After packing Henry off to school, we were left with four packets of ramen—the mainstay of his diet. This was the opportunity to test drive a very junky little ramen cookbook. Henry ate his ramen noodles in a soup made with the flavoring packet, soy sauce, and Frank’s Red Hot. I had no Frank’s Red Hot cookbooks, but had recently acquired two sriracha cookbooks, and thus was decided the theme for this post.
The primary audience for 101 Things to Do with Ramen Noodles by Toni Patrick must be college students, either too broke, too lazy, or too picky to eat much else besides ramen. The recipes are simple, and for the most part are just suggestions of what to add to the ramen. Ground beef! Ground beef and frozen mixed vegetables! Chicken breasts! Chicken breasts and Italian dressing! And so on, for 101 recipes. It is to the author’s credit that there are no recipes for salads or slaws using uncooked ramen noodles, so beloved in Southfield, Michigan. It is also to the credit of the author and the publisher that there is no pretense that this book is anything other than an inexpensive ($9.95) novelty item that just might give someone an idea or two of something different to do with ramen.
The good idea that I extracted from this book was in the recipe for “Cheesy Salmon Noodles” (page 86). One of the first dishes I ever learned to make was tuna casserole: a can of tuna, a can of condensed mushroom soup, and noodles, with peas optional (and usually omitted). The ramen version is essentially this recipe, with ramen as the noodles, and salmon instead of tuna, but (and here is the good idea) with spinach as the vegetable. The recipe calls for one cup of cooked spinach; I just dumped in a little over half of a 5 ounce bag of fresh baby spinach. The spinach added good texture, good taste, and let me pretend that this bowl of ramen was not only filling, but maybe even a little bit healthy.
“Garlic Noodle Saute” (page 95) consists of ramen noodles, the flavor packet, and mushrooms, onion, and garlic, very like the concoctions I would make during my own ramen years. I decided to make this as a soup, and so added soy sauce and sriracha. Strangly enough, Danny, who ate plenty of ramen in his own student days, did not recognize this soup as just standard ramen with a few add-ins. We remember ramen noodles as cheap student fare, but the truth is, ramen noodles are actually good food.
After I made it, we avoided “Mexican Casserole” (page 97) for several days, being a bit tired of ramen, but when we finally tried this dish, it turned out to be really good. The casserole consists of two packs of ramen noodles, lots of cheese, sour cream, a can of green chiles, and olives. It is topped with crushed tortilla chips and more cheese. Any dish with as much cheese and sour cream as this dish must be at least reasonably good, but it is the green chiles and olives that truly make it work. Cheese, chiles, and olives also happen to be the flavoring ingredients for my favorite stuffed potato recipe (from The Silver Palate Cookbook), a recipe that I have been making for many years. It’s an excellent taste combination, whether used with potatoes or ramen. [Go to the recipe.]
At first glance, Randy Clemens’s sriracha cookbooks, The Sriracha Cookbook: 50 “Rooster Sauce” Recipes that Pack a Punch and The Veggie-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook: 50 Vegan “Rooster Sauce” Recipes that Pack a Punch, also look like cheap novelty cookbooks. But then one notices that the books have a reputable publisher, Ten Speed Press, and laudatory blurbs from well known food people such as Matt Armendariz of MattBites.com, and David Chang of Momofuku. Randy Clemens himself is making his own way in the food world, with schooling and writing credits to his name. Thus these books are not to be casually dismissed.
The Sriracha Cookbook: 50 “Rooster Sauce” Recipes that Pack a Punch starts slowly, with rather obvious recipes such as those for sriracha mayonnaise (add sriracha to mayonnaise), sriracha ketchup (add sriracha to ketchup) and sriracha cream cheese (you guessed it: add sriracha to cream cheese). But sriracha really is a great ingredient, and Randy knows how to use it. Randy is no food snob, and recognizes flavor when he sees it; a sidebar devoted to singing the praises of Spam appears next to the recipe for “Sriracha and Spam Fried Rice”. I only tried three recipes from this cookbook, but there are quite a few others that I plan to make in the future.
“Sriracha Slaw” (page 47) has a dressing composed of peanut butter, orange juice, fish sauce, garlic and ginger, and, of course, sriracha. Randy’s recipe calls for Napa cabbage and red cabbage; I used Savoy cabbage, which was what I happened to have (bought in anticipation of a subsequently aborted slow cooker recipe from last week). The dressing was very nicely spicy, and this is a slaw which has earned a spot on my slaw rotation.
The disappointment from Randy Clemens was the recipe for “Chilaquiles” (page 73). The recipe was quite simple: a tomato sauce, with tortilla chips, chicken (I used fake chicken), and feta cheese. I would much rather have used the tomatoes for a tomato soup, accompanied by crisp tortilla chips, and with the feta cheese sprinkled over some lettuce. Danny liked this dish more than I did.
Despite growing up in the mid-South, I never ate grits until quite recently. Whatever grits I might have seen as a child were probably tasteless instant grits, so it is just as well that I did not eat any. Now, however, I have some Anson Mills Grits from Zingerman’s in the back of my refrigerator, and have become quite fond of grits. Although there can be differences, grits and polenta, at least as cooked in my kitchen, are virtually the same. Randy’s recipe for “Three-Cheese Grits” (page 69) is amazing. I could eat nothing but three big bowls of this per day and grow fat that way. All the cheese in “Mexican Casserole” from the ramen cookbook seemed an unnecessary indulgence; all the cheese in these grits are a necessary indulgence. The recipe makes a lot of food, so I will (as in the recipe below) halve the ingredients in the future (regretfully, though: I’d like to be able to eat it all). [Go to the recipe.]
