What to cook in May: Cold noodles and snappy salads to remind you that you like to cook!
The fatigue for home cooks is real. These low-effort, high-reward dishes are just the thing for right now.
We're more than a year into the pandemic, and the fatigue for us home cooks is real. If some days all you have is leftover pasta for breakfast and a smoothie for dinner, you're not alone. But May is a very exciting time to be in the kitchen. Think of perky greens, crisp asparagus and zesty radishes — they are full of flavour but require minimal prep and cooking time. You can steam, sauté, roast, or grill them, eat them raw or sprinkle them onto an easy tart made with store-bought puff pastry. Before you know it, you're dropping off quiche on your mom's porch for Mother's Day and dreaming of smoky corn ahead for the grilling season.
In May, you might still be able to catch cherry blossoms at their full bloom. In normal times, I'd recommend that you make green tea muffins for a picnic in the spirit of hanami, the Japanese tradition of viewing sakura and celebrating spring. Of course, here we'll have to adapt to a more realistic version of these activities. I'll celebrate one year of virtual hangouts, with potato chips and mast-o khiar, while trading stories with my friend whose latest stay-at-home purchase is an ice-cream maker. I may set up another screen for watching the sakura at High Park in Toronto in their glory. Whatever it takes to add ambience!
Having grown up in Vietnam, I've always had a soft spot for raw herbs and leafy greens. My favourite way of using them is in a vermicelli bowl, with savoury char-grilled pork, accompanied by cucumber slices, shredded lettuce, mint and a generous drizzle of tangy fish sauce. This combination of freshness and pungency is what I'm drawn to in makguksu, a buckwheat noodle platter with colourful vegetables and a gochujang vinaigrette. While I'm at it, I may boil some extra soba and save it for another salad with tahini dressing.
On Mother's Day, I'll channel my mom, who lives 8,600 miles away, by making a big batch of wontons and spring rolls. As I assemble dumplings, I'll talk to her on the phone about the most mundane things… "Have you eaten? Did you go grocery shopping? Did you remember to wear a mask?" I'm looking forward to the day when we can make these together again, even though all she will ever task me with is separating the wrappers.
May, with its gentle breezes and showers that bring everything alive, is my favourite month. Tiny green buds sprout from lifeless branches, signaling the turn of the season, and with the extra sunlight seeming to extend the day, I spend more time in the kitchen. The lingering scent of cilantro, the snap of an asparagus stalk, the silky chard on the tip of the tongue — they remind me of why I love cooking in the first place.
Here are some dishes that I hope will recharge you too, and set you up for this summer which will be better than the last — fingers crossed.
Giao Chau is a writer based in Toronto and a digital content creator at Culture Magazin. You can find her work at www.giao-chau.com.