Category Archives: asian

MexicAsian Pico de Gallo

I’ve been hit by an attack of laziness since finals ended.  After pulling three all nighters, sifting through thousands of pages of research, writing 40 pages, completing an exam and working at baked through all of it, I kind of feel like I’m allowed to be a couch potato.  I was really looking forward to vegging out at my parents’ house in Connecticut, drinking lots of tea and spending time with the friends I grew up with—people I don’t see all that often but feel like family.  I’d also see my actual family—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and lots of cousins.  Then after Christmas, I’d head out for the highlight of my vacation: a return to South Africa, where it’s hot and summery right now, and more friends, family and good food await.

Well, I got to see some of my extended family, and some friends as well.  I had an amazing Christmas Eve dinner at Ferme, a restaurant where my friend Ian is the sous chef.  But when the weather reports confirmed that we were going to get hit hard with the blizzard, I packed up my bags, skipped my big family Christmas and headed down early to NYC to avoid getting snowed in.  And I’ve been here since then, holed up in a hotel room in Brooklyn.  I did venture out into the snow yesterday with Jing, grabbing a quick bite to eat and visiting some of my favorite Brooklyn spots from my old neighborhood (specifically Café Pedlar and Pacific Green Gourmet) and some new spots (Brooklyn Fare, which is not quite what I expected but is a welcome addition to the neighborhood anyway).  We retreated, though, when the wind gusted to 50 mph and it approached full-on whiteout conditions.   I’d never seen snow this bad before, and it didn’t bode well for my flight.  My initial departure was delayed, giving me a two-day holiday in Amsterdam before I’d be able to get on the next flight to Cape Town.  Then that flight was cancelled, and an alternate flight was found that would depart the same night and keep my Amsterdam mini-break intact.  When that was cancelled, the next best option was for me to fly out of Boston on Wednesday, two days after I was supposed to leave and a few hundred miles away from where I’m sitting right now.  Tomorrow I’m packing up again, heading back to Connecticut and then up to Boston.  So much travelling!  In the meantime, though, I’m in my hotel room, everything around me closed, all of my books read, and going slightly crazy from lack of things to do.  Not that I don’t love writing here at POR, but it’s been a bit more brain power than I’ve felt like exerting over the past few days … until now, because I’m out of options to distract myself (and rapidly exhausting even this one. Damn).

I give you, then, tomatillo and fuyu pico de gallo.  Inspired by a craving for pico but a genuine fear of winter tomatoes, I decided to use some other ingredients that aren’t quite as unappealing during the colder months: fuyu, which are actually in season now, and tomatillos … whose growing habits I know absolutely nothing about but always seem to be around the grocery store.  Pictures are scant because I made this at night when the lighting is very bad, but also because I didn’t think I’d post about this until I served it with frijoles negros, brown rice and avo the next day for lunch and was surprised by how nice it looked and tasted.  You could just as easily do this with shredded chicken, pork, shrimp (other meats will be too intense for the delicate flavors of pico and fuyu), or even tortilla chips, but I was in need of an actual meal, feeling lazy (do we sense a pattern here?) and meat averse.  I was so lazy I didn’t even cook my own rice, instead buying the frozen packets from Trader Joe’s, which I have to say are phenomenal.  The warm beans and rice, plus the heat from cayenne pepper, are all welcome in the cold, but the bright notes of citrus and fuyu add a clean, fresh element to the meal that helps to alleviate the short, grey days without making you feel weighed down.

Well, I’ve stretched out this post just as long as it’s going to go before boring all of you to death.  I promise, PROMISE that photographs of food and drink from South Africa are forthcoming—we have a picnic lined up at Boschendal that is definitely worth writing about, and I’m not lugging my camera and laptop halfway around the world and back again for nothing. Until then, wish me safe, on-time, hassle-free travels—and the same to you!

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Tomatillo-Fuyu Pico de Gallo

4 medium sized ripe fuyu persimmons, diced

4 ripe tomatillo, diced

1 medium shallot, diced

juice of 1-2 limes (fresh)

approx 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (could also use fresh chilies/jalapeños but I didn’t have any)

salt to taste

 

Mix all ingredients together.  Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary.

I served mine over warm brown rice and frijoles negros, with ¼ chopped fresh avo.

