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Garlic & Ginger Napini: My first official cooking competition entry!

April 24, 2012

This past weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the Food Experiments National Tour: Washington DC. It was my first (mostly) formal cooking competition and I must admit, I was more than a little nervous. The theme of the event was Chinese Food Take Out, and since the purpose of my business is to encourage you to eat at home, my experience with take out is fairly limited. Nonetheless, I thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase my approach to cooking, test my culinary skills, and frankly, have a good time. I am happy to say I think I fulfilled all three goals! Did I mention the event was held at a bar (Rock & Roll Hotel, DC–highly recommend!) and was sponsored by Brooklyn Brewery? I think you can surmise how one of those goals was achieved.

After a rather desperate visit to the farmers’ market on Saturday searching out the perfect ingredient for my seasonal stir-fry, I gratefully walked away with a garbage bag full of napini, courtesy of Even’ Star Organics. Yep, you read that right: a garbage bag. Did I mention I had to create 250-300 samples? My initial plan was to buy 30 pounds and thank goodness they only had 10 pounds available because I way overestimated! (Seriously, if you think this recipe sounds tasty and you live in Southern Maryland, I have about 50-75 servings sitting in my refrigerator. Please stop by with a Tupperware container and a fork!)

So what the heck is napini? I think that’s what most of the people were thinking when they came through my station on Sunday. It didn’t help that I brought some raw to showcase on the table. My guess is that most people thought it was my lame attempt at a center piece. Napini are the spring blossoms of winter vegetables (specifically brassica plants-kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.).  I’m not sure what veggies my napini came from, but I do know it is surprisingly tasty.  The flavor is pretty strong, so it’s not for everyone.  I would describe it as a little bitter and slightly peppery; it definitely has bite!  As much as I enjoyed the flavors I created for the competition, I think it is just as tasty raw and is great served on a salad.

For the competition I chose to saute it with garlic and ginger, red pepper for bite, and infuse it with Mirin for extra flavor.  Not exactly your typical Chinese food take-out, but definitely my fresh twist!  By the way, I think I could describe this dish in my sleep (all in 15 seconds or less), as I became quite a pro with the line of people that came through on Sunday!  I’m pretty sure my husband/assistant that day and the chefs on either side of me were probably a little sick of hearing it.

It was really important to me that I create a dish that my customers could easily prepare at home, as that is what Kate’s Thoughts for Food is all about.  And without further ado, the recipe:

Garlic and Ginger Napini over Noodles
Yields: 4 Servings

2 teaspoons Canola oil
1 tablespoon Ginger (peeled and finely minced)
1 tablespoon Garlic (minced)
1/2 teaspoon Crushed red pepper
1/2 6-ounce package Chuka soba noodles
1 pound Napini (or rapini or broccolini)
1/3 cup Mirin
3 tablespoons Water
1 tablespoon Soy sauce

1. Bring large sauce or stock pot of water to boil.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in large sauté pan or wok over medium heat. Add ginger, garlic, and crushed red pepper, sautéing until tender and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
2. Add soba to boiling water and prepare according to package direction. Add napini to sauté pan and toss to coat with ginger/garlic. Sauté until slightly tender, about 5 minutes.
3. Add Mirin, water, and soy sauce to napini mixture. Toss to combine and sauté until napini cooks down slightly, about 2 minutes.
4. Remove napini from heat and toss with noodles. Serve.

Kate’s Thoughts

I know soba noodles are more a Japanese staple, but I found they worked well in this Chinese inspired dish.

This is the kind of simple, clean dish I love to make.  It is full of fresh flavor and a few other ingredients that enhance, not overpower, the main ingredient.  As I said, it’s not for everyone, but if you’ve tried broccolini or rapini in the past and have enjoyed it, then you would definitely like this dish.  Sadly we did not win the competition, although I had the vegetarian market pretty cornered.  It was worth the experience and my husband is already scheming about going back next year.  I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his support and help at the competition!

And here are some more photos from the event:

A sneak peek of my dish

Cheering on the other contestants (that’s me all the way to the left)

Looking sort of dweeby by my little station

My big judging moment: http://flic.kr/p/bB3ZSA

Doing all that I can to sell the sizzle: http://flic.kr/p/bB3rKN

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen O. permalink
    April 24, 2012 1:25 pm

    Congratulations Kate!

  2. April 24, 2012 7:59 pm

    Katie way to go! Props for trying. Just a little tip using that type of bitter veggie is to slightly cook it with a little salt for just a few minutes. It takes the bitterness out of it. A huge help.

    • April 25, 2012 5:21 am

      What a great tip! I chose not to add additional salt because I had run out of low sodium soy sauce and didn’t want to over salt. I will definitely keep this in mind for the future!

  3. Kathy and Jim Meko permalink
    April 27, 2012 8:27 pm

    Katie, We were so excited to read your blog about the competition!.We’re proud of your creativity, all the hard work you did and the wonderful way you presented the dish. Know this is just the beginning of your life in the cooking competition world! Love, Aunty Kathy and Uncle Jim

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