there are a lot of things i miss about america — public drinking fountains, free/unlimited condiments, and peanut butter are just a few of them. but at the top of the list, along with my friends and family (of course), is ethnic food. i feel like ‘ethnic food’ isn’t a politically correct term, but whatever. i miss the melting pot of all nationalities and foods we call “the USA”.
ukrainians often asked about traditions or national things in america. this question is usually not the easiest to answer for we have no ‘national costume’, or ‘national dish’ (maybe mac n’ cheese, s’mores, PB&J?), we don’t sit around the table singing folk songs every citizen knows by heart, and we certainly don’t all eat the same foods.
i throw most ukrainians for a loop when i tell them i don’t eat hamburgers, i don’t drink coke, and i love exercising (the image most foreigners have for americans is pretty sad, really not too far from the truth, but sad none the less). i tried describing the things i DO eat to them — lots of veggies (raw and cooked), tofu, soy products, beans, whole wheat products, etc. i explained my favorite foods: mexican, asian, ethiopian, indian, kenyan…all foods that (despite being slightly ‘americanized’) are certainly far from whatever could be claimed as “traditional american”. i think ukrainians began to wonder, “…SOOOO what you’re saying is you’re not really american??”
the concept of living in a country without a mostly uniform culture/religion/food is i believe, a rather strange one to ukrainians. and vise versa for americans. the USA is a young country, and one that was built by immigrants at that, so it’s no wonder why we’re a melting pot or a tossed salad as some might say.
ukraine is slowly picking up a few ‘ethnic’ restaurants in major cities. sushi is surprisingly a bit hit here and ‘soy sauce’ (or imitation) can be bought relatively cheap. there’s a handful of chinese restaurants in kyiv, one indian, and supposedly a ‘PCV’ approved tex/mex place in lviv (but mexican food is never real mexican food in ukraine, so i’ve just given up hoping). anytime i travel to one of these meccas i try to at least relish in the thought of having options, though pricy options at that.
but living in a village that’s just a short bus ride from the city makes life so much better. while there’s only a few non-ukrainian places to eat there, mostly two no-mayo-and-ketchup-as-a-sauce pizza places, i’ve been able to find some ingredients for making my own ‘ethnic’ foods. the large supermarket (the one that feels like america) now has a sushi ingredient section! not to mention TOFU!!! i eye all of these products, occasionally say to them ‘I WANT YOU SO BAD’ and then wish/think/dream of the delicious food i could possibly make, BUT as a peace corps volunteer, my monthly stipend doesn’t allow for much other than basic local ingredients.
i’d been living off of cheap borscht and easy stews for the past few months and i just decided that i was much deserving of a food splurge. the price of all the ingredients for this meal definitely broke my food budget, but i was certain it would be so amazing i wouldn’t even care. just this once. and i was right!! this was well worth it.
i planned to bake my marinated tofu (like this recipe), but as you’ll see in my photos, the tofu far from firm and bake-able. i still marinated the tofu in a similar sauce, but come time to mix it all together whatever hold the tofu had was all gone, making more of a pesto consistency. i didn’t mind though, it was still delicious, and brought be back to my much beloved ‘how many countries can i visit in a week’ cooking method back in the tossed salad of a country i call home.
thai rice noodles with veggies and tofu
makes 6 servings
adapted from this recipe
- 8ounces dried rice noodles
- 16 ounce package plain firm tofu (or silky if you want to be like me), cut into 1/2-inch cubes, and marinated. (see tofu marinade below)
- 1 1/2 cups cooked broccoli
- 1 large carrot, cut into thin bite-size pieces
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions
- 1 recipe ginger-soy vinaigrette (see recipe)
- sesame seeds to garnish
3.) drizzle ginger-soy vinaigrette onto cooked pasta mixture. toss gently to coat. (can be eaten hot or cold. if preferred hot, toss all ingredients in oiled pan for a few minutes)
4.) top with a sprinkling of sesame seeds
- 2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar (or cider vinegar)
- 3 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tsp garlic powder (or 4 cloves of garlic, minced)
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
in a small bowl, whisk together rice vinegar or cider vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and crushed red pepper. set aside until needed.
makes 4 servings
- 1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tbsp sunflower (or canola) oil
1.) soak tofu block on a paper towel for 1 hour to remove some moisture, cut into 1/2 – 1 inch cubes and set aside.
2.) whisk all ingredients together. add tofu to sauce, cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.
3.) if you chose to bake them use this method. or for un-baked use slotted spoon to simply add them to thai noodle dish.