 

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Fuyu! (and baked potato crisps)

I’m really, really bad at procrastinating.

Actually, that’s not true– I’m really good at it.  I’ll find that right when I’m about to sit down to work on a paper, I’ll have to clean, or catch up on emails I’ve been neglecting, or make a cup of tea, or my ultimate time-killer, putter around in the kitchen.  This “skill” is at its worst when I’m stressed out, like right now.  I have an entire book I’m supposed to read for tomorrow, a 25 page group paper on Sino-African development due in about a week, and a 25 pager on education projects in Tanzania due in two weeks.  So of course, I’m sitting here writing about cooking, cooking that I did when I really should have been papering.  In my defense, though, I did have all of these gorgeous fuyu persimmons and a ton of potatoes that I had to use before I head back up to New England for Thanksgiving.  If I hadn’t made this, they would have gone to waste (did I mention I can also rationalize anything under the sun?)!  You’re getting two super easy recipes today, and lots of pretty pictures because the lighting on Sunday morning was really exceptional.

golden brown and delicious.

Recipe #1:  Baked Potato Crisps

Ingredients:

potatoes

Maldon Sea Salt

olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 325F.  Thinly slice your potatoes– aim for nothing larger than the edge of a dime.  Any kind and size are fine, as long as the size of your slices is relatively even.  Dump slices into a bowl, toss lightly with olive oil and Maldon sea salt.  Lay out individually on a baking sheet (I covered mine with tin foil for easier cleanup).  Bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let cool slightly, and enjoy!

Recipe #2: Fuyus with Cinnamon

fuyu

Ingredients:

ripe fuyu persimmons

cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F.  Thinly slice your fuyu.

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My knife was terrible so mine ended up being about two dimes thick, but you can go thinner if you’d like a crispier texture (almost like a fuyu crisp).  Mine were gummy but had a good caramel taste from being in the oven.  Note that you’ll need to keep an eye on them to adjust for cooking time.  Arrange on a baking sheet covered with tinfoil and sprinkle with cinnamon (you could also add some extra brown sugar on the top if you wish).

***

Bake until the edges start to curl up.  Enjoy served warm by themselves or with vanilla ice cream, or slice into a bowl of oats with brown sugar, crushed almonds and a dash of cream.  These would also be fantastic sliced into a spinach salad with walnuts, goat cheese, slivered red onion and a mildly fruity vinaigrette (like raspberry).

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What have I been up to?

So, what have I been up to?  Not a lot of cooking, that’s for sure, but I can always eat.  So, without further ado, a short photographic journey of some of my recent food explorations, both in and out of my kitchen:

I made purple salt-roasted potatoes.  Anything purple just tastes better, and when you roast them this way and put a little bit of ketchup on them, it’s like a much, much healthier alternative to french fries.  This is a good thing when your stress level is through the roof, you’re up until all hours and you live behind a place that makes killer french fries until 4 am.

pre-roast, coated lightly with olive oil and sitting on a bed of sea salt.

the potatoes don't lose any of their beautiful purple color this way.

Then there was Fakesgiving (it means what it sounds like) with some friends from baked.  I didn’t get a ton of very good pictures, but have a look at this plate; there’s turkey, homemade stuffing, a pumpkin-ricotta pasta bake, corn-millet casserole, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, beet hummus, salad, and all kinds of roasted root veg.  Not to make you jealous, but there was also pie and a pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.

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The next day was followed with more epic eating out at Four Sisters Restaurant, my favorite Vietnamese place, out in Falls Church.  I had phở and summer rolls too, but ate them before I remembered to take pictures (this happens more often than I’d like to admit).  I did get some good pics of the bún (a rice vermicelli noodle dish served with fresh julienned veg and a sweet/spicy fish sauce vinaigrette) and the green papaya salad. Behold:

green papaya salad.

rice vermicelli, carrots, grilled lemongrass chicken, peanuts, scallion, lettuce, fish sauce.

bún with grilled lemongrass chicken.

I also did some marketing at H-Mart, a predominantly Korean grocery.  They have amazing producing and also a great seafood section– despite the overwhelming amount of seafood, it smells like the ocean instead of fish– always a good sign.  Have a quick peek at some of the fruit and veg my friend Dan snapped with his phone:

tomatillos, with cactus leaf to the left.

rambutan!

fresh olives. asian cuisine, especially chinese cuisine, treat olives very differently from mediterranean-style food.

chilies!

fresh chickpeas-- there's usually two bright green lil guys nestled inside of each pod.

