Orzo is an ingredient I under-utilize and I’m always surprised how much I like it each time I remember to make it. I’m imagining it’s because I spent years exclusively eating paleo, and have been into low carb for years upon that – but this is really good.
This recipe tastes fresh and makes a great accompaniment to next weeks recipe – a baked Mediterranean chicken. It’s also great as a standalone dish.
1/2 cup orzo
1.5 cups liquid – I used 1/2 a cup of good stock & 1 cup of water; you do you, though I’d suggest using some good flavorful broth as well
6 sundried tomatoes
500g baby spinach
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. your favorite oil
Optional add-ins: pine nuts, a good salty cheese (this one from Violife was what I used for the dish I made to go with and it was fantastic – they also make a “Parmesan” that would probably be great here), a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of Zaatar
Sauté the garlic in the little bit of oil until just beginning to turn tender.
Add the stock & water and bring up to a boil.
Add the orzo and cook, stirring quite frequently to prevent sticking, until just al dente, a minute or so before the cook time is up.
While the orzo is working, chop the sundried tomatoes.
When the orzo is al dente, remove from the heat.
Chuck the sundried tomatoes in, stir, and add the spinach on top.
Let steam a couple minutes, and stir the wilted spinach in.
*Internal excitement intensifies* Season 5 of the Expanse is out, and with it, a renewed excitement about the food explored in the series. I’ve been so excited, in fact, that my poor brain has been working over time yet again this season and has been choosing to switch on at 3am to ponder the problem of nutrition in space. Because I’m a nerd and totally fine with that.
Omfg, here she goes with the bold subheadings. Yep. Strap in, folks, I have time on my hands and am willing to go full nerd while espousing my lack of knowledge on the Internets.
About The Expanse
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Leviathan Wakes books by James S.A. Corey and accompanying television show – The Expanse – is a massive (9 book and thus far 5 season) Sci-Fi series dealing with politics, inequality, humanity’s spread throughout the solar system, war, profit, cabals, and external forces. In broad, non-spoilery terms at least. There’s So. Much. More.
The world building is phenomenal, and the attention to scientific detail (I mean c’mon … the show had me at the opening dealing with gravity) gives just enough meat for the non-scientific at least to run with. It’s like two of my other Sci-Fi loves – Battlestar Galactica and The Martian had a huge baby.
This explanation isn’t doing either series any justice at all. Suffice it to say that it’s great and I would be shocked to hear that it isn’t being used as a teaching tool in at least some discipline of college course.
Food is a big part of the books (at least it’s mentioned frequently and is used to convey information about the characters, location and politics), and I’m super fascinated in what the food of this world tastes like.
What the food is made of, what the flavor profiles are … who are these people, and what do they like? They aren’t (all) subsisting on military-style MREs, but they’re in space … so lobster is probably right out. Where did these people come from on Earth? They’re not all North American in ancestry – the UN runs things at least ostensibly; not necessarily the US (although it is an American series written in English, so there’s definitely a sense that at least geographically a lot of the Earth references are from there, if not political power as well).
Before I get too lost in the Food Nerd weeds, today’s recipe is one I’ve been mulling over since I first read the books. Quite a few mentions have been made of noodles with mushrooms or noodles with black sauce – or both. In my mind, given the fact that the Outer Belt is populated heavily by people of broad Asian descent, black sauce brings to mind Korean-Chinese Jajangmyeon (fermented black bean sauce), which is the absolute bomb but which I can’t source the ingredients for easily.
Reddit seems to agree with that assessment, and mention is made of hoisin sauce possibly being a substitute flavor profile.
I tend to lean toward a vegan analog for butter taste mixed with a bit of grease like takeout Chinese noodles have, mixed with delicate mushrooms, black vinegar and a bit of hoisin or oyster sauce mixed in. With garlic powder. Spices are a thing, and I refuse to believe that humanity has abandoned garlic.
Personally, I would add something green like bok choy or something with some nutrition, but food is political in this world, and fresh veggies would be hard to find, I imagine. This is poor people food – and the poor in this society don’t even have free and clear access to adequate oxygen, let alone stable food supply lines and proper nutrition. No veggies for me. (Mostly) shelf stable, it is.
Back to non directly recipe-related Nerdery.
Egg Noodles & Space Chickens
In the books, reference to egg noodles is made (specifically in Leviathan Wakes, Miller stops at a noodle cart for a cheap cone of egg noodles in black sauce). Egg is also referenced elsewhere in the books, though of course I can’t put my finger on the exact book or framework for that reference – I believe mention was made of a “real” breakfast sounding like it most likely featured meat and some sort of ship eggs – which may or may not have been vegan eggs.
