Sometimes, I wish I was Asian.
That’s right, I said it! I can already here the Patriot Police marching through my yard about to storm my house.
My only defense is food. Asian food amazes me, like a child mesmerized by a shiny object. The flavors, the diversity, the ingredients, all of it. But it’s unfair for me to lump all of the distinct cuisines into one bunch labeled “Asian”. Thai, Japanese, Indonesian, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indian. They are all vastly different, but all so stimulating bolstered by thousands of years of practice and tradition, passed down through the generations.
Well since I’m not Asian, my only option is to learn on my own. This sometimes results in the unintentional badgering of any person of Asian descent that I meet, in hopes that they will make collated copies for me of their grandmother’s proverbial cookbook. Unrealistic though it may be.
“Oh, you’re Korean, huh. Do you know a great recipe for mandu?”
“So you’re from Da Nang. Would you teach me how to make a rich Pho broth?”
And on and on. A google search for ramen will produce a thousand recipes, but I want the real stuff: the history, the explanation, the secrets. But that dream can be hard to come by. So I’ve struck out on my own to wiggle my way in, experimenting along the way. And I started with Nyumen.
Nyumen is a Japanese hot noodle soup of wheat noodles called somen and dashi, a quick stock infused with dried kelp and shiitake mushroom. During the winter, all I want are hot noodle soups of any variety to warm up my insides, and this one was perfect. Incredibly inexpensive and takes little time to make. This may not be the most traditional version, but it’s definitely in the vicinity. I welcome any comments or suggestions!
Now, I know some of you are freaking out, or pushing this post off your docket because you can’t possibly find these ingredients. Or you’ll never use them, et cetera. I am here to rebuff those accusations. In most larger communities, you can always find an Asian shop of some sort. I actually found mirin, a cooking sake (used below) in my local supermarket’s Asian aisle. Imagine that. As long as you know what you are looking for, you can find it. Plus, many ingredients overlap from country to country, and can be used in a number of different Asian cuisines.
Just in case, here are a couple chains that have locations throughout the US:
Dashi Stock Recipe
8 c water
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
4-2″ pieces of dried kelp (kombu)
Place water in large pot. Wipe kelp with damp cloth. Add to water and soak for 20m. Add shiitakes and soak for 10m. Turn on the heat to medium. Just before the stock boils, remove the kelp* and turn off the heat. Let mushrooms continue to soak for 20m. Remove foam from top of stock. Strain.
Since this soup takes so little time to assemble, I like to make a big batch of dashi and store in gallon size ziploc bags in the freezer for a rainy day. Just break off a frozen chunk, bring to a boil and add cooked somen noodles and veggies.
*Traditional recipes include bonito flakes as well. Admittedly, I forgot to get this ingredient at the store, so I left it out. And it was still delicious. But you can add 1 1/2 tsp bonito flakes after removing the kelp.
Green Nyumen Recipe
(serves 4, or 2 very hungry people)
8 c dashi stock (recipe above)
4 tbsp mirin cooking sake
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
leeks, thinly sliced
jalapeno or other hot chili, thinly sliced
napa cabbage, sliced
2 bundles somen noodles
fresh ginger, grated
Boil dashi stock. Add mirin, soy sauce and salt. Stir until salt is dissolved. Let soup broth simmer until noodles are done.
Cook somen noodles according to package instructions, typically 2 1/2m cooking time. Drain. In each bowl, place noodles, leeks, chili, napa, and cilantro. Feel free to use different veggies, or add cooked meat. Cover noodles with hot broth. Finish with fresh grated ginger. Indulge immediately!