Kenji’s Vegan Ramen, a Kitchen Conclusion (and a spice blend for you)

I’m a huge fan of Serious Eats.  Besides referring to it for general cooking questions I might have, I really adore their series “The Vegan Experience” (and I’m not vegan… heck, I’m not even vegetarian).

One of the vegan recipes that I bookmarked but was intimidated by the number of ingredients and steps was Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Ultimate Rich and Creamy Vegan Ramen With Roasted Vegetables and Miso Broth.  What does one do when they are not sure they can pull off a recipe on their own?  In my case, it was finding a friend who said “So when you want to cook together? I want to do something new and crazy.  Just something fun, y’know?”

New?  Check.  Crazy?  Check.

Let’s do this thing!

Our observations:

The ingredient list isn’t all that bad.  It would have been nice if there had been a condensed shopping list.  It’s essentially this:

eggplant
onion
garlic
ginger
oil*
fresh shiitake
fresh maitake
kombu*
dried porcini
dried shiitake*
napa cabbage
leek
scallions
sweet potato
shichimi togarashi*
mirin*
soy sauce*
miso*
tahini*
noodles

Everything with an asterisk were things already in my pantry.  Well, except for the shichimi togarashi but we’ll get to that later.  And for the ramen noodles, Jared and I decided to be extra experimental and try the pasta with baking soda trick.  Several times, we asked each other if we had forgotten something because our shopping cart seemed like it didn’t have nearly enough ingredients waiting to be paid for.

One hurdle done.

But the doing?… ah, this was the real challenge.

And half the challenge was matching the ingredient list with the ramen component we were working on.  We both really wanted to reformat the whole recipe for easier reading in the kitchen.

On my own, I had read the recipe through a couple of times but I wish I had studied the photos in the blog post more.  We didn’t notice that the sweet potatoes and the maitake were not mixed on the baking sheet.  It made for a slight inconvenience to pick out sweet potato chunks for the blender.

For the soy-tare, I would leave the ginger and scallions in large identifiable pieces because you have to separate it from the quartered shiitake caps when done.

We also recommend upping the eggplant from 1 small to 2 small.  We had very little eggplant compared to the number of servings when all was said and done.  Also, you don’t get a lot of cooked liquid from 1 small eggplant.  Spinning out said liquid felt fiddly.

But more importantly, how did it taste?

The components of the ramen are their own were good but nothing I felt impressed by.  The baking soda noodles were really interesting!  The baking soda made the noodles a bit chewier, and taste very eggy.  The sweet potatoes baked in the spice blend gave a nice heat that quick dissipated.  But, altogether, the dish was very lovely and satisfying.  Jared’s wife got a gluten free version for health reasons.  We replaced the soy sauce with GF tamari in the recipe, and made a separate pot of rice noodles just for her.  Her reaction was “This is amazing!”  We also fed a friend of theirs who is vegetarian and planning to go mostly vegan.  The friend thought it was one of the best things she had had in a very long time.  In short, those with dietary restrictions are probably going to enjoy it best.

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Making flavored oil

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I can definitely see myself making parts of the recipe for other noodle and soup recipes.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever make the whole recipe on my own (but if I do, I think I would spread it over two days).  Jared and I may make it again, but not for at least 6 months and we’ve had time to recover from the amount of steps this ramen involved.

I will definitely make the sweet potatoes again.  I never thought to bake them with shichimi togarashi before, and I like the idea blending some of it to give the broth more body.  True story, I’ve never cared for shichimi togarashi before.  So I didn’t have it in my pantry, nor did I see the point in buying it for just this recipe.  So I made it with ingredients I did have in my pantry.  The spice blend is supposed to be a blend of seven spices.  (Shichi means seven.)  I used five, so I’m going to start calling my blend “five-mi togarashi.”  It is not traditional but I was quite happy with it.  (I suppose I could also call it go-mi togarashi since go is five in Japanese).

FIVE-MI TOGARASHI (GO-MI TOGARASHI)

1 tablespoon mandarin orange dust
4 teaspoons gochugaru
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix altogether, and store in a tightly fitted lidded jar.

