Sometimes when I get home from work I’m too tired to cook anything special. Occasionally, however, I start thinking about cooking something that requires preparation and precision. And that thought leads me to ramen. Here’s a vegan version I made just a few weeks ago.
For the broth: I didn’t have any miso paste, so I couldn’t use the same method I used in my previous ramen post. I started with a large spring onion and about six button mushrooms, all roughly chopped. I cooked these in a deep pot in some canola oil over medium heat, seasoned with salt and pepper, letting them get nice and caramelized. This took about 15 or 20 minutes. Then I added about a half a cup of soy sauce, and then filled the pot with water. I brought this up to a boil and then let it simmer while I prepped the rest of the ingredients. After about 20 minutes I used my immersion blender to get it nice and smooth. I checked for seasoning and then let it sit over low heat.
For the toppings: In a small pot I boiled equal parts water, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. I chopped up a handful of green and wax beans, and then cooked those pieces in the soy-vinegar mix for a few minutes. They soaked up a lot of flavor but retained a bit of crunch. After removing the beans I did the same with large pieces of napa cabbage. I also had a nice small zucchini, which I sliced on my mandoline to get uniform slices, and seared these in canola oil. It only took a few minutes, and I seasoned them with salt and pepper. Finally I cut a block or super firm tofu into thin slices.
To assemble the soup: I boiled the noodles in some lightly salted water, and then drained them and put them into a bowl. Then I poured the hot soup over the noodles. I arranged the sliced tofu and zucchini on top of the broth. Then I added a spoonful of the beans, and then the napa cabbage. I drizzled some chili oil over the top and garnished with sliced greens from the spring onion I’d used for the broth.
It all came together for a great summer dinner. Sure, it took some time (and about four different pots and pans), but sometimes for a good meal I’m willing to take the time (and clean the mess).
I can’t seem to stay away from Russian and Ukrainian restaurants. When my parents asked where to meet up with me and my girlfriend, my first suggestion was Slavyanskiy Bazar. I’d never been there, though I’d been past it many times and I’d heard good things about it. I wasn’t expecting it, but our favorite dishes of the day were the salads: Summer salad made with white radish and cucumbers, Gruzdi (marinated mushrooms) in a sweet vinegar dressing, and the Balkanskiy salad with feta cheese and olives. The cabbage vareniki (above) were better than the potato-mushroom-onion versions, though they paled in comparison to other versions I’ve had. Still, salads were so good I’d definitely go back for more.
Slavyanskiy Bazar — 2013 Coney Island Ave
One of my earliest food memories is visiting a Pakistani restaurant with my dad, back when we lived in VA. I don’t remember what we ordered, but I remember how spicy it was; I spent the ride home with the car’s air conditioning vent directed at my open mouth. Pakistani food in NYC isn’t easy to find, as most restaurants cater to the variety of Indian cuisines. Lahori Chilli on Coney Island Avenue, which I neglected in my round-up of Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi restaurants, is named after the Pakistani capital, so I figured there was a better chance of getting some actual Pakistani food. As with the other restaurants at Lahori Chilli they have steam tables of a wide variety of foods, and you can mix and match them as you like. I got two dishes over rice, one with eggplant and potatoes, the other with lentils. Both were great, and though neither had the incendiary firepower of that remembered meal in Virginia they were well spiced and smooth-textured. I’m not sure that I have a better idea of what differentiates Pakistani food from Northern Indian though, so I’m open to more suggestions.
Lahori Chilli — 1026 Coney Island Ave
A few years ago I wrote about the good-but-not-great pizza at Lea in Ditmas Park. A few weekends ago I walked past Lea on my way to the Cortelyou Farmer’s Market and spotted some tables set up on the side of the restaurant. As I had seen on Eating In Translation, on weekends Lea has a small Italian market, at which they sell things like tomato sauce, fresh ricotta, and a wide variety of baked goods. At $4 per slice the pistachio cake pictured above is a little dear, but the great flavor of the cake made it worth the price. Even better was the gooey pistachio topping, somewhere between a jam and an icing. The complex flavors made the cake something truly special.
Lea — 1022 Cortelyou Rd
Several years ago I wrote about how much I loved the mapo tofu at Tofu on 7th. In the intervening years the restaurant has relocated over to 5th Ave and re-branded itself as a combination sushi and upscale Chinese restaurant with the name Authentic Szechuan Tofu on 5th. Or sometimes it’s referred to as just Tofu on 5th. And sometimes Tofu of 5th. Whatever the name the food is still good (at least the Chinese food is, I still haven’t tried the sushi). On a recent visit I had the vegetarian orange beef (the dish I ate the very first time I went to their old location), made with crispy and chewy wheat gluten in a sauce that’s not too sweet and just a little spicy. The vegetarian wonton soup, something I don’t find too often at other restaurants, is great too. It’s a little expensive, but when the food is good how can you complain?
Authentic Szechuan Tofu on 5th — 384 5th Ave
Every year I write about the Red Hook Ball Field Vendors, and every year I wonder how much longer they can keep going. Sure, the number of vendors has dwindled over the years. And some of the trucks that remain have been purchased by new owners. This is actually a good sign, I think. It means that people are still willing to invest in the ball fields, both with their time and their money. On a recent visit I had something I’d never had before, molotes. They are airy homemade tortillas, deep fried until slightly crisp on the outside but still soft inside, wrapped around your choice of filling. I got one with cheese and one with potatoes. They are topped with shredded lettuce, crumbled cheese, and some fresh salsa. I suggest heading out to Red Hook to check out the vendors while they’re still around.
Red Hook Ball Field Vendors — 155 Bay St
I’ve mentioned this before, but often I will buy something at the farmer’s market without having a clear idea of what I plan to do with it. Such was the case a few weekends ago, when I bought some fiddlehead ferns. They’re slightly expensive, but they’re delicious and only available for a very short time, so I went ahead and bought them. I also bought a variety of radishes — green, purple, and white. I thought maybe I’d make a salad with them, or maybe pickle them. I also bought some spring garlic and some fresh microgreens.
The next day I realized I could make a dish using a little bit of each. A cold soba noodle salad seemed like the perfect vehicle to bring everything together. I started in the morning by shredding the purple radish, then tossing it with sugar, salt, and rice wine vinegar. I left that in a closed container in the fridge to pickle for most of the day. When it came time to make dinner I rinsed the fiddleheads and then blanched them in salted water. While they drained and cooled I started cooking the soba noodles (made from buckwheat flower). I made a quick vinaigrette with a little chili paste, minced spring garlic, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, soy sauce, and a little canola oil. I rinsed the cooked noodles under cold water to cool them down, then tossed them with the fiddleheads and the vinaigrette. Then I topped the noodles with some of the pickled radish, and topped that with some of the microgreens.
It was a great mix of textures and flavors — the chewy, nutty noodles, the slightly crunchy and vegetal ferns, the bright bitter flavors of the microgreens, and the crisp, sharp tang of the pickled radish. It was a great meal for a late spring night.