Japenese Beef Ramen

In downtown St. Paul there is a small restaurant that serves amazingly good bowls of ‘ramen’ or Japanese noodle soup. It’s called Tanpopo Noodle Shop and it’s delicious. The craving for a bowl full of Udon noodles often calls to me but Senor has never been overly excited to trek down to Tanpopo. It’s not far, really. But it’s the other side of town and a side that we have no other reason to go to. And until I made this large pot of Japanese-inspired soup, Senor had never tasted ‘real’ ramen. You know, the kind that doesn’t come out of a Styrofoam container.

This was my first time attempting to make any kind of Japanese food. I love sushi, but I don’t make it. I leave my raw fish prep up to the professionals. I love hibachi too, and Japanese udon noodles or fried rice from the local hibachi place is seriously one of my favorite things ever. I have a lot of favorite things ever, but still. Delish. And of course, I love good ramen. Oh man, do I love it. So let’s be totally honest, this is a Midwestern attempt at Japanese food. It’s delicious, but by no means would I call it completely authentic. Then again, there’s something to be said for making internationally inspired dishes out of my Minnesotan kitchen.

I realized that I might not ever convince Senor to make the trek to downtown St. Paul without first making him realize what he was missing. His world of Japanese food is pretty happily rooted in sushi and hibachi. Still, I knew he’d love ramen and would totally be on board with it. I was left with no other option. I had to make it. The other thing I knew to be true was the more unique and unusual (to us) the ingredients, the more he would love it. I set about making a beefy ramen that would be memorable.

Ramen is happily one of those dishes where nothing has to be exact. You can go out and buy all the ‘right’ ingredients or you can throw together what you’ve got. I generally prefer Udon noodles but I knew Senor had never had Soba noodles (buckwheat) so I bought a package at Whole Foods for our ramen. Don’t have either kind? Use some spaghetti noodles. Udon noodles are wheat noodles and are similar to traditional pasta. They’re not exactly the same but you know what? In a pinch they work fine. The pictures you see here feature whole-wheat spaghetti noodles. I made more soup and broth than I had noodles for.

I also got some Kombu, a dried seaweed that is commonly found in ramen. And one Daikon, a Japanese radish. Both simmered in the beef broth until they were tender. Kids, this dinner sounds fancy but let me tell you. It was easy. Just like most soups, it’s an easy process of chop, simmer, serve. No roasting required tonight. You can get all the Japanese ingredients at Whole Foods, and probably most grocery stores with an International section. If you can’t find a daikon, use a regular radish. If you can’t find Kombu, use some spinach. If you want to use miso, do it. If you want to use the traditional hard boiled egg, go for it. Personally I used two over-easy eggs and it was amazing. Customize away my friends, this is a forgiving dish and you really can’t mess it up. Oh, and I added some red bell pepper. But only because I had it on hand.

Japanese Beef Ramen
makes six servings

2 quarts beef broth

3 ounces beef, trimmed of fat and sliced or cubed

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1 daikon (Japanese radish)

4 pieces of kombu, cut into small pieces

2 bell peppers, sliced into thin pieces

6 eggs

3 green onions, sliced into rounds

3 tablespoons low-sodum soy sauce

Ginger, garlic, salt, cayenne, smoked paprika, chili powder

2 packages Udon or Soba noodles, boiled and drained

Start your beef broth in a large stock pot. Add a soup bone if you have one. You can make your own broth or use a low-sodium store-bought variety. I used a soup bone with some meat on it and prepared beef broth for this soup. I had enough left in the bone and the broth to make another gallon of broth for a separate soup. However you’re doing the broth, have it all in one big pot and turn it onto high heat.

Chop up and add the kombu and daikon. The kombu will expand greatly so cut into small pieces. Add any other vegetable you want.

Add generous amounts of ginger and garlic. Add the soy sauce and vinegar. Add salt, chili powder and cayenne to taste. And just a small dash of smoked paprika. Let the flavors simmer before testing as the heat enhances their flavor.

In a separate pot, bring water to a boil for the noodles. Cook according to package directions, leaving just slightly al dente. They will finish cooking in the soup itself.

If you haven’t already, add sliced or cubed meat to the beef broth. If you were making the broth with a soup bone, take it out and trim any meat off. Add it back to the pot.

When the vegetables are soft and the broth is flavored to your liking, move it to a back burner and turn it off.

Place a serving of noodles into each bowl. Ladle the hot soup over the noodles.