Quite understandably, real meat from an animal is expensive in this world – and I would imagine not only expensive, but super rare for those in the Outer Belt far away from Earth. As far as I can figure, Earth would be the only place with enough land and resources to support any sort of large scale animal farming – or farming of any animals larger than rabbit (I don’t believe, however, that mention is made of rabbit).
Mention is made of vat grown meat, and farmed salmon for sushi – which makes sense mostly, though that’s a lot of water.
But chickens? Yeah, you can have chickens on a balcony in a city and still get eggs, but to have enough chickens to make enough eggs that egg noodles can then be sold cheaply to Belters – that’s a lot of feed, which requires a lot of water, and unless your chickens are running around the ship loose, a lot of dedicated chicken space. Which wouldn’t be wasted – chicken poop makes good fertilizer.
But still … I can see it being a viable protein source somewhere like Ganymede where large scale farming is being conducted, and I suppose big stations like Tycho must have some sort of food production capacity, but you’ve got to have a bunch of chickens to get a stable breeding population – and roosters – to be able to manage all that. Or, would it be more cost-effective to cycle your chickens into stew every 4 years or so when they stop laying to start fresh with a new crop?
How quick are ship times? Can you sell chicken poop for a profit?
I don’t know. If you have more information on this or see big holes in my logic, even if it’s years from now and we are on Season 9 (fingers crossed), let me know in the comments. I’m super interested in this stuff and know next to nothing about it.
For the purposes of this recipe, I’m not sold on egg noodles – despite them being mentioned in the book. I’m leaning toward rice noodles or shiritaki noodles being more plentiful (though shiritaki probably don’t have enough calories to be a viable nutrition source).
Is wheat a thing in this world? I don’t remember seeing any reference to fresh bread – and I can imagine, at least for our Earther protagonist from Montana, that would be a big comfort smell. Like coffee, which is definitely still a thing in this world, even in the Outer Belt (though coffee can be made from a plethora of things – and is definitely used as a plot device to show wealth and power).
Still. I don’t think bread has been mentioned, so what are these egg noodles made out of? Eggs & rice? Keto-style egg ribbons? JUST eggs?
Water in Space
Water. Water is expensive and has been a limiting factor to how large societies can grow since humans decided to clump together. It stands to reason that this continues on into the great beyond, and access to water is one of the tools of subjugation used to keep the Outer Belt under control by the Inner Planets.
This world also mines water off of space rocks and shuttles it around – so I’m thinking this restriction is more political than practical. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe rice takes more water to grow than soybeans. According to a January 2013 report published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, it takes 2,497 liters of water to produce 1kg of rice, but only 1,849 liters of water to produce the same amount of dry pasta (I’m assuming regular wheat pasta) and 196 liters of water for 1 egg. So. If they have enough water for rice, which is also referenced in the book (specifically rice noodles with mushrooms in Babylon’s Ashes), maybe chickens *are* more widespread.
This article from FAO.org details water consumption due to environment and growing cycle, and has soybeans listed as needing 450-700mm of water during the growing period. Rice needs the same amount; wheat needs 450-650mm.
I would imagine that any space set up for farming can be kept at a consistent perfect growing environment – you can have a room set up like South Carolina or Vietnam to grow rice in, right next to the Ohio room growing wheat and soybeans. That makes sense. Still takes a lot of space to produce enough food to feed people, but that’s also a gripe The Belt has about The Inners – access to food.
I had assumed wheat takes too much space and dirt to grow at a functioning agrarian capacity – but maybe that chicken poop (and human poop) helps there? I would imagine compost would be necessary as well. (Although .. what else do you have to compost but poop? I can’t see single-use items being popular aside from recycled paper, and how much nutrition is supplied by vegetables vs some sort of vitamin? I can easily see food food being necessary as a caloric supplement rather than nutritional necessity – ooh. Snowpiercer did a good-but-terrifying job here).
Veganism in space
I still assume that most people living full time in the Outer Belt are at least mostly accidental vegans. Cheese is mentioned in the books, but as a rare delicacy and symbol of the “fat cats” on Earth. I think Earth is the only place with cows and dairy. I don’t think there are Martian cows in this world.
Salmon is mentioned for sushi, but not as something people we know are actually eating – as is vat meat (I still think this could be something like Beyond Burgers instead of actual muscle tissue; but who knows? It’s scientifically possible even now, and we have yet to crawl out of our gravity well in any long-term manner).
