But she’ll be the first to tell you that TV is not exactly her cup of tea.
“Some people love it,” she told me in a recent phone interview. “But it’s not one of those things that I love to do. Once I won the first round and didn’t get kicked off at the start, I was happy. But judging is a whole lot easier than competing, that’s for sure.”
Over the years, Feniger and business partner Chef Mary Sue Milliken have won legions of fans for their Latin flair at their Border Grill restaurants. In 2009, though, Feniger struck out on her own to open Susan Feniger’s Street in Los Angeles, just as global street food would become a phenomenon with the likes of food trucks serving up inexpensive, boldly flavored ethnic food to the masses.
Feniger would love to tell you she predicted it all by looking in a crystal ball. But really, she says, she lucked out with the timing when she decided to follow her passion.
“When I took my first trip to India in 1981 and ate on the streets there, it moved me away from the formal kitchen,” she says. “Now, with social media, the world is a much smaller place and much more available. Our eyes have been opened to the rest of the world beyond France or Mexico. There’s this whole world of cuisines out there that is so exciting now.”
That includes Japan, which was her inspiration for “Chilled Soba Noodles with Spicy Orange Sesame and Tofu.”
The recipe is from her new cookbook, “Susan Feniger’s Street Food” (Clarkson Potter), of which I recently received a review copy. The book contains 83 recipes from her Street restaurant that span the globe, from Tunisian chicken kebabs with currants and olives to Thai creamed corn with coconut milk to Trinidad duck and potato curry with plaintain and green beans.
It’s a chilled salad perfect for the last dog days of summer. The buckwheat noodles are tossed with a reduced sauce made with orange juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and rice wine vinegar. Black sesame seeds and shards of scallions are scattered on top, along with cubes of firm tofu.
I couldn’t resist adding some fresh shiso leaves, which I grow in my backyard, for their minty-basil-like lilt.
The cold, earthy noodles are a perfect foil for the citrusy-sesame flavors.
Feniger will be in the Bay Area this week for a series of events. Join her at Insalata’s in San Anselmo at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 20, when she’ll be doing a pop-up dinner, showcasing dishes from the book. Tickets are $110 per person and includes the meal, wine, tax, and tip, as well as a signed copy of Feniger’s new cookbook.
Chilled Soba Noodles with Spicy Orange Sesame and Tofu
4 cups fresh orange juice
1 (12.7-ounce) package of soba noodles
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup spicy sesame oil
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds, toasted
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 (10-ounce) package firm tofu, patted with paper towels to soak up any extra water, then cut into small cubes and salted to taste
Shiso leaves, left whole for garnish, or sliced into ribbons to top the noodles (optional)
Pour orange juice into a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the orange juice is thick and syrupy and has reduced to about 1 cup.
While the orange juice is simmering, cook your noodles: Bring a large of water to a boil. (The general ratio for cooking noodles is 4 quarts of water per pound of noodles.) Add noodles to the boiling water and stir well. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain noodles and rinse them twice with cold water. Drain well, and transfer them to a bowl.
When your orange juice is ready, remove the pan from the heat. Pour the syrupy juice into a blender, and add soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and rice wine vinegar. Puree until smooth and emulsified, about 2 minutes. Pour half of the dressing over the noodles and toss well to combine. Put the noodles in the refrigerator to cool, 20 to 30 minutes.
Toss the cooled noodles with toasted black sesame seeds and sliced scallions. Top with tofu, and shiso (if using), and serve with remaining dressing on the side. If you have any leftover dressing, use it to perk up salad greens the next day.
Adapted from “Susan Feniger’s Street Food” by Susan Feniger
Another Favorite Recipe: Susan Feniger’s and Mary Sue Milliken’s Chicken Meatball Soup