There is something about food from the East that makes one incredibly cheerful whilst eating it. And before you start to regale me with stories of fertilised duck eggs or hachinoko (stewed bee larvae – now I’m hungry…) with grotesque relish in your eyes, I’m meaning one of the more well-known and safer options.
I recently acquired the most beautiful set of Soho matte black crockery by Studio W. and along with my serving platter in black marble, I’ve been very keen to show off a colourfully comforting bowl of ramen noodles with all the trimmings.
Ramen bowls in general are enjoying time as a noteworthy food trend at the moment, with many Cape Town eateries such as Downtown Ramen, OBI Restaurant and Three Wise Monkeys featuring an assortment of varieties on their menus. As healthy as they are beautiful, ramen bowls feature more than just noodles – as an accompaniment, additions like soft-boiled egg, seared tuna, crispy pork belly or exotic Asian greens add wow factor to what is otherwise a pretty simple little bowl of soup. For my recipe below, I’ve provided two options – one containing sliced pork fillet and the other a delicious vegetarian bowl with marinated tofu – but feel free to mix up the toppings to suit your preference.
I’ve paired my ramen bowls with homemade dim sum dumplings. Deliciously plump little parcels of flavour that make up the perfect mouthful, these steamed dumplings are usually filled with various minced mixtures of pork, mushroom, beef and prawn and although they’re Cantonese in origin, global food fusion has ensured that one can now enjoy them filled with anything from spinach & ricotta to Nutella spread. But because I’m of the group that feels if it ain’t broke, I opted for traditional flavours of mushroom, soy and samba oelek all curled up in pre-bought wonton wraps.
While I often cheat a little and buy ready-made dim sum from the local Asian supermarket, my recipe is especially tailored for vegetarians.
Prep time: 25 mins / Cook time: 10 mins / Serves: 4
You will need:
- about 2 litres of homemade chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 heads of pak choi or a bag of baby spinach
- 2 cakes (servings) of ramen or glass noodles
- sugar-snap peas/baby corn/any delicate vegetable of your choice
- 1 pork fillet (optional)
- coconut oil
- coarse ground sea salt and black pepper
- Thai fish sauce
- sesame oil
- mung bean sprouts
- fresh coriander
- Sliced spring onions
- peeled soft boiled eggs, halved
- toasted sesame seeds
- cubes of Tofu marinated in hoisin sauce and fried until crispy
- Togarishi spice
Heat a large pan until screaming hot. If using, rub the pork fillet in coconut oil and season with salt and pepper. Sear in the hot pan, turning the fillet until all the sides have browned. I like the fillet to be seared but still have some pinkness in the centre so perhaps sliced off a little to check. When cooked to your liking, remove the fillet from the heat and set aside to rest before slicing into thin rounds.
Heat the stock until simmering and add in the park choi or spinach and the noodles. Add in the delicate vegetables and simmer until noodles are done (this should only take a few minutes). Remove the soup from the heat and season with a decent-sized glug of the fish sauce. Divide the soup into four bowls and top with the sliced pork fillet, beansprouts, coriander, crispy tofu, spring onions and halved egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and sesame oil and finish off with a pinch of the togarishi spice over the egg.
Serve immediately with a bottle of hot sriracha sauce on the side.
Spicy Mushroom Dumplings
Prep time: 30 mins / Cook time: 10 mins / Serves: 4
You will need:
- about 20 wonton wrappers – thawed (find these in the frozen section of your local Asian supermarket)
- about 300g of mushrooms, chopped (a mix is nice, but use button if you can’t find any exotics)
- 50ml dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons of Sambal Oelek (a fiery paste of chillies, ginger and garlic. Find it in the Thai section)
- about 5 fresh spring onions, thinly sliced
Fry up the mushrooms in the soy sauce and Sambal Oelek. Add in the spring onions and reduce the mixture until sticky. Take a teaspoon-sized amount and place in the middle of a wonton wrapper and parcel it up, sealing the edges with a little water. Don’t worry about getting a perfectly round dumpling, I find that an envelope or “moneybag” shape is easiest for beginners. Measure and cut a round of baking paper or a clean banana leaf to fit your steamer and poke holes into it using a sharp knife. Grease the paper or leaf with coconut oil, fit it into your steamer and place the dumplings on to it, making sure they aren’t too close together. Steam the dumplings over a pot of boiling water or your ramen soup stock until soft and translucent. To add extra authenticity to my ready-made dim sum, I gently fry them in a little coconut oil until their bases are golden before steaming them as above.
To serve, I throw together a simple dipping sauce full of exotic fragrance and flavour. Simply mix together about 50ml of light soy sauce, 50ml of ice-cold water, a teaspoon of sticky brown sugar, two small green or red chillies – seeded and thinly sliced, a tablespoon each of fish sauce and sesame oil and a sprinkle of sliced spring onions. Allow to chill in the fridge and serve cold with the steamed dumplings.