Our new, back-to-work schedule is hectic. I think M and I are both feeling a little white-knuckled on the steering wheel of life lately. Even Little Bear is under the weather. He has been delightfully congested at night, so he and I are getting increasingly disrupted. It’s funny how I adjust, though. At 2 a.m., I’m struggling. But when the alarm goes off, I pretty gamely get going. I just make sure to caffeinate adequately.
I also try to let it go once in awhile. Sometimes this means ordering takeout so we can catch up on dishes. But sometimes it’s like last night and I need to prioritize the meal. I’m tired, and I eat my lunch one-handed in my office while pumping, so that’s not exactly relaxing. I have been dreaming of soba noodles and vegetables and things that feel healthy.
I also needed to let go mentally. Since we cooked a nourishing meal, I decided I was allowed to find a way to ignore the never-ending task list that occupies my busy brain space of late. M’s suggestion of Ghostbusters hit the mark. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy that movie. Maybe this will become our Halloween tradition. We have to try again next year, at least, because LB didn’t make it to the end.
I wanted noodles with the spinach and sweet potatoes I had on hand. I originally planned to steam the sweet potatoes, but my bamboo steamer was woefully tiny. I had no desire to cook six batches of sweet potato chunks. A Google search for “Japanese caramelized sweet potatoes” consistently led me to daigaku imo, a sweet-salty comfort dish originally favored by university students. I definitely wasn’t aiming for sweet and deep-fried with this nourishing meal, but they looked so good. Happily, it turns out I’d stashed a recipe that was more steam-fried than deep-fried. I threw the spinach in so we weren’t just having candied sweet potatoes. When I took leftovers for lunch the next day, I added a dab of ginger paste, and it was great. I imagine garlic would also work well.
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
2 large sweet potatoes (at least 1 pound total weight), peeled and cut into chunks
1½ tablespoons black sesame seeds, toasted
3 bundles soba noodles (roughly 10 ounces dry)
2 pounds baby spinach, rinsed and mostly dried (a little water helps it cook)
3 bunches green onions, cleaned and chopped
toasted sesame oil (optional)
Cut a circle of parchment to just fit inside a large skillet.
Mix the oil, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and water in the skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the sweet potato chunks, in as close to a single layer as possible. Lay the parchment over the top (this essentially steams the surface of the potatoes). Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Cover the pan (parchment, too) with a lid and cook for a few more minutes, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. If needed, add a little more water. Don’t let the sugar burn.
Once the potatoes are tender, remove the lid and parchment. Stir gently to coat the potatoes in the glaze, which will reduce as the water evaporates. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, until most of the water is gone. Scoop out the potatoes with a strainer and set aside in a single layer on a platter or cutting board. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
Meanwhile, bring water to boil in a large pot. Add the soba and cook until al dente. Drain.
Pour off most of the oil from the skillet, then add the scallions and cook until fragrant and golden. Add the spinach in handfuls and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed (some of the flavor goes with the oil).
Divide the noodles among four plates (these are slightly generous portions). Add the spinach, then place sweet potatoes on top. As you can see in the picture, I was out of black sesame seeds. I sorely missed them, so I drizzled a little sesame oil over the top. I probably would’ve done so even with the seeds, as I like a pronounced sesame flavor. The dish looks pretty layered, but give it a little mix as you eat, to coat the noodles.