Ah, ramen. It's the epitome of a fast, cheap meal. Like every other impoverished student, I ate plenty of it during my college years; I've eaten plenty of it in the years since, as well. These days, I tend to prefer the Westbrae flavors that can be found at health food stores, but sometimes you can't say no to Nissin's version; it's right there in the supermarket. Of course, the Asian supermarket has a whole aisle of ramen and ramen-like products; the variety is so staggering that I've never truly explored that section of the store (although once I bought a Vietnamese instant pho bowl that tasted great but gave me major indigestion).
The funny thing is that ramen is a quick, convenient meal even if you don't resort to a prepackaged version; just take some chukasoba noodles, broth of some sort and some toppings, and you're set. You can even make the broth from scratch if you're really into it; I've got a recipe for that but haven't tried it yet because it requires hacking up meat bones, something for which I lack the equipment.
Yesterday I was perusing one of my cookbooks. I'm tempted to call it new, but I bought it a few months ago; I just hadn't cooked from it yet. It's called Masterclass in Japanese Cooking and was written by Emi Kazuko. Masterclass is essentially an anthology of recipes from different chefs (most but not all Japanese) which ranges from traditional dishes to cutting-edge gourmet fare. Some dishes have photos showing the cooking process step by step; these are the so-called "masterclass" recipes. There is also a long introductory section which introduces Japanese cooking, describes Japan's regional culinary specialties and defines commonly-used ingredients. It's a big coffee-table sort of book illustrated with lovely photographs of appetizing food. I find it intriguing because of the variety of dishes included in the book.
I decided to make "Ramen with Mushrooms" or Kinoko Ramen for this cookbook's maiden voyage in my kitchen. First off was soaking some dried mushrooms for an hour to reconsistute them; I used shiitake and oyster mushrooms soaked in two cups of water each. Towards the end of the soaking time, I also soaked some dried wakame seaweed. Then it was time to cook the chukasoba noodles, drain them and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process.
Stage two was making the ramen broth. This required putting the mushroom soaking liquid in the big skillet along with two cloves of peeled and crushed garlic and a 3/4 inch piece of peeled ginger, which I quartered rather than crushing. These ingredients were simmered for five minutes; then the aromatics were removed and six tablespoons of shoyu were added to the pan. I stirred a bit to combine the ingredients, then added the noodles and cooked them through. When it was hot, I removed broth and noodles to a serving bowl.
After cleaning out the pan, it was time to stir-fry the mushrooms (shiitake, oyster and fresh button mushrooms, all sliced) in a bit of peanut oil for a couple of minutes. Once they were done, I added them and the wakame to the bowl of ramen. Lunch was served.
I made a few minor alterations to the recipe (four cups of soaking liquid rather than five, a different assortment of mushroom types, did not season with salt and pepper at any point). The result was a substantial bowl of food which happened to be vegetarian and also used ingredients I had on hand. I have no doubt it was healthier than buying prepackaged ramen with who knows what additives included. It tasted better, too.
If you're hungry for more ramen content, check out The Official Ramen Homepage and WorldRamen.net