The next weekend I jumped continents, culinarily speaking, and made gorditas with some friends.  Or rather, I made pico de gallo, and my lovely friend Nathalie cooked for the rest of us.  There were homemade gorditas (like a Mexican pita pocket, made with masa de harina), refried beans, queso fresco, shredded chicken in salsa verde and a chipotle salsa, and tequila.  I cheated in the below picture and made them open-faced instead of slicing them into pockets.

resembling nothing like the kak you get from taco bell.

In the meantime, I’ve been making lots of stir-fries, eating a ton of veggie burgers and a random assortment of things cobbled together that don’t really resemble a meal in any way, shape, or form.  However, I have a serious surplus of fuyu persimmons hanging out on my countertop and hope to be making some tasty nibbles with those in the near future.  Until then …

Food Trekking to Eden Center

One thing I’ve noticed about DC is that it is an epic, EPIC event to go grocery shopping.  There are no bodegas, no corner stores, no little delis or random markets tucked into places that wouldn’t necessarily qualify as a storage closet.  It’s weird that in a city this wealthy that there aren’t more easily accessibly places to get fresh food.  Compare this to New York, with it’s kickass bodegas, 24-hour organic markets and countless fruit stands—fresh food is everywhere, even though most people have kitchens the size of postage stamps.  It makes cooking here in the District a pain because you have to plan everything out in advance—no dashing across the street or around the corner to grab the one thing you forgot.  Another thing that drives me crazy (and then I’ll stop kvetching) is that there aren’t even any ethnic markets in the District (please, PLEASE correct me if I’m wrong!).  I relied wholeheartedly on a little Korean market across the street to get all of my fresh produce when I lived in Brooklyn, sometimes going there multiple times a day.  Asian markets have always been my favorite for the bounty of produce, spices, and the ability to pick something up because it looks interesting and hope for the best.  In the market situation, NYC=massive win over DC.

But … I’ve found something DC does better than New York.  Like, a lot better.  Granted, it’s a 15 minute walk, 20 minute metro ride and another 20 minute walk away, but I like to think of all of the transit as prep work for a marathon eating session.  And where is this mythical, far-off place?  Not that far, actually, if you have a car … Eden Center, in Falls Church, VA.  And what does it do better than New York?  Vietnamese food.  I know, I know, it’s sacrilege, saying that New York is lacking in a certain cuisine (especially Asian cuisine), but really, I’m not the first person who’s said it. Though of course now I can’t find that article,  so you’re just going to have to trust me on this one.

 

***

 

Eden Center is a big, occasionally warren-like maze of shops, bakeries, restaurants, more bakeries, and more restaurants.  It does boast one traditional-style market, but you go there more for the eating than the buying of things to make later.  But enough of me talking … time for FOOD!

Oh, also, it should be noted that my partner in food crime, Jing, was with me for this excursion, and it was her Droid, patience with me and excellent directional skills that prevented us from ending up Delaware.

First up was Ngoc Anh—which actually ended up being the food highlight of the day.  There was a huge hot food bar, a menu for eating in the restaurant and a large number of Styrofoam cases with room temperature items ready for takeaway.  Jing and I picked out two takeaway items but ended up eating them in the restaurant.  First, we had a thick rice crepe, filled with dried shrimp, fresh scallions, crispy shredded green papaya topped off with crispy fried scallions.  We dipped them into a clear, liquidy sauce— not sure exactly what was in it, but there were definitely chilies, sugar, and a healthy dose of fish sauce.  The crepe was perfectly chewy and the flavors were so fresh and clean, salty, spicy, a little sweet with a ton of umami—exactly what I love about Vietnamese food.

 

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The second item we got was a summer roll.  To be clear, I love summer rolls. Love. Them.  I make, really, really good ones, but for anyone who has made them before, they’re kind of labor intensive, and they taste just that much better when they’re made for you … even if you know that yours actually would win in a contest.  Anyway, having eaten our share of summer rolls, we zeroed in on one that was a little different from the norm: it had the standard basil and mint with the delicate rice wrapper, but inside was an ultra-thin sheet of turmeric-dyed egg along with dried shrimp, Chinese sausage and more green papaya.  The peanut sauce served with it was dark and smoky—heavier than what the standard gỏi cuốn would call for but perfect for this version.