Reference Links

https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/02/how-to-make-the-ultimate-vegan-ramen-rich-and-creamy-vegan-experience.html

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/02/vegan-ramen-miso-creamy-vegan-vegetarian-food-lab-recipe.html

http://penandfork.com/recipes/cooking-tips/mandarin-orange-dust/

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The Easy Asian Cookbook, a cookbook review

True story:  Despite my love for all kinds of Asian food, I rarely cook any at home.  Also a true story: I love using my slow cooker.

(No, I haven’t jumped on the Instant Pot train yet, and I’m not sure if I ever will.  In the meantime, I really want to experiment with an air fryer. I will take sponsors.  lol!)

But if I can cook Asian food in a slow cooker, will I make it more often?  

If I’m to go by the recipe offerings in The Easy Asian Cookbook for Slow Cookers by Nancy Cho, the answer might very well be a resounding yes.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 9.55.23 PM

There are so many pros about this book in general.  The author hasn’t confined herself to just Japanese, Chinese, or Korean dishes.  Sri Lanka, India, and the Philippines are also represented. There’s per serving nutritional information listed.  It’s pretty basic information, but if you just want the calories, total fat, protein, carbs, fiber, sugar, and salt info (which is what most people want), it’s there!  There’s also general allergy information at the top of each page like nut-free and gluten-free.

The book is divided into these chapters:

  • Asian Slow Cooker 101
  • Rice and Noodles
  • Soups and Stews
  • Curries
  • Vegetables and Tofu
  • Chicken
  • Meat
  • Dessert
  • Side Dishes and Salads

 

The recipes I want to try most:

  • Mushroom jook (kudos to the author for using the word “jook” as it appeals to my Cantonese heritage)
  • Black bean sauce noodles
  • Pumpkin soup (has ginger, curry, and cream in it)
  • Lentil soup (Indian inspired)
  • Red lentil curry (Sri Lankan inspired)
  • Filipino chicken curry
  • Simmer pumpkin

 

The recipe I decided to start with was chicken lo mein because I was missing my mom’s version, and the book’s version sounded like it might be close.  It’s got chicken thighs, chicken stock, garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, white pepper, bok choy, shallots, red bell pepper, scallions, cornstarch, and store bought lo mein noodles.

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Mess in place

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I made the recipe as closely as possible.  Ultimately, I had to cut back on the shallots and scallions, and replace the bok choy with napa cabbage.  I also had to make the noodles separately the day after making the sauce and chicken, because of time (but also because someone… aka me… forgot to pick up noodles earlier that day).

Overall impressions, the sauce is really good.  It’s a bit salty on its own, but once mixed with the noodles, it’s perfect.  It does remind me of something my mother might make. The chicken was also really good.  I’ve made some Asian inspired sesame and garlic chicken in the slow cooker before that I wasn’t totally won over by.  This one? I’m happy to make it again in the future.

But!!! There’s a lot of sauce and noodles in this recipe!  I think I could scale down both and up the amount of veggies.  That’s just me nitpicking, and me trying to cut down on the amount of simple carbs I eat.  For other people, the sauce-chicken-veggie ratio might be perfect. I’m not that person though.  I ended up adding more veggies as I needed to when I ate a serving. And because it made a lot, it was a good meal prep option for dinner this past week.

I am definitely recommending this book if you want to make more Asian flavored dishes and/or want to experiment with your slow cooker.  I was more than satisfied with my first recipe attempt.

(Sorry I don’t have a flip through video of this cookbook – the copy I have is a .pdf file, not a hard copy.)

Disclaimer – I received this book from Rockridge Press for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Flavor Bombs by Adam Fleischman, a cookbook review

Sometimes I don’t know how to review a book.  You might be thinking “that’s stupid” or “you write reviews often, most of the time positive reviews, so just say something positive.”  There is truth to that last statement, but the reality is that I try to review books that I feel fairly certain I am going to instantly like.  