I stand by the accidental vegan. Maybe with eggs. Or are they vegan eggs and no one thinks to mention otherwise because chicken is space suits is a stupid question?
Also going out on a limb here and saying honey isn’t really available – I can’t imagine that if Earth has enough people it needs to send some out to colonize, we’ve gotten our ish together regarding bees. Which opens up a whole other deal regarding vegetables and extinction …. but that’s too far of a digression for today.
These are the questions that keep me up at night.
Other Belter Foods If You’ve Read This Far And Are Still Curious
If you’re curious about other Belter food, I also recreated Red Kibble – which was also delicious – and have a whole long dive into cultural influences of flavor on that recipe.
Less successful was my foray into Indo-Chinese Singapore-style noodles, which I did not bother posting but really need to revisit. Also: adding Greek flavors into that mix would be fascinating.
And if I can figure out better TVP sourcing, I’d like to attempt White Kibble as well. I don’t think what I have in my head (Southern style white gravy) is what it would actually taste like.
—-End Nerdy rant and on to the actual recipe—
Today’s recipe is: gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan
Belter Style Black Sauce Mushroom Noodles
1 serving rice noodles (I chose to go with wide noodles, because I wanted something with a touch of bounce. I think texture would be a big thing in this world. I’ve seen other versions using Udon – and egg noodles are mentioned in the book)
1 package Enoki mushrooms (I wanted a delicate mushroom here – one I could see easily taking the place of noodle bulk when noodles are scarce. Something meatier like a portobello or Shiitaki minced would also do – if you use the whole package for 1 person, that’s probably a bit on the baller side for this dish – but it was delicious and I have no ragrets)
2 tsp. ghee or vegan butter (This is possibly a stretch for this world, but butter & mushrooms … ghee is probably not a thing, but vegan butter or some sort of butter analog very well may be – at least on the Stations – I have ghee, so I’m going with that rather than butter butter)
2 tsp. oil (most likely peanut or some other high smoke point neutral oil – I’m using safflower oil, since that is what I have on hand)
1 Tbsp. black vinegar (a fermented vinegar popular in Chinese cooking)
1 Tbsp. Hoisin [also popular in Chinese cooking and I can’t see why some version of this wouldn’t be available. If not, a little oyster sauce + a slack sprinkle of sweetener (but probably not cane sugar) would do well here – or, if you, like me, think you have those sauces but do not – a teaspoon of ketjap manis (sweet soy) + 2 tsp. Bulldog (Japanese Worcestershire) work really well]
Garlic (I wanted to use crispy fried garlic discs so badly in this dish, but while I think garlic is probably available, I think it’s more likely that a cheap & cheerful hawker stall would be using garlic powder – maybe in one of the bars or somewhere with internal seating would have real garlic. I’m going for street stall-ish here, you do you)
Optional toppers: Green onions (maybe not in the street stall version, but I need some bright freshness in my life), and topper condiments like more black vinegar, some soy sauce and chili oil. I’ve got to believe that future hawker stalls will have the customization options available in NYC Chinatown’s dollar dumpling shops
A hand full of chicken analog TVP (probably a little flash for a street stall, but if we are conceding that TVP chunks exist for Belter Kibble – which is also a food of the oppressed – strips also probably exist and are at least mostly readily available. The cost of the mushrooms may balance the cost of the TVP out for a hawker stall version of these noodles, though)
If you’re using TVP, prepare according to package directions. I did not, but only because I could not be bothered to boil them for 8 minutes. I would imagine these would be an easy keep-on-hand prepped item for a hawker stall.
Boil your noodles until almost cooked through and drain.
Assemble the rest of your ingredients, and fire your largest pan up to medium-high – this will go quick.
Add the oil and heat to shimmering. Toss in the mushrooms and TVP if you’re using, and let cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms get a bit of color.
Sprinkle liberally with garlic powder, add a Tablespoon of Hoisin (or your other sauces), and a Tablespoon of vinegar.
Add the noodles and butter analog and toss quickly to combine.
Yep, it’s the middle of January, and yep, I’m craving green things. This recipe is quick to put together, can be dressed up in a bunch of different ways, and keeps like a champ for leftovers.
gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian
Mushroom Pea Pasta
4 servings of your favorite pasta (I used a standard penne, but my favorite rice fusilli would be great here and chickpea or paleo pastas would also be great – shiritaki would even work, if you’re keto or low carb)
8-12 ounces portobello mushrooms, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh mint, chopped
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 c. frozen peas
1 c. frozen spinach
500g. protein of choice
Salt & pepper
Nutritional yeast (optional but adds a bit of a cheesy taste)
Set your pasta water (generously salted) to boil. Add the pasta and cook according to directions. Drain and set aside in a large bowl if ready before the rest of your ingredients.