 

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You can just see how fresh the ingredients are.

 

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From there, we stopped in a few different places, scoping each out before deciding where to make our purchases.  There were a ton of places selling a selection of hot foods, but we didn’t want to overdo it our first hour there.  We visited just before the Moon Festival and stacks of mooncake tins crowded every shop and bakery.  Everywhere seemed to sell dragonfruit, steamed buns, rambutan, and green mangoes.

Next we stopped at Huong Binh Bakery and Deli, where we got a steamed bun made with pandan, filled with seasoned chicken.  Pandan is actually a leaf, and it’s extremely aromatic—the compound that gives jasmine and basmati rices their scent is also found in pandan.  The taste is … well, it’s pandan.  Slightly perfumey … hints of coconut and pineapple … it’s entirely unique and is complemented by either sweet or savory notes.  If you’ve ever seen an alarmingly green cake in an Asian bakery, it’s flavored and scented with pandan.

 

don't be scared by the green.

 

Don’t let the color scare you off, because it’s actually really good.  Most of the time.  While this bun was promising initially, it had lost its appeal once we got it home.

 

no bueno.

 

The following bakery, Song Que, was far more satisfying (it’s owned by the Four Sisters).  I got a pillowy sponge cake, which was light and fluffy on the outside but still moist and a little gooey on the inside—exactly the way I like it.  Look at the delicate structure of the cake—the very center should feel a little bit cool and moist (ick. I hate that word so if I use it, it’s significant) when you touch it so you know it hasn’t been over-baked.

 

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I also got jackfruit, which is one of my all-time favorite fruits.  It has notes of pineapple, coconut and an aftertaste of cinnamon.  It’s highly aromatic, and is enormous and beastly to look at (like a warty pineapple on steroids).  It’s not always easy to find fresh, let alone cut into manageable pieces, so when I saw this waiting for me, I pounced.  I hadn’t had jackfruit this good since I was in India.  The little fruit parcels you see here are all clustered inside the rind of the jackfruit and you just pop them off.  The flesh is firm but smooth—totally different from any other texture food I’ve ever had.  Inside is a huge seed that you chuck away—just be careful not to break a tooth on it.

 

***

 

I also got a steamed bun filled with a sweet and salty egg custard.  Not exactly a health food, but ohmygod so good … There were tons of other foods I wanted to try there—lots of Bún dishes, more summer rolls, bubble teas, frozen ices, Bánh mì… but I exercised self control. Mainly because I want to have something new to try the next time I go back.

 

***

 

We also found some funny translation errors (or typos?).

 

monk beans are delicious.

 

Our last purchase was at Phước Lộc.  I was tempted by the barbecued pork buns because they’re kind of like crack to me, but I decided to try something new and got two sticky rice rolls wrapped in banana leaves.

 

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One had a banana filling, the other mung bean.

 

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Jing got grilled sticky rice …

 

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… filled with banana.

 

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We had high hopes … but the banana tasted really, really odd … kind of fermented and boozy and not in a good way.  The mung bean one was okay though.  At least they’re pretty to look at.  We returned home full (stuffed, even) but overall very, very happy with the day’s eating.

If you want to know more about Vietnamese food, I’d suggest checking out Andrea Nguyen’s blog, Viet World KitchenWikipedia is also a great resource.  Or, you know, you could just eat some and learn as you go– experiential learning, if you will.

Peashew Chicken

A long-running joke between some of my closest friends is that I’m secretly Asian.  This could have something to do with the whole dark hair/dark eyes/fair skin combination, or the fact that out of the four people that make this joke, three are Chinese and one is Japanese.  More likely, though, this has to do with my undying obsession with Asian cuisine.  When people ask me what my ultimate comfort food is, my immediate response is ‘miso soup with brown rice.’  I have a mild addiction to shrimp crackers, I brought hondashi, matcha and an economy-sized bottle of Sriracha with me to South Africa because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find it in Cape Town, and I would definitely run back into a burning building to rescue my Zojirushi rice cooker.