COVER_Flavor Bombs

My current conundrum is “Flavor Bombs: The Umami Ingredients That Make Taste Explode” by Adam Fleischman, with Tien Nguyen.  The premise of the book is to build up an “umami pantry” and cook delicious recipes with those ingredients. The book is broken down into these chapters:

  • The Basic Pantry
  • The Umami Pantry
  • Umami Sidekicks
  • Umami Master Recipes
  • Basics and Condiments
  • Apps and Little Meals
  • Soups and Salads
  • Mains
  • Sides
  • Drinks and Desserts

The good?  The chart with umami ingredients is useful.  I hadn’t realized that umami was broken down to glutamate, inosinate, and guanylate.  I thought it was just glutamate (hence, monosodium glutamate aka MSG).  And I like that the recipes themselves are varied.  Here are the recipes that I would love to eat:

  • Roasted fingerling potatoes stuffed with smoked trout mousse
  • Nontraditional umami-spiked chowder
  • Five minute pork-conquered salad
  • Koji-porcini resting sauce
  • Chicken confit with dirty farro
  • Puerto Rican mofongo
  • Fancy make-ahead restaurant sauce
  • Sweet and savory brisket
  • Umami’d fregola sarda
  • Matcha magic cake

The bad for me (but not necessarily for you)?  A lot of these recipe require making the master recipes ahead of time.  There are just three master recipes: umami master dust, umami master sauce, and umami ketchup.  But that does mean that I’m either doing some planning or doing a weekend project. I meal prep my meals on the weekend so I am less inclined to throw in a weekend cooking project on top of my regular meal prepping.  The other minor gripe I have is sourcing the ingredients, specifically powdered soy sauce, truffles, and truffle honey. I’d probably look for substitutions or skip altogether, which will change the flavor of the end product some.

(Oh, one last issue but this one is purely from an aesthetic standpoint.  The pages have a black background. It’s going to look grimy quickly if your hands are not dry and clean.  I’ve had this book for less than a week, and I can see fingerprints on a number of pages already. lol!)

As for recipe testing, I settled on making the midnight garlic noodles.  I felt that the recipe was a good representation of the book without feeling overwhelming.  The two items that needed prep ahead were fairly hands off: burnt miso and garlic confit. Otherwise, it was pretty easy to put together requiring noodles or pasta, shio koji (which I am weird enough to have), butter, black pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano if you have it (which I am weird enough to not have).

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Garlic confit in progress

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How did it taste?  It was good.

Was it good enough to make the recipe as is again?  Eh, no, not really. I think if I make it again, I’ll take the lazy way out with regular ol’ miso and roasted garlic.  Or if I insist on the burnt miso, I can pop in a garlic head in the oven at the same time to make roasted garlic without using more effort or resources.  The burnt miso smelled fantastic as it baked, so I’m not hating it. (But I do feel bad for the parts of miso that burned as it’s not useable.  It seems like such a waste.)  And garlic confit can be used for other applications, so I am not necessarily hating on it either.  But as I said earlier, I’m mostly cooking to feed myself properly. I’m generally inclined prefer recipes that taste good without too much effort.  (P.S. I also served the sauce with some rotisserie chicken and plain asparagus on another night.  I think that was more interesting than serving it on noodles/pasta.)

So, in the end, if you’re more of a functional cook like me, you may not want this book.  If you’re a cooking enthusiast, I can recommend this book, and I think you’ll find it to be fun and adventurous.  

Disclaimer – I received this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this review.  I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

Thai night

Asano-mama and I had a hankerin’ for Thai food, so we decided to have a mini Thai food night. The menu was pretty simple: homemade vegetable pad thai with tofu and a fusion-ish chili pork with scallions and sesame seeds.

stovetop cooking

The secret to good pad thai? Two things:

1. Make your own tamarind sauce. If you can get block tamarind pulp from your neighborhood Asian supermarket, do it. Avoid the canned or powdered tamarind ready-to-eat stuff; it’s much more rewarding and all around better flavor to make it yourself using the pulp. Reconstitute the pulp with water and strain the seeds and skin till only liquid remains. Then combine 1 part pulp with 1/2 part fish sauce, 1/4 part sugar, and chili paste to taste. The fish sauce and sugar bring a sweet/sour flavor to the tamarind, while the chili gives it a little (or a lot of) kick.

2. When soaking the rice noodles, only soak them until they start to get soft. They shouldn’t nearly be soft enough to eat. When you’re actually cooking the pad thai in the wok, they’ll absorb the moisture from the other ingredients and cook the rest of the way. I made this mistake so the pad thai came out a little soggy in the end, but it was still yummy.

pad thai closeup

chili beef