Tuesday, April 8, 2008

De-Ramenizing in College

My freshman stable was those packaged fake-chicken flavored ramen noodles. When I missed dinner, I ate those, despite the fact that they really provide very little sustenance and tasted abominable. These days, just the smell of them makes me queasy.

So what am I supposed to do when I need a quick meal? Because of bad decisions and just plain stupidity, I live in a graduate housing room that is depressingly kitchenless. I have a microwave, a minifridge, and sink. At first I mostly ate out, but I've gotten a lot better at making the microwave do my bidding.

In last week's NYT, Mark Bittman wrote about microwave cooking. When microwaves first became popular, hundreds of cookbooks for them were published with recipes for everything from cake to steak. People realized pretty quickly that those things don't belong in the microwave and most of those cookbooks are now found in the bargain bin at thrift shops.

As Bittman points out, it does a decent job at steaming vegetables, but I eat most of my vegetables raw. He provides a recipe for a tempting chocolate pudding, but I'm not about to eat that for dinner.

When I first moved in I got the Kafka microwave cookbook, that while outdated, pointed out that fish cooks well, but good fish tends to be expensive in Central Illinois. The best local source of protein around here is eggs. Numerous local farms have free ranging chickens and you can get a dozen for about $1.99 to 4.00 depending on the farm and husbandry methods.

Early attempts at eggs in the microwave were a disaster. Most attempts were hard, discolored, or just plain unappetizing. Finally, I've come up with a decent method, mostly by not subjecting the eggs to much microwaving. I just boil water, drop the egg in, microwave for one more minute...and I have a pretty damn good poached egg.

Lately I've been eating a lot of soba, which are Japanese buckwheat noodles. Decently priced and with a better nutritional profile than most noodles, they can be served either hot or cold. Then cook quickly in the microwave without becoming mushy.

For a meal at home I serve them hot sauced and topped with grated carrots, poached egg and wakame. For a bento to carry to class they are great cold with the same type of sauce. For a sauce I usually use a base of miso and almond butter, mixed with tamari and a little vinegar until I get a nice consistency. Finally, I top with the Spice House Argyle Street Asian Blend. Delicious, and it only takes a few minutes. More protein, vitamins, and minerals than ramen, but with less carbs.

.5 cup organic buckwheat noodles

1.5 tsbp almond butter
.5 tbsp miso
1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
.5 tbsp raw black sesame tamari

1 raw shredded local carrot or cucumber
1 poached local egg
some seasoning and seaweed

I mix everything together when eating.

These are ingredients I keep in my pantry, but I've made this at friends' apartments using cheaper ingredients like peanut butter instead of almond butter and normal soy sauce and vinegar.

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