Terelj National Park, May 2016. It was a hard, cold winter.
Terelj National Park, May 2016. It was a hard, cold winter.
Homemade ramen – the adult (just better) version of that ten-cent package we used to subsist on in college.
Mongolians love their noodles. It is a staple food available in any grocery. Any Mongolian woman knows how to whip up a batch of noodles from scratch and cut them to perfection. I think nearby influences have brought in another version of a popular noodle – ramen. There are lots of tasty ramen shops around Ulaanbaatar. Some shops feature windows into the back where you can see highly skilled noodle makers tossing, spinning, stretching, and cutting dough by hand with a wizard’s touch.
I always liked ramen. But my ramen memories had always included that super-salty instant soup that I used to buy in my early college years. Both Jack and I have fond memories of throwing something into that soup to make it more healthful and more tasty. Now, I have been exposed to beautiful bowls of tasty, chewy ramen noodles swimming in flavorful broth and topped with hard boiled eggs, vegetables, and different meats. On a cold day in Ulaanbaatar, there is nothing more satisfying than a giant bowl of ramen.
Being an experienced pasta maker, I thought there was nothing to making ramen noodles. I even thought they were probably just spaghetti noodles. With that in mind, I made a batch of spaghetti and handed it over to Jack for the creation of soup. That didn’t work. Turns out, it isn’t that simple. The noodles got soggy and fell apart. My pasta-making ego was bruised. After a spell, I decided to give it a try again, this time armed with some research. What gives ramen noodles that necessary chewiness? After reading through a few websites, I decided to experiment. It seems that ramen noodles need something called an alkaline salt. One website cited that the origin of the noodles is from a place where the water has a high minerality which contributes to the texture. The most common ingredient for this alkaline salt is called kansui, which can be purchased in Chinatown. As there is no “Chinatown” in Ulaanbaatar, I needed to make my own. Thank goodness for the internet. A quick search revealed that kansui can be made at home by baking baking soda for an hour in a 250 degree F oven. Harold McGee of the New York Times explained baking the baking soda essentially changes the sodium bicarbonate into sodium carbonate which is an alkaline salt, that works perfectly in ramen noodle dough.
After a few experiments I learned that adding a little salt to the dough recipe made the noodles taste better. I never add salt to my regular pasta noodles. I also tried making noodles with all purpose flour and again with semolina flour. I happen to have a lot of semolina in my pantry right now. Turns out the noodle texture and flavor is similar with either flour, so I can say that those two flours are interchangable in this recipe.
With a successful recipe in the box, we are happily eating ramen that is 1,000 times better than the ramen both of us subjected ourselves to in college. Jack has been creating soup bases from broth, miso and even tomato juice. We’ve been adding pan fried meat like chicken or pork. Sauteed vegetables like eggplant and asparagus have entered the scene lately. Sometimes we amp up the spice by floating a bit of Cholula or Sweet Chili Sauce atop the whole dish. I’ve found that keeping portions of the noodles in ziptop bags in the freezer allows us to have the “instant meal” like the old days but with a fresh-made flavor.
Homemade Chewy Ramen Noodles
A bright, fresh taste that is missing in our store-bought favorite. Homemade pesto can’t be beat.
The combination of creamy pine nuts, salty parmesan cheese, bright and flavorful basil, spicy fresh garlic all combined to make a sauce that is simply magic. We douse our pasta in pesto, smear it on sandwiches, and swirl it into bread dough. We freeze big batches of basil when the leaves ripen in the summer and make fresh pesto all year long.
A delicious and satisfying cinnamon roll – this reduced guilt version has more fiber from the whole wheat, natural sweetness and flavor from bananas, and a pecan crunch.
A few years ago, a friend graciously helped us out with taxi service for one of our 4 a.m. flights back to the bush. After dropping us off by the ticket counter, he disappeared and quickly reappeared laden with Cinnabon cinnamon rolls for all three of us. How sweet, right? Really, how sweet! I’ve always thought there must be a way to create a cinnamon roll with lots of flavor and sweetness, but not so much sweetness that when you’ve finished eating it, you feel gut-bombed. Sorry, Cinnabon. This banana-wheat creation did the trick. The dough gets moistness and flavor from smashed bananas. The swirl of banana slices, cinnamon, sugar and nuts give you that tasty, satisfying, fun unwrapping and unrolling experience that we expect from eating a cinnomon roll. And the drizzle of glaze on the top gives a sweet Pow you’d expect on traditional cinnamon rolls without overloading them. So, go ahead and enjoy a healthier version of this breakfast treat today!
Banana Wheat Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
A mix of spices and flavors that will remind you of those chips that maybe you should be avoiding.
Awhile ago, I was at a camp with 33 students. As much fun as that sounds like it might be, I ate an entire family-sized bag of Doritos at the end of the first day to de-stress. That was the strongest thing I could find. There is something about those chips that is ridiculously addictive. I really don’t know what it is. What I do know is that those chips are not good for me. And, a whole bag? I knew better than that. Even though I enjoyed every tasty chip, I immediately went into a salt coma after finishing that bag. As much as I enjoyed the flavor of Doritos, I have not touched them since. But the flavor…
Recently, I came across a popcorn recipe that featured a spice mix reminiscent of those terribly addictive chips. Jack and I love a good date night featuring a movie and popcorn. After tinkering with the recipe (it is no longer vegan), I have come up with a keeper. I’ve used it on popcorn and enjoyed it on homemade oven-baked potato chips which we devoured.
Better Than Doritos Spice Mix
Versatile, soft and tasty pita pockets perfect for so many things – sandwiches, mini pizzas, and anything else you can imagine.
These delicious little breads are quite literally better than sliced bread. We’ve stuffed them with hummus and cucumber. We’ve enjoyed them warm along with a hearty homemade soup. Just this morning, Jack made a breakfast pizzas with these delicious pitas as the base, topped with a hearty roasted tomato sauce, mozzarella and a perfectly poached egg. We’ve even had them smeared (to Jack’s chagrin) with peanut butter and jelly for a quick and easy lunch. They’re also great stuffed with cheese and salmon and toasted.
I’ve made pita bread before using only white flour. Jack and I really enjoy the pizza crusts I make with half and half wheat and white all purpose flour. I was confident the pita would also be enjoyable with the wheat and white mixture. The wheat does add some healthful fiber, but it also adds a nice flavor and a little heartier texture. We enjoy this bread so much, I make a batch every weekend. I freeze the extra pitas and thaw them as I need them throughout the week. The thawed bread tastes like it just came out of the oven. Perfect!
Whole Wheat Pita Bread
Good morning Ulaanbaatar! A stack of moist, flavorful pancakes topped with real maple syrup and we’re ready for anything the day has to offer.
Boring oatmeal for breakfast? No way! One bite and you will forget how healthful these pancakes are. This may become your go-to pancake recipe. It is now ours!
Honey Wheat Oat Banana Pancakes