While the pasta is working, brown your protein in a bit of neutral oil – season with salt and pepper and set aside in the large bowl.
To the pan, add your chopped mushrooms, 2 tsp. neutral oil and 2 tsp. butter. Sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through and a bit browned. Season with 1 Tbsp. garlic powder, 1 Tbsp. onion powder, salt & pepper.
While the mushrooms are going, defrost your peas & spinach.
Chop your herbs and avocado – chuck into the big bowl.
When the mushrooms are ready, add to the big bowl.
Add the peas & 1 tsp. neutral oil to the pan. Sauté until just beginning to brown. Add the spinach. Season with 1 Tbsp. garlic powder, 1 Tbsp. onion powder, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, salt & pepper. Sauté until the spinach is cooked through and the water has evaporated.
Add the green veg to the bowl.
Brown 2 Tbsp. butter in the pan and pour over the top of the pasta and veggies. Toss with 2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast.
Serve topped with more nutritional yeast if desired.
It seems our Lockdown staple of ramen noodles isn’t going anywhere any time soon. DH and I are both still craving comfort, and I’m still on the war path when it comes to wasting ingredients and clearing the pantry – so we are having some mish-mashed meals as of late.
Which is all fine, provided I can continue to find ways to add at least a little nutritional value to dinner. Some sort of vegetable.
This dish elevates some pantry staples admirably, adding two sources of protein (if you add meat), and a veggie that can also serve as a freezer cleaner.
A note on ramen: I used pot noodles (aka cup o’ noodles) for this recipe. We are loving the Korean brand Budok lately – the base flavoring I went with was chicken cheese, but this would be great with pretty much any base flavor. Mushroom, chicken, chili chicken, shrimp, curry – all would be delicious.
vegetarian and vegan if you don’t add meat, gluten-free with substitutions
Peanutty Fancy-Ish Ramen
1 pot instant ramen per person (any flavor will do, or sub rice noodles for gluten free – a little chicken or veggie bouillon would add some nice flavor if you are not using the flavor packet that comes with the noodles)
2 Tbsp. peanut butter (I used a low sugar variety)
1/4 c. soy sauce, tamari or coconut aminos
1 Tbsp. sambal olek (chili garlic sauce)
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. honey (sub agave for vegan)
2 small scallions, sliced thinly
Optional: leftover ground chicken or beef, soft boiled egg, fish cakes, leftover fried tofu, or other additional protein source
Sesame seeds for garnish
Combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, sambal, sesame oil and honey in a small pot over low heat. Simmer, stirring, until well combined and beginning to thicken. If your heat is too high and this mixture dries out too much like mine did, add a Tablespoon or two of water, stir quickly to combine, and move off the heat for a second or so to cool down a bit.
While the sauce is working, add frozen spinach to the noodle pots and fill with boiling water. Let sit 3 minutes and drain.
Add the noodles to the pot with the sauce, along with scallions, any additional protein sources, and the seasoning packet. Stir well to combine and garnish with sesame seeds.
This recipe started off as a way to use up some fresh dill that wasn’t my favorite egg salad and somehow ended up morphing into a riff of an old Summer family favorite: seafood salad. Which I can’t believe I haven’t shared a recipe with y’all for yet. I c-r-a-v-e it every tomato season.
The original (to my family at least) salad included Krab, shrimp, hard boiled eggs & lots of mayo. Sometimes, depending upon which Aunt got a wild hair, chopped up bits of lettuce. Which is weird, but good.
Anyways. I gave myself an aversion to fake crab my first Summer out of high school (reminder, kids: check your expiration dates), so that was out. I swapped with flaked salmon but kept the shrimp in this version; I also sadly forgot the egg until I was eating trying to figure out what was missing. I was also wanting a little more mustard punch, so adjust yours as necessary.
