Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine’s Day! And Lunar New Year! And Mardi Gras! And...
What’s cooking? Shrimp Ramen Noodle Soup

What a week! Superbowl Sunday followed by the start of the Lunar New Year festival on Monday followed by Mardi Gras, and now Valentine’s Day. At one point, I was frankly grateful for the subdued mood of Ash Wednesday.

But the Lunar New Year festival is still in full force. Celebrations will continue until February 22 with the Lantern Festival, often thought of as the Chinese equivalent to Valentine’s Day. Now you may be thinking that the Kitchen Goddess has flubbed in her mention of the Lunar New Year by not calling it the Chinese New Year. Au contraire, mes amis. Even the Chinese refer to this 15-day hoopla as the Lunar New Year. As I understand it, the reason it’s so frequently known as Chinese New Year is that the Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Vietnamese celebrations all base their timing on the Chinese lunisolar calendar. Now, aren’t you glad you asked?

While regional traditions vary widely throughout Asia, the most common themes have to do with ensuring good fortune and happiness for the coming year. In addition to dressing and decorating one’s home in red (it’s said that red scares away evil spirits), and setting off fireworks (also to frighten evil spirits), there’s a heavy focus on eating.

One of the dishes eaten during the Lunar New Year festival is “longevity” noodles – long noodles that symbolize a wish for long life. To preserve the luck, the cook tries not to cut or break them, and it’s considered even luckier if you can eat them without biting through. Sounds like a very slurpy dish to me. Though they’re usually stir-fried, they can also be boiled and served in a bowl with broth.

In a stroll through Netflix recently, I happened upon the first episode of Mind of a Chef, which starred David Chang. And yes, I know he’s South Korean, not Chinese, but he spent most of the episode talking about – and eating – ramen noodles, which seem like a similar dish to longevity noodles. Chang went so far as to take healthy bites out of those dried squares of ramen noodles that you get at the grocery store. And yes, I know ramen is a Japanese noodle dish, but they’re the same style as Chinese wheat noodles. And I’d been yearning to figure out some version of Chang’s noodle soups ever since I had lunch last summer at his NYC restaurant, Momofuku. So give the Kitchen Goddess a small break on the details.

I also wanted to cheat. Exactly. I wanted to use those instant noodles from the grocery store, because they’re easy and because I like the flavor that you get in the accompanying spice package. So what you have here is a sort of “tricked out” (as in heavily accessorized) version of instant noodle soup, but tricked out in a way that raises the bar for the soup. But it’s still really fast and easy.

Kitchen Goddess note: You don’t have to split the shrimp in half, as the Kitchen Goddess has done, but cutting them that way accomplishes two things: (1) the shrimp goes twice as far in populating the soup, and (2) the halved shrimp take on a really pretty shape when cooked. And we all know how important presentation is to the Kitchen Goddess, don’t we?

Shrimp Ramen Noodle Soup

Serves 6.

2 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced lengthwise and chopped into ½-inch dice
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms (or crimini), sliced
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced (crosswise)
1 large carrot, thinly sliced rounds
8 cups good quality chicken broth
2 packages Maruchan Shrimp Noodle Soup (or any other flavor)
1 pound large shrimp (16-20 per pound), shelled, deveined, and sliced in half lengthwise
zest and juice of 1 lime
2½ ounces (a large handful) baby spinach, any thick stems removed
Garnish (if you want to add a bit of heat): Korean chili sauce

Kitchen Goddess note: As noted above, I had a ramen soup lunch at David Chang’s NYC restaurant, Momofuku, and became addicted to his Ssäm Sauce, which is a Korean chili sauce with oomph. I love it in this soup. It’s available online at Momofuku Market: $7.50 for an 11-ounce bottle, plus $9 for shipping, but you can get as many as 5 bottles for that same $9, so maybe get some friends to go in on a shipment. It’s spicy, but not ridiculously so (the KG is very conservative when it comes to heat), with lots of Asian flavor.

Sliced fennel.
In a heavy soup pot, sauté the bacon bits 5-7 minutes, until crisp. Add the mushrooms and sauté the mixture, stirring, another 3 minutes. Add the fennel and carrots and sauté the mixture 3 more minutes, stirring.

Stir in the broth and bring it to a boil. Add the noodles from both packages, reserving the spice envelopes. Reduce the heat to keep the noodles on a low boil. When the noodles have cooked 3 minutes, empty the spice envelopes into the broth and cook an additional minute, stirring to incorporate.

Add the shrimp to the soup, stir, and cook on a low simmer for 3 more minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the spinach, covering the pot to let the spinach cook in the residual heat. When the spinach is thoroughly wilted (1-2 minutes), stir in the lime juice and zest, and serve.

Kitchen Goddess Post Script: Others of the foods considered to bring good fortune fruit include tangerines and oranges, because their round gold color symbolizes fullness and wealth. The wonderfully delicious Cara Cara oranges are in most grocery stores now, and they’d make a great accompaniment to this soup.

So get your noodle soup and oranges and celebrate now!
Note the difference: Navel oranges on left, Cara Cara on right.

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