Monday, November 28, 2011

flashbacks are fun!

Everyone have their Flashback Hats on?  Okay, hold on tight - here we go!

It was sometime in the autumn of a day in the mid-1990s.  I was in college, sitting in my dorm room.  It was later in the evening, I'd probably just finished some homework and had no other plans for the evening. I was hungry, but all food options on campus (aside from the healthful options in 1990s vending machines) were closed down for the night.

What's this?

My eyes fall on a plastic milk-crate beneath my nailed-to-the-wall desk.  It's packed to the gills with all kinds of "food."  When I shipped off to college, a group of dear friends had assembled this Care Package for me, full of strange and exotic foods I'd never eaten before.  Well, okay, I'd had PopTarts on the rare occasion my mother was willing to permit them as a breakfast treat, but never artificially purple frosted Wildberry PopTarts.  By the way - they're revolting.  If you've never had them, there's no reason to start now.

I pulled the crate out in to the glow of the flattering fluorescent overhead light and poked through the contents for something that would qualify as Substantial Food.  Finally, I pulled out a plastic packet which I pulled open to reveal a brick of dried "noodles" and a packet of seasoning that I think was supposed to taste like chicken.

That's right.  Ramen Noodles.

I had never had them before, but I broke the brick into smaller bits, sprinkled the seasoning over top and filled the bowl with hot water.  It was love at first slurp.

I can't even imagine what my body thought of the extraordinary sodium increase, but 10 (or so) pounds later, the love affair began to fade...

Don't fret!  There is still time for a happy ending!

So a few months ago, vegan ramen started being a new foodie trend and for the first time, I learned that ramen is not just a 10-for-$1 phenomenon that prevents college students from starving at midnight (while raising their blood pressure and increasing their waistlines).  NO!  It's also a normal, everyday Japanese dish, ordinarily made with a savory (albeit animal-based) broth, plenty of fresh veggies, and long slender noodles.

Imagine my delight upon paging through Celebrate Vegan for this week's menu to find that Dynise had included her own ramen recipe.  Tonight's dinner, then, was the ubiquitous Ramen Noodle Bowl from that very same book and it was far more delicious than those bricks of dry noodles soaked in reconstituted broth could ever be (no matter how long I'd been writing a term paper, preparing a speech, or studying for a test).

I don't know why the picture is green - all I can think of is the reflection from the placemats?  Anyway... per the recipe instructions, I simmered ginger and garlic in a vegetable broth, along with carrots, green cabbage, broccoli, and green onions, topping it off with cappellini noodles standing in for those old, crumbly bricks (and also, because of a sale, the box of cappellini cost less than a six-pack of prepacked ramen noodles).  It was delicious - Mister and I both slurped up two bowls with reckless abandon for our waistlines or blood pressure, and although I'm sure we could do without the concentrated sodium in the cubes of Rapunzel bouillon I used for the broth, I'm sure we could have (and have) done worse.

I was impressed with how much more flavorful and, for lack of a less pretentious word, complex the broth and noodles were.  I'm not going to pretend that the cabbage added some je ne sais quoi, but I will say that the drizzling of toasted dark sesame oil to finish the dish did so with such a flair, it's hard to believe someone would bother simplifying all that jazz to sell by the penny to poor [stupid] college kids.

By the way - if you're wondering where the Freshman Fifteen comes from, it's not the beer Freshmen are too young to drink legally - it's from the Ramen their parents willingly buy them to get them through all-night study sessions (which really do happen!).

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