Street food is enjoying its place in the sun right now, here, there, and everywhere, it seems. And, so too, should the new cookbook – her sixth – by Susan Feniger, based on recipes developed in her LA restaurant, Street. The book is well organized into chapters beginning with starters and ending, naturally with sweets and drinks. In between she imparts the art of spice mixes and pastes from three continents, lots of vegetarian options and enough intriguing anecdotes to keep the reader turning pages. You’ll want to seek out the ethnic markets in your town or city to find all you’ll need to cook Cactus Relleno with Corn and Arbol Salsa, Coconut Curried Mussels with Smoky Chorizo, and Egyptian Bus Stop Kushary. This is food to eat with your hands, to share with your friends, to make and remake until you get it right for you. It’s rewarding to reinterpret her reimagining of recipes from every corner of the map.
Many/most of these recipes call for obscure ingredients. Which is all part of the fun and the exploratory spirit of the book and, I think, Feniger herself. She writes about her love of encountering other people and cultures through food. She has traveled widely and has stories to tell that enhance the experience of cooking her food of the world as she sees it.
Chilled Soba Noodles with Spicy Orange Sesame and Tofu
Adapted from a recipe in Susan Feniger’s Street Food
- 4 cups fresh orange juice
- 1 (12.7 ounce) package soba noodles
- 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/3 cup spicy sesame oil
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds, toasted
- 1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 (10 ounce) package firm tofu, cut into small cubes and salted to taste
Step 1: Pour the orange juice into a small saucepan and set over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer approximately 40 minutes, until the juice is thick and syrupy and has reduced to 1 cup.
Step 2: Cook soba noodles for five minuntes in boiling water. Drain and rinse twice in cold water. Drain again and transfer to a large bowl.
Step 3: Blend the reduced orange liquid with soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and rice wine vinegar until smooth and emulsified, about 2 minutes. Toss the noodles with half the dressing and refrigerate for half an hour.
Step 4: Toss the cooled noodles with sesame seeds, scallions, and tofu. Serve with reserved dressing on the side.
Now, my notes. This makes a copious quantity of dressing. It’s delicious, but a little goes a long way to coat the noodles and bring everything together. I tried the tofu plain and cold, then decided to saute it a bit in a very hot skillet with a little peanut oil. I preferred the interplay of hot and cold temperatures and I liked how the hot tofu caused the scallions to sizzle and cook a little in the bowl. I didn’t have any black sesame seeds. What I thought were black sesame seeds were poppy seeds, and what I thought were regular sesame seeds were mustard seeds. I am not sure how much the dish suffered from this oversight. Perhaps a little. I also only had plain, and not spicy, sesame oil in the pantry, so I added a dash of cayenne to the blend. Because I like to live dangerously, my soy sauce was not low sodium, and my tofu was extra firm.
The instructions were easy to follow and the result is super tasty, a perfect light dinner for a hot summer night. I always forget how much I like tofu; cooking it takes me back to living alone one summer in an apartment in Washington Heights as hot as the surface of the sun. I would come home from work and walk up the five storeys because once I saw a rat in the elevator and make tofu with spinach and dance around to the music of a saxophone played by an unseen neighbor in another building. Then I would put on different high heels and meet my friends for drinks in other borroughs.
Susan Feniger is joie de vive personified. She’s a cook who seeks to introduce her audience to new worlds through food. She’s been doing this with her West Coast restaurants for decades, and with this title, cements her place in the cookbook author pantheon. It’s infectious, her love of food and life and humanity. These “irresistably crispy, creamy, crunch, spicy, sticky, sweet recipes” are bound to become part of my repertoire. I can’t wait to make my way through Street Food one page at a time.