or finely minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons mirin or other white wine
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cut the tofu into 10 even slices and use them to line a baking pan with edges. Mix together all the other ingredients, stirring well to dissolve the honey, and pour them over the tofu. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the marinae is absorbed and the edges of the tofu pieces are brown. Serve hot or at room temperature. (You can also slice into strips and serve atop the noodle salad.)

Minted Fruit Salad
Serves 3-4

So I really like the idea of serving fruit salad (light) with little cookies (less light) after a big dinner. However, I could really use some ideas for presentation—I wound up just piling the cookies along the side of the fruit salad bowl, but they didn’t look that inspired, plus they got soggy. If any expert platers have thoughts, I’d love to know (in the comments)! Read the original post here.

1/2 cup blueberries
2 kiwis, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 Asian pear, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 crisp apple, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 orange, peeled with sections cut out
1 2-inch piece of orange peel*
1/2 cup mint, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
Cookies, homemade or purchased

Combine the sugar with about 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat, add the mint, orange peel any orange juices that streamed out while you were cutting out the sections, and let it come to room temperature.

Meanwhile, combine the fruit in a serving bowl with the chopped mint. When the syrup has cooled, add it to the bowl. Toss well, and refrigerate until serving. Garnish with simple sugar cookies or purchased cookies, like ‘Nilla wafers or ginger snaps in some original and appealing way.

TIP: A kitchen job I had while in college taught me all I needed to know about carving sections out of oranges. Here’s what you do: with a paring knife, cut the tops and bottoms from the orange so it sits flat. Then cut off the peel and the pith all around, so you have a naked-looking orange. Holding this in your left hand, use a smaller knife to cut around each section, letting the juice drip into the salad bowl and dropping sections in as you go. If this sound impossible, skip the orange, or peel off the pith in some other manner.

that’s not Cara! Pictured: fruit salad and Jill in Cara’s chef hat

Posted in: Cooking for Others
  • Callie

    What an amazing meal! Thanks Cara :-)

  • Kate

    I was wondering how bananas went with this meal? I know that bananas are typical of most soba noodle salads, but I wasn’t sure if they are similarly delicious with other noodles?

  • Frankie

    Cara, what’s your favorite non-Asian marinade? I’m allergic to soy sauce but I love tofu.

  • Phoebe and Cara, the Quarter-Life Cooks

    Kate: I know some cooks have been known to add banana, finely diced, to the noodle salad. While it accentuates the sweet and salad element, I’m not sure this “secret ingredient” is for everyone. But if it sounds good to you, go for it!

    Frankie: In a way, it’s the combo of rice wine vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt (from the soy sauce) that makes tofu so delicious. I’d keep everything as is and simply replace about 1 teaspoon or so of salt for the soy sauce.

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