Fusion Comfort Food

One night last week I was in the mood for something homey for dinner, comfort food – or – perhaps Asian. I know, different ends of the spectrum, but we’ll get to how I satisfied both cravings in a moment.

As I sat down to write this post, I got thinking about cravings, particularly for comfort foods, and why we have them. It’s clearly not linked to fulfilling a nutritional need, because typically comfort foods are not healthy, e.g., mac and cheese, green bean casserole, ice cream sundaes, etc. Comfort foods often take us back in time, and we associate a specific food with memories, some funny, some nostalgic. Comfort foods can soothe our psyches and invoke a sense of calm and security. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches remind me of Friday night dinners when I was little, or we went to Howard Johnson’s for fried clam strips. Coffee milkshakes still provide comfort just as they did 35 years ago after a visit to the orthodontist for an adjustment to braces. And the mention of tuna noodle casserole immediately reminds me of one person. My dad. It always has been one of his favorite dinners. American cuisine is defined by these kinds of foods, and interesting how so many upscale chefs have added buttermilk fried chicken, truffled mashed potatoes, and even cabbage rolls (check it out at Sidney Street with the rabbit!) to their menus over the last few years. These guys know what sells – and tastes so wonderful. Long live comfort foods.

Back to my cravings. I know, comfort foods typically do not invoke images of stir fry, kung pao, pad thai, lettuce wraps, or seared soy-marinated tuna. But sesame soy Udon noodles and cilantro and ginger meatballs do. Can I call it Americanized-Asian spaghetti and meatballs, with a side of (spicy) un-green bean-casserole? I had a recipe for ginger meatballs from Cooking Light that calls for ground pork, but I find these versatile enough that ground turkey, ground chicken, or grass-fed beef, which is what I had, works nicely. The noodles from the original recipe are rather blah, so I threw something together by instinct that turned out really tasty. So if you have a fusion comfort food craving, give this a try. You will be satisfied in a 2011 kind of way.
Gingery Meatballs with Noodles and Spicy Green Beans
Serves 4

1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 C dry breadcrumbs
1/4 C finely chopped red onion
2 T low sodium soy sauce
2 t grated peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound lean ground pork, turkey, chicken, or lean ground beef
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Place a foil-lined jelly-roll pan in oven. Preheat oven to 450°.

Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl; stir gently just until blended. Cover and chill 30 minutes. Divide pork mixture into 20 equal portions; shape each portion into a meatball. Arrange meatballs in a single layer on preheated pan.

Bake at 450° for 20 minutes or until done.

Sesame Noodle
Serves 4

6 ounces Udon noodles, cooked and drained
Onions and/or colored pepper, thinly sliced and sautéed or any other vegetables you have on hand
Ginger, grated
2 – 3 T low sodium soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T rice vinegar
1 1/2 T sesame oil
Asian chili-garlic sauce to taste
Green onions, thinly sliced

Whisk all ingredients (except noodles, vegetables, and green onions) together in a bowl. Taste and adjust ingredients as needed. Pour sauce over warm noodles and vegetables and toss to coat. Sprinkle with green onions and toss.

Spicy Green Beans
Slightly undercooked green beans – I did in the microwave on vegetable/fresh setting

2 T soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
Asian chili-garlic sauce
Ginger, grated
Garlic, minced

Combine sauce ingredients and set aside.

Sauté ginger and garlic. Add green beans and sauté until starting to darken in spots. Add sauce and cook until thickened slightly.

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