Monday, June 23, 2014

A Cool Appetizer for the Hot Summer

Summer is in full force. It's that time of year when turning on the oven is much akin to shoving splinters under your nails. When the temps heat up, I crave cool and easy dishes.

The other night, I needed a quick and easy appetizer to take to a potluck after work. It was my first time bringing food to this group, so I wanted it to be impressive, but also follow my mood for keeping cool. We have started getting some really nice big cucumbers. I knew those had to be a part of the plan. I plunked around Pintrest and found some very cute cucumber appetizers. One of my favorites was a cucumber-hummus cupcake. But I felt with the heat, even hummus might not hold up.

Then I went to the pantry and fridge to see what I could see. I had a few left over fresh shiitake mushrooms that were about at the end of their viable life. The pantry had some soba noodles and that did it for me. I was inspired to make a cool, asian inspired, easy to eat with your hands appetizer.

Soba and Shiitake Cucumber Cups

4 large cucumbers (about 2-2 1/2 inches wide)

Dressing ingredients

1 tablespoon red miso
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon low sodium tamari or soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated or finely minced

Filling ingredients

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup diced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 red jalapeño or fresno pepper minced
1 tablespoon finely diced sweet onion
1 large clove garlic minced
4 oz. soba noodles, broken in half and cooked according to package directions*

Black and/or white sesame seeds for garnish
Thinly sliced green onion tops for garnish (optional)

*IMPORTANT NOTE: make sure to rinse noodles under very cold water until completely cooled or they will get very gummy.

Peel cucumbers. Score the cucumber lengthwise with a fork all the way around. Slice into inch slices keeping thickness as even as possible. Using a small melon baller or small paring knife, carefully scoop out most of the seeds and flesh of cucumber to create a little bowl. Make sure to leave a little cucumber on the bottom for the bowl. Place in a single layer on serving platter and set aside.

In a small bowl whisk dressing ingredients together and set aside.

In a 10 inch iron skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Heat sesame oil until just warm and not smoking. Add shiitake mushrooms, jalapeños and onion. Saute until shiitake mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

In a medium mixing bowl gently combine the chilled soba noodles, dressing and mushroom mixture.

Using a fork, twirl soba noodles to make a small and fairly tight "nest" of noodles**. Carefully place the "nest"inside the cucumber bowls. Repeat with remaining cucumber bowls and noodles.

Sprinkle each cute little bowl with sesame seeds and green onion for garnish. Serve immediately or they can be refrigerated for an hour or two before serving.

**NOTE: The mushroom mixture may fall out while twirling the noodles. Use a small spoon or your fingers to sprinkle some of the mixture on top of filled cucumbers.