Quickly prepare eggs over easy. Add them to the soup. Garnish with sliced green onions.

Enjoy with chopsticks, and if you feel like culture smashing, a grilled cheese sandwich. Or not.


Gangchen

>Gangchen Bar and Restaurant is across the street from my house. At least once a week we’re down wind from the kitchens and we smell the delicious garlicky-ness that is dinner from Gangchen.

The great thing about living in the city a block off Eat Street is all the instant and late-night food options. Not that we really eat take out at 3 am, but it’s nice to know that it’s there. Tonight was a busy night and dinner couldn’t happen until after 9. Needless to say, I didn’t feel like whipping up dinner (although I did whip up a cheesecake after dinner, more details to come!) and decided we should opt for take out.

Gangchen is a Tibetan restaurant although most of the food is just a variety of typical Asian food. My favorites are the Pad Thai and the Vietnamese Basil Beef. Senor’s favorites are the Garlic Lover’s Beef and the Vietnamese Basil Beef. Gangchen is super fast and also, super cheap. Our dinner was $25 and the amount of food we got was incredible. This was really good because we’d just come from the gym and the grocery store and we were both ready to start chewing on our fists.

This isn’t just great take out, it’s AMAZING take out. You can eat in the restaurant as well if you fancy. Our dinner consisted of the Basil Beef, Cranberry Curry Rangoon, and Chicken Pad Thai.

I’ve made Pad Thai several times and I have to admit, it’s not worth the effort. I can buy a giant vat of it across the street and it’s the most delicious thing ever. Real pad thai has so many ingredients and you never quite master the ratio of sauces to the right flavor and texture. Maybe day I’ll figure out but until then I’m probably just going to keep buying it at Gangchen. Did I mention they’re open until 3 am on weekdays?


>Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps at Big Bowl

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Thursday is “out-to-lunch” for the creative team at my office and while we don’t all go all of the time, it’s a nice end-of-week tradition. This week a few of us patronized our local Big Bowl. Generally, as a foodie, I try to stay away from national chain restaurants and food places found in and around malls. This becomes complicated when I’m at work though, since I can see a large mall right out the window. Our office is just north east of downtown Minneapolis in one of the nicer and less-suburby-suburbs. It’s so close to my home, in fact, that it sort of astonishes me how suddenly the suburbs creep up on you. In any case, we are surrounded by food here and there are so many chains, its hard to avoid them all of the time. Big Bowl it was!
I hadn’t been to Big Bowl in years actually and I was a little surprised that they don’t have a lunch menu and that you can’t find an entrée under $11 at noon. I have no problem paying for good, delicious food that’s unique and prepared by a chef, but that just isn’t what comes to mind when I picture that big, red plastic bowl on the front of a Big Bowl restaurant. Especially shocking is a bowl of vegetarian pad thai! I’ve made pad thai countless times and you can make a batch of pad thai to feed ten people for under $5. Big Bowl has officially been entered into the same category in my mind as Noodles & Co. as an overpriced staple that I like eating but feel guilty for eating. Anytime I pay too much for something I can easily make myself, I feel guilt. A frugal foodie has to know what she can spend her dollars on and what she can’t. To compromise, I always order things at those places that I would never, ever make for myself because it’s either something Senor doesn’t like or too fussy for me to deal with.
End result: Lettuce Wraps.
from Big Bowl’s website
They really are delicious, even if they are pretty trendy. Big Bowl has a new Thai Beef variety that I thought it worth trying out. It was pretty good, wonderful flavor and there were tomatoes mixed in with my beef which was exciting. Less exciting was finding that the filling for my lettuce wraps contained, you guessed it, lettuce. I had three good-sized romaine hearts in with the meat. My chicken-ordering counterparts had far more meat than I did although I ended up paying more for mine. I know, beef is expensive. But do you really have to shove lettuce in the filling to take up all that room? I think in the future I’ll stick with the chicken (although it’ll probably be years before I go back and I doubt I’ll remember) because the chicken also had nuts in it which equals a win in my book.
I would have liked to create my own stir-fry ‘bowl’ but really didn’t feel like forking over $15 for a mall-food lunch. Especially when I can walk out of my house and arrive in front of Gangchen on Eat Street for some of the best Tibetan and Asian cuisine in the city. I know it’s fresh, it’s insanely cheap, and I can smell it from my front stoop. My lettuce wraps were tasty but I think I’m still committed to the hole-in-the-wall gems for now. I promise, a trip and review of Gangchen is never far off.