I’ve already featured some Asian recipes here; krayasaat, the warm soba salad, and sesame matcha macaroons.  This time, though, I’m skipping authentic snacks and all things Asian-inspired in favor of a super easy, super delicious Chinese recipe.  Don’t be intimidated by the ingredient list, since everything will be available at a regular grocery store.  It’s a well-rounded, healthy meal in a bowl with notes of salty, sweet, and umami, and of course, is served over perfectly cooked white rice.  I swear it tastes better when you eat it with chopsticks (if you don’t know how to use them, learn!  Once you can pick up oiled peanuts, you’re an expert.  At least according to my a-yi 阿姨).  This meal is also great reheated, so don’t feel like you have to share.

Oh, and since you’re probably wondering what’s up with the name; either peanuts or cashews work well with this recipe.  I’ve made it both ways and love them equally, and in the interest of avoiding nut discrimination decided to be inclusive when titling the post.

the chicken in its cashew incarnation.

Peashew Chicken
Serves 4, or just you for 4 meals, because this is so good you won’t want to share
based on a recipe from Appetite for China

Ingredients:

1 pound skinless chicken breast or tenders, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup soy sauce (low sodium variety is best, you can also use Tamari to make this gluten-free)
¼ cup water
1 tablesoon white rice wine or mirin
2 teaspoons chili sauce (I used sriracha because I was cooking for others, though la jiao is excellent if you can really handle the heat)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 to 3 scallion stalks, chopped
2 large handfuls mung bean sprouts
1 head bok choy (about 6-7’’ long), chopped, though feel free to add more
1 handful unsalted peanuts or cashews, crushed (either roasted or unroasted are fine)
Cilantro for garnish (optional)

A bit on rice:

I like to use Nishiki medium-grain white rice, but any plain white rice will be fine, with the exception of that microwaveable Uncle Ben’s crap.  Buy your rice in a bag and cook it properly, it’s worth it.  Make sure not to use Jasmine or Basmati; even though they’re delicious, they will make this dish less so.  You could also use brown, if you want to be uber-healthy.  I use about two scoops using my rice cooker measuring cup, but if you’re cooking rice in the pot follow the instructions at the bottom of the post.

Instructions:

Place the chicken pieces in large bowl. In a small bowl, mix together the soy, water, mirin, chili sauce, and sesame oil. Reserve half and set aside. Pour the remaining half over the chicken and stir to coat. Let marinate for a minimum of 20 minutes, though 2-3 hours is way better.

Once the chicken has absorbed all of those delicious flavors, heat the peanut oil in a large wok or skillet over medium-high. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.  Your ingredients should be aromatic, but not browned.

Add the meat and cook, stirring constantly or about 3 minutes, until meat is lightly browned/not pink on the outside.

Add the rest of the sauce and let it simmer until it thickens.  The first time I made this was on a hardcore Viking range and it took about 4 minutes, but then when I’ve subsequently made it on my lil old electric stove it has taken at least 10 (this could also be because I tweaked the recipe to cut down on the saltiness factor, which I found a little too intense even with low-sodium soy). Add in the bok choy and bean sprouts, stirring to coat.  Throw in the scallions and nuts. Cover and cook on medium low for another 1 to 2 minutes. Serve over rice, topping off with fresh cilantro and a few extra nuts if desired.

Rice is nice:

If you’re using a rice cooker, follow the rice cooker instructions.  And make sure you rinse/soak your rice first (for white and brown rice, respectively).  Otherwise, try this foolproof method.

Brown rice should be soaked for at least an hour before cooking.  You don’t need to soak white rice.  No matter the type, rinse in a mesh strainer until the water runs clear.  Drain excess water, and put into a small saucepan and spread it evenly over the bottom.  Now, place your index finger in the center of the pot until the tip of it just touches the rice.  Carefully pour water into the pot, ensuring that you don’t agitate the rice overmuch and ruin your nice level surface.  Keep pouring until the water comes up to the first joint on your finger, the one closest to your fingernail.  Cover and cook on medium until the water is nearly all evaporated.  Remove from heat, stir and let sit covered until you’re ready to eat.

Cool Soba with Bok Choy, Scapes & Prawns

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 Prawns

Serves 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.