I started working again after a semester of maternity leave, and on the very first day I was surprised to find the dinner hour sneaking up when I had no plan in sight. My plan soon became takeout curry, and even that ended up being a late dinner.
The rest of the weekdays echoed the first as we relied on the kindness of friends twice and ate out once more. I cooked a whopping one time that week: omelets. Some days … OK, many days, even half an hour of preparing and half an hour of cooking is too much to ask.
I’ve seen those organized women on TV that boast you can resurrect leftovers into gourmet meals, freeze double portions for later or use the oven for two meals at once, and all with the mask of convenience. Lady, if I have leftovers, I eat leftovers. I am thanking my lucky stars that I don’t have to cook again. Really, if I was a think-ahead kind of person, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Then I wouldn’t be selling out my local and sustainable beliefs for a fast-food dinner on a Tuesday night.
New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman wrote about basic foods that can be easily prepared because cooking is better for health and sustainability. He correctly pointed out that Americans say they don’t have time to cook yet watch hours of TV. While I believe everything Bittman says, I think he’s missing one point: Cooking is something of a luxury when you (or your kids) need to eat now.
Today I wracked my brain for a meal with any semblance of goodness, didn’t appear instant (although some of it was) and could be prepared and cooked in about 15 minutes. I gathered up a bowl of comfort with a bit of protein, vegetable, starch and spice. Everyone was happy and fed.
Now I have it in my arsenal.
The recipe is a basic and quick soup as a base to go with other savory spices or pastes. It is fine on its own but even better when made into a specific flavor. Make this with what you have on hand, with substitutions or omissions as necessary.
Semi-homemade Ramen Bowl
Frozen or refrigerated udon or ramen noodles (dried is acceptable in a pinch)
6 cups water
3 teaspoons dashi (powdered Japanese soup stock)
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 teaspoons mirin
8 frozen gyoza
2 cups chopped greens, such as bok choy or spinach
4 eggs, boiled or poached (see directions below)
1/2 cup green onions
Optional add-ins: frozen corn, peas, edamame, sliced onions, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, sweet potato, mochi, sliced ham/pork/ chicken/cold cuts or other favorites
Set out 4 serving bowls. Boil pot of water and cook noodles according to package directions. Drain.
Meanwhile, in small saucepan, bring 4 cups water to simmer over medium high heat. Mix dashi in 1/4 cup warm water before adding to pot. Add soy sauce, mirin and frozen gyoza. If using flavor variations (see below) or optional add-ins, place into pot.
Cook 1 minute and add chopped greens. Cook a few more minutes, until gyoza and greens are cooked through. Remove from heat.
To poach eggs: Remove greens and gyoza from pot and disperse into bowls. Poach eggs in simmering soup for two minutes. Or stir water for an egg-drop soup effect. Add green onions.
Disperse noodles and soup. If using boiled egg, slice into 4 pieces and place on top. Serves 4.
Flavor options to try: Chinese five spice powder, togarashi powder, ssamjang, cayenne pepper, miso paste, chicken stock, beef stock, curry powder or paste, kim chee, bonito flakes, sesame oil or sesame seeds.
Nutritional information unavailable.
Mariko Jackson of Honolulu blogs about family and food at www.thelittlefoodie.com. Her column will run monthly in the Star-Advertiser food section.
CORRECTION: The Semi-Homemade Ramen Bowl recipe calls for 3 teaspoons of dashi. The recipe in a earlier version of "The Little Foodie" column said tablespoons.