And a note on seasoning: I happen to love this salad with way too much pepper and salt, because that’s how my family usually served it. This recipe includes a normal amount of each (depending on how HAM you go with the cracked pepper); I had to go back twice for more after the salad hit the fridge.
gluten-free, pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan with substitutions
Avocado Dill Pasta Salad
1 avocado (mine was small and I could have gone for more)
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. water
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
4 – 6 cups pasta of choice (I used rice spirals)
15 cherry tomatoes
1 smallish cucumber (about 2/3 cup chopped)
1 smallish bell pepper (about 1 cup chopped)
2 – 4 stalks celery (about 3/4 cup chopped)
1/2 shallot, minced
2 scallions, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp. celery seed (if using celery salt instead, you may not need to salt the salad – taste, taste, taste)
Loads of fresh cracked black pepper
Shrimp (I used 13 medium), peeled, cooked & chopped (optional)
Krab, crab or salmon (also optional)
2 – 3 Tbsp. your favorite mayo (optional)
Start you pasta boiling according to package directions, taking care to salt the water. When almost done, chuck your shrimp in to cook. Drain and set aside.
Pull the shrimp and chop. Add to a large bowl.
Chop the cucumber, bell pepper, celery, scallion and parsley. Add to the big bowl.
Mince the shallot and add. Halve the tomatoes and add those too. Add the celery seed.
In a blender or food processor, blitz all dressing ingredients until smooth. If you want your dressing a little runny, add more water until desired consistency is reached. Mine turned out a bit thick, which I liked, but I ended up adding 2 – 3 Tbsp. Kewpie mayo to the salad to loosen it a bit.
Add the cooled-ish pasta and dressing to the bowl. Mix well to combine. Hit with a bunch of pepper. Taste. Add more salt, lemon juice or some mayo to finish off.
Stash in the fridge for a bit to chill and let the flavors get acquainted.
This lower-than-it-could be in carbs dish started life as the baby of a Japanese curry recipe and a ramen recipe and snowballed into a straight-up yummy pasta dish. I’m super bummed I only made enough to serve two; this was fantastic.
gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian, vegan
Roasted Pumpkin Miso Pasta
About a cup chopped pumpkin or butternut squash
2 tsp. white miso paste
Veggie or chicken stock
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes
1 Tbsp. + sesame oil
1 inch peeled fresh ginger, minced
2 scallions, minced
Soft egg (optional)
Kontjac noodles or sushi rice or ramen or udon or zoodles – all would be awesome, though I’ve only tried wide kontjac and rice
Preheat your oven to 200C/375F. Peel and chop the pumpkin into smallish pieces. Add to a prepared baking sheet, lash with oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper and curry powder. Toss. Bake about 40 minutes or until browned in spots and soft.
Let cool for a beat, and then add to a blender with the miso, red chili flakes, 2 tsp. oil, 1 Tbsp. curry powder, 1 Tbsp. sesame oil, and 1/2 a cup of stock. Blitz, adding more stock if needed to get smooth. I used about a cup in this stage.
In a saucepan or tall-ish sided skillet, add the minced ginger and the white + light green parts of the scallions with 2 tsp. garlic oil. Sauté until the onion is beginning to soften.
Add the blitzed pumpkin and another half cup or so of stock. Let simmer down to the consistency of a thick soup.
Add your drained and rinsed kontjac or whatever curry vehicle you’re feeling, toss, and let simmer a few minutes to combine.
Serve with an optional soft egg, the green parts of the scallions, a little drizzle of sesame oil, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, and some togarishi if you want another hit of spice.
This makes a nice little Summer dinner. It’s low fuss, can be eaten cold or room temperature, and dressed a bunch of different ways. As pasta salads can.
Salmon Soba Salad
1 package soba noodles
2 salmon fillets
4 – 6 ounces watercress or microgreen
1/4 cup chives, snipped
1/2 cup scallions, sliced thin
Juice of 1 lime
1 medium cucumber, sliced into thin ribbons or diced
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. soy sauce or coconut aminos
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. sriracha
2 tsp. gochujiang
2 tsp. honey
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
Combine the marinade ingredients. Marinate the fish 30 mins – an hour. Discard marinade and bake or sauté the fish until your desired done ness is reached. I pan sautéed mine until medium with nice and crispy skin. Do watch the fish; your marinade has honey in it so it is like to burn. Mine did a bit, but it was still delicious.
While your fish is working, whisk the dressing ingredients together in a large bowl.
Cook your soba according to package directions, drain and set aside, adding a scant sprinkle of sesame oil and tossing quickly to avoid the noodles sticking together while they sit and cool. If you want your salad cold, chill in the fridge.
Dice and mince the cucumber and herbs. Add to the bowl. Add the micro greens. Add the noodles. Toss to combine.
To serve, plate up a bowl of noodle salad, topped with thick batons of fish and sprinkle with sesame seeds.