The biggest problem with The Sriracha Cookbook is that it is too short, but when put together with its companion volume, The Veggie-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook: 50 Vegan “Rooster Sauce” Recipes that Pack a Punch, the two make a reasonably sized cookbook at an almost reasonable price. Although vegan, this cookbook is not full of recipes that call for fake vegan ingredients such as (shudder) vegan cream cheese, egg replacer (although Randy does use flax seeds), or fake cheese. There is a certain use of the standard meat replacers such as tofu or tempeh, but these have reasons other than being fake meat to exist. There is plenty of good food that is naturally vegan, and this is the food that is found in The Veggie-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook.
Randy rhapsodizes about muhammara, a walnut and roasted red pepper dip, in his introduction to “Sriracha Muhammara” (page 26). His version is pretty good: in addition to the walnuts and red bell pepper are pomegranate molasses, smoked paprika, and, of course, sriracha. It’s easy to make, and even easier if one is willing to use roasted red peppers from a jar.
Almost every vegetarian cookbook has a version of shepherd’s pie, and The Veggie-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook is no exception. Randy’s version uses a sweet potato topping and tempeh in the filling. I was attracted to this recipe as part of my search for the holy tempeh grail, and I think I may have found it! I may actually like tempeh now! That is to say, this is a great recipe, and not merely a tolerable treatment of two problematic ingredients, sweet potatoes and tempeh. The sweet potato topping has, in addition to the ever present sriracha, a bulb of roasted garlic and some chipotle peppers. The filling has tempeh and lots of vegetables, with sriracha and tomato paste. The ingredients work together perfectly, and are even better when eaten with the cheesy grits (above) and the Brussels sprouts with wild rice (below). [Go to the recipe.]
Randy Clemens is a genius, for not only has he come up with a genuinely good tempeh recipe, but he has a great Brussels sprouts recipe, one that does not hide or drown out the nasty taste of Brussels sprouts, but a recipe that finds what is good in Brussels sprouts and builds on that. (There is some obvious lesson here for all of us regarding our interactions not only with Brussels sprouts but with other people.) “Maple-Sriracha Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberry Wild Rice” (page 87) starts with Brussels sprouts, marinated in a combination of maple syrup, sriracha, and soy sauce, then roasted. The sprouts are combined with wild rice, which has been cooking with onions and cranberries. The leftover marinade is stirred in, and the result is a Brussels sprouts recipe that tastes good! Our friend Margie M, who is in the habit of graciously inviting us for Thanksgiving dinners, often suggests that I bring Brussels sprouts; finally, I have a dish to bring that I will be willing to eat.
I encourage anyone who likes sriracha, or finds the recipes described above interesting to check out The Sriracha Cookbook Blog. The blog features many recipes from the two cookbooks, links to other sriracha recipes, and much more. It from this blog that I became aware of the YouTube video illustrating the theme of this post: ramen and sriracha.
Ramen with Cheese, Chiles, and Olives
Adapted from Toni Patrick, 101 Things to Do with Ramen Noodles
2 packages ramen noodles (without flavor packets)
4 ounces Monterey jack cheese, cubed
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles
¼ cup chopped black olives
1 cup sour cream
4 ounces grated cheddar cheese
2 ounces grated Parmesan
½ cup crushed tortilla chips
Preheat the oven to 400º. Cook the ramen noodles in boiling water until just done. Combine the noodles with the Monterey jack, chiles, olives, and sour cream. Smooth the noodles into a small baking dish and distribute the cheddar, Parmesan, and chips over top. Bake until bubbly, with the cheese on top melted and the chips toasted, about 20 minutes.
Adapted from Randy Clemens, The Sriracha Cookbook
2 cups water
1 cup milk
¾ cup Anson Mills grits
4 ounces grated cheese
2-3 tablespoons sriracha
Bring the water and milk to a boil. Sprinkle in the grits, whisking to avoid lumps. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring frequently. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan and smush any lumps that try to form. Cook for about 20 minutes, until thick and creamy. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and cheese. Randy uses a combination of cheddar, gruyère, and Parmesan. Add the sriracha and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, or put into a pan to harden. When ready to eat, cut off slices and either fry or, as I do, microwave.
Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potatoes and Ramen
Adapted from Randy Clemens, The Veggie-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook
Sweet Potato Topping:
1 head of garlic
2 pounds sweet potatoes
½ cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
1 8-ounce package tempeh
¼ cup sriracha
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 red onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, peeled and chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
½ cup peas
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup vegetable broth
Begin by roasting the head of garlic. I do this by wrapping the garlic in aluminum foil, then cooking it in the oven at whatever temperature my oven happens to be until the garlic is soft. (If you are not cooking anything else, try 400º for 40 minutes.) Cook the sweet potatoes, either by baking in the oven along with the garlic or by peeling, cutting into chunks, and boiling until cooked, the time depending on how big the chunks are. When the sweet potatoes and garlic are done, put the sweet potato flesh in a large bowl. Cut off one end of the head of garlic, and squeeze the garlic out of its papery shell and into the sweet potatoes. Now mash the sweet potatoes with the vegetable broth, oil, and chipotle peppers. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 350º. Crumble the tempeh and combine with the sriracha, soy sauce, garlic powder, and cumin. Heat a little bit of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook for a few minutes. Add the zucchini and cook a little longer. Add the peas and garlic and cook for still another few minutes. Push the vegetables to one side of the pan. Add a little more olive oil in the cleared space, then add the tempeh and its marinade. Stir the tempeh around, then mix everything together, add the tomato paste and cook a little longer. Add the vegetable broth, scraping up all the browned particles and so deglazing the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Put the filling in the bottom of a baking pan. I use a deep pan that is 9 inches square, although a 9 by 13 inch pan might work better. Spread the sweet potatoes over the filling. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the topping is starting to get crusty and the filling is bubbling up around the edges.