I have issues shopping in Chinatown. The amount of beautiful produce at ultra-low prices is so tempting that I can’t restrain myself from buying a little bit of everything—literally. I once toted 25 pounds of fruit and veg across the Lower East Side, up to Penn Station and took it 3 hours on a bus back to Hartford … in the middle of a heat wave. That experience taught me a modicum of self restraint, but during my last trip I couldn’t, simply couldn’t make myself walk away from the lovely little baby bok choy. At $1 a pound (and the discovery of a bus that leaves from LES), I didn’t really need to, either.
I scooped up some of those little guys, along with garlic scapes, carrots, cucumbers, scallions, and my favorite hot sauce, all with the below recipe in mind.
I’d seen it a few days earlier and it sounded delicious, but I made a few tweaks to accommodate my produce finds, culinary laziness (um, no way I’m blanching a carrot if I’m also cutting it into tiny pieces, and same goes for peeling a cucumber) and a proclivity for hotter-than-hot hot sauce. The prep time is a bit time-consuming, but the dinner itself couldn’t be easier to make, and with all of that multi-colored steamed veg it’s beyond healthy. However, may I add a cautionary note about using any sort of mandolin, Japanese or otherwise; absolutely do not let your mind wander while slicing or changing blades, or you might lose a finger (If you’re accident-prone, this could be a safer option). Safety lesson over.
Feel free to switch up the veg; add in some broccoli, use pea shoots instead of bok choy, swap green beans or pea pods for garlic scapes, etc. I find it is best enjoyed cool or at room temp, so you can even prep your prawns and veg (aside from the bok choy) well in advance and then just deal with the rest about 30 minutes before you want to eat.
Cool Soba with Bok Choy, Scapes and PrawnsServes 3-4 adapted from The Kitchn
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks (I used a Japanese mandolin) 8 bunches baby bok choy, sliced vertically into 1/3rds 2 bundles dried soba noodles 6 scallions, diced 5 garlic scapes, flowers removed and cut into 1’’ long pieces 1/2 cucumber, cut into matchsticks (Japanese mandolin, again) Peeled steamed prawns, 3-4 per person 2 tablespoon sesame oil 4 tablespoons rice vinegar 3 tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoon chilies in oil (optional, but it tastes SO good with the cool veg and tart vinegar)
Fill a medium-sized sauce pan with water and bring it to a boil. Drop the scapes and a generous pinch of salt into the water. Cook for about a minute until scapes are a vibrant green and just tender. Immediately remove to an ice bath to stop cooking.
Let the water come back to a boil and add the bok choy. Blanch for 30 seconds and then remove using a slotted spoon or tongs. Run them under cool water, shake out excess water and then distribute evenly among serving bowls. Add carrot and cucumber on top of bok choy, again distributing evenly among the bowls.
In a separate pot, bring heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the soba according to the package instructions; they should be al dente and will cook fairly quickly (about 5 minutes). Taste test them regularly so they don’t overcook; no one likes mushy soba! Drain immediately and run under cold water to stop cooking. Shake out excess water and distribute evenly among the bowls. Add prawns, scapes and scallions on top of the soba.
Whisk together the sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and hot sauce (if using, which I sincerely hope you are). Pour this over the noodles, veg, and prawns.
**If your diners don’t like or can’t eat shellfish, chicken or pork, steamed or lightly sautéed in garlic, will work nicely. Alternately, you could use a poached egg, or even tofu sautéed with garlic and soy sauce to make it veg-friendly.