food to glow

feel good food that's good for you

It has been some week. I am normally a very ‘even’ person – not much ruffles me. Perhaps it is because I can tick nearly all of the boxes that add up to a nice life. I won’t bore – or irritate – with the details but trust me, I’m one lucky person. But that doesn’t mean that underneath it all I am not paddling furiously, like everyone else.  And this week I paddled hard enough for a personal best.

Recent events have given me pause to reflect on what I hold dear. Nothing horrible has happened, not at all, but let’s just say I was running the emotional gauntlet this week – deep happiness and fulfillment, sudden terror followed by shock, corrosive frustration, and finally – best of all – joy. My poor adrenal glands don’t know what has hit them. To be honest, I’m wrung out. Pathetic when compared to those who deal with tragedy and emotional upheaval – and the aftermath of it – on a daily basis. For many, just getting by requires strength of character and determination that the rest of us pray we never have to draw upon. I have merely dipped my toe into the roiling sea that is many peoples’ day-to-day existence. Man-alive it’s made me grateful, thankful and all of those other positive ‘-fuls’. 

Challenging, emotionally fluid times require comforting, yet nourishing foods. Riding a metaphorical rollercoaster uses up a heck of a lot of energy. Simple, full of flavour, visually-wow recipes can really hit the spot when you are ‘all over the place’. At least for me. Some of you may crave uber-comfort foods like macaroni-cheese, puddings, bars of Dairy Milk when emotionally challenged and looking for solace. But I’m sure there are at least some of you who require a shot of spice, a dose of colour and an infusion of bold flavours to make you feel like yourself again.

As you can probably tell if you read this blog regularly (thank you if you fall into this gorgeous and clever group), I favour punchy over safe and I make no apologies for this trait. Although raised on meatloaf, pot roast, bologna and mustard sandwiches, and the occasional salad, I adore more ‘exotic’ foods. My comfort zone is book-ended by pan-Asian and Middle-Eastern dishes. But I promise to give you something more sedate, less challenging in the next post. I also promise to put some mini recipes and ideas up in the Nutrition and Cancer pages  that may be especially suitable for those going through active cancer treatment (to access, click on the top bar above); still full of flavour, but perhaps kinder to wonky digestion. If you have any ideas for this section get in touch and I’ll see what I can do. I am always soliciting my Maggie’s Centre Nutrition Workshop groups for their suggestions; I want to open that out to you, too.

Todays’ recipe fits the bill of good mood food. Nearly all of the ingredients have something about them that help resupply us with stress-depleted B and C vitamins, or provide potentially mood-enhancing Omega 3 and tryptophan (from the prawns). All in a luridly bright, tangy, tongue-tingling sauce. But without the MSG, weird not-of-this Earth colourings and flavourings and copious amounts of added fat and salt. My underlying motto is get good ingredients and let them do all of the work. All you need do for this one is chop, stir and eat. Oh, and a good knife wouldn’t go amiss.

Nutrition and Usage Notes: The word soba is Japanese for buckwheat, a highly nutritious seed ‘fruit’ related to rhubarb and sorrel.  As well as having protein and some important antioxidants and B vitamins, delicious buckwheat is gluten-free and therefore highly useful to coeliacs. And, the prism-like, dark golden seeds are quite pretty.

For all of you interested in the benefits of wine and green tea, believe it or not buckwheat shares the key phytochemical rutin, a compound that may helps lower dangerous LDL cholesterol and raise helpful HDL. Buckwheat is also a great source of blood vessel-relaxing, blood pressure-lowering  magnesium. Anyone under constant stress would benefit from making sure they get enough magnesium.

A native crop of China and Northern Europe,  buckwheat – roasted and ground -makes a great flour. It is also useful as an unroasted or roasted ‘grain’ – the latter known as kasha, and as the basis of a nourishing tea-like drink (soba cha in Japanese). Buckwheat is also fermented with soya beans to make sobamugi miso paste, a staple item in any Japanese pantry. This grain-like seed is used in many countries, perhaps best known to us in the West as a main ingredient for Russian blinis, usually caviar and sour cream-topped but nice with a nippy wholefruit jam too.

Buckwheat’s nutty, rounded flavour makes it a candidate for delicious porridge, vegetable and herb-flecked salads and as a floury add-in for many cake recipes. I have a rotation of grains and grain-like seeds such as buckwheat that I use as a straight swap with rice, couscous and ‘normal’ pasta. Try this link for different ways to cook buckwheat as a grain. And this one at Doves Farm for baking ideas.

Chilli Prawns with Soba Noodles

As I am no expert when it comes to Asian foods (enthusiastic amateur is as far as it goes), I frequently turn to some well-thumbed cookbooks for guidance and ideas. But I rarely follow recipes to the letter – although perhaps my family wishes I would – preferring to box and cox with what likely ingredients I have already. I also find that many mainstream cookbooks use a lot more fat and salt than we like, so there is always at least that adjustment. Unless you are a newbie to this cooking lark I would urge you to scan your recipes and adjust to your taste and nutritional needs (or any other needs up for consideration). Keep the gist of the recipe but unless it’s baking, where precise measurements are needed for rise and texture, make it your own. 

For this recipe I leaned somewhat heavily on the perky, very telegenic Chinese chef, Ching-He Huang. Her book, ‘Chinese Food Made Easy’ is full of restaurant favourites and recipes you might find in the various provinces of China and her native Taiwan. I have tried numerous dishes with much success. I hope you enjoy my version of her ‘chilli chicken with noodles’. Feel free to sub chicken, lean beef strips, tofu or nuts for the prawns.

For the sauce

4 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
2.5 cm/1 inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and minced
1 medium red chilli, deseeded and chopped
½ red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
4 tbsp water
1 tbsp vinegar (Chinese if you have it)
3 tbsp tomato ketchup

85g/3 oz dried soba noodles OR wholewheat noodles (one wrap from a Clearspring brand package)
½ tsp toasted sesame oil (optional)
½ tsp rapeseed oil
1 courgette, sliced into batons/strips
½ red pepper, sliced into strips
handful sugarsnap peas
handful shiitake mushrooms
150-200g/5-7 oz cooked prawns, shelled
sodium reduced soy sauce, to taste
3 spring onions/scallions, sliced lengthways
handful coriander, torn

Put all of your sauce ingredients into a blender or mini chopper and blitz to a smooth sauce.

naturally bright sauce

Boil the noodles according to packet directions, then drain and run under cold running water to remove excess sticky starch. Toss through the sesame oil – or use a touch of rapeseed oil – and set aside. I usually shave off a minute from the cooking time.

Add the ½ tsp of rapeseed oil to a cold wok along with ½ tsp water and heat until just sputtering. Quickly add the vegetables, turn up the heat, and stir fry for two minutes or so – keep it all crunchy if possible. This method is thought to help prevent damaging molecular changes to oil when heated. Add in the prawns, sauce and cooked noodles and heat through. Have a little taste and see if you want to add soy sauce or maybe some chilli flakes. Serve immediately, garnished with the spring onion strips and coriander.  Serves 2-3

5 thoughts on “Chilli Prawns and Vegetables with Soba Noodles

  1. Ann says:

    Mmmm- this is my kind of dream food – I’m glad you got off your rollercoaster with no permanent damage and Miss R returned in full working order!

    1. All is good. Miss R has dosed herself up with beetroot zinger and homemade fish pie! Antidote to 9 days of cooked breakfasts and cold sandwiches.

  2. Christine Miller says:

    Hi – I have just made this for our tea tonight and it was yum – I will definitely be making again. Thank you

    1. Thanks so much. The tomatoey sauce is a bit unusual and makes an interesting change.

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