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  CARUSO'S NOODLE BOWL (all caps 'cause it rocks).

Here's my general recipe for making a (tasty) noodle bowl. I usually tweak this based on what is on hand in the fridge and/or fresh and/or in season. The key is to have 1. broth, 2. some sort of meat, 3. some sort of mushroom, 4. vegetables, and 5. some sort of cabbage (baby bok choy works best). When cooking the meat and vegetables, it works best to slightly undercook them because boiling broth will be added last and will end up overcooking anything that is too done.

Prep time: ~30 minutes
Total cooking time: ~30 minutes

Ingredients.

  • Dashi or bonito stock
    You can make your own (boil some conbu and bonito flakes, then strain) or buy it in powder form. This is the base for the broth. In a pinch, a Ramen seasoning packet will work, just be sure to dilute it because you will be adding at least soy sauce to the mix and donít want it to be ridiculously salty. You will need enough broth to fill however many noodle bowls you're making. I've found that roughly 2 cups per bowl is standard.
  • Soy sauce
    I prefer a type of soy sauce called tamari, which is richer in flavor (and saltier) than standard soy sauce.
  • Noodles
    Udon works best, but Ramen noodles also work in a pinch. The fridge section in the vegetable aisle of most grocery stores has a decent selection of soft Asian noodles that work well in this recipe.
  • Chopped green onions
    Also called ďscallionsĒ if youíre kickiní it East Coast style.
  • Pepper cut into strips
    Red bell pepper works great (green bell peppers are for suckers), or something hot and spicy like a diced serrano for the adventurous.
  • Chopped fresh shitake mushrooms
    Regular mushrooms work great, too.
  • Meat cut into thin, 2-inch-long strips
    I prefer chicken or beef. If you use any kind of seafood, use the soy sauce sparingly.
  • Baby bok choy chopped into strips
    Use the leafy part of the bok choy. Cabbage is a good substitute.
  • Chopped fresh veggies
    Use whatever is in season, but avoid anything with either a sweet or acidic flavor. And, whatever you do, avoid anything in a can as canned vegetables tend to be watery and will dilute the flavors in your noodle bowl.
  • Sesame oil
  • (Optional) Rough-chopped cilantro
    If you use cilantro, add it at the very end, after youíve poured the broth over your meat, veggies and noodles.
  • (Optional) Rice wine vinegar
    When I use this in the broth, I only use a dash 'cause it can really overpower the other flavors if too much is used. You can end up with something really sour and funky if you go nuts with the vinegar.
  • (Optional) Stuff to season the broth and meat, such as ginger, garlic, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, miso paste, etc., etc.)

Tools.

  • Sharp knife for chopping
  • Cutting board
  • Pot
  • Wok or pan
  • Bowl
  • Tongs or long fork
  • Chopsticks

Cooking steps.

  1. Start the dashi or bonito broth cooking. In the last steps, this has to be boiling because it is going to cook some of the veggies in the bowl when you combine the components. Season the broth to taste. I like it with some soy sauce/tamari and some dark miso paste (very tasty, and a little goes a long way). Oyster or hoisin sauce is also good, depending on your taste. Then again, nothing tastes better than a simple dashi with a dash of soy sauce.
  2. Chop the green onions, baby bok choy and any other tender vegetables (anything that takes little time to cook, such as leafy greens) and set aside. These will be added to your bowl later and cooked by the boiling broth when you add it.
  3. Add sesame oil to a pan and let it get nice and toasty on medium-high heat. Then, add the mushrooms, pepper and any firm vegetables to the hot oil (watch for boiling-hot splatters). Stir fry this for about 5 minutes. The goal here is to soften the ingredients up a bit and let the flavors mingle before adding the meat.
  4. Add your noodles to the broth and cook until they are done. This bulk of this step is done in conjunction with the next step and you are going to let the noodles cook while you are cooking the meat (just donít forget to stir occasionally, unless you like noodle-log bowl). The length of time you let the noodles cook really depends on what noodles you choose. Timing here is a tad on the tricky side if you're using dry noodles.
  5. Add meat to your pan with the mushrooms and veggies and cook until meat is the desired doneness. Again, it is best to leave the meat ever-so-slightly undercooked because the cooking process will be completed by the boiling broth. Also, add any extra seasoning to the meat and veggies at this point. Salt, ground pepper, ginger, garlic and soy sauce are all tasty. How much you add is really a personal preference. Iíve been known to add pepper flake, but then, my taste buds have probably been burned off at this point.
  6. With tongs or a long fork, pull out some of the cooked noodles and add them to the bottom of a large-ish bowl. Add your cooked meat and veggie mixture on top of the noodles. Then, add the green onions, baby bok choy and tender chopped veggies.
  7. Pour boiling broth over meat/veggies/noodles and let steep for 3 or 4 minutes. When the tender veggies are slightly limp, it's ready to eat. Take care with the first couple bites because everything in the middle of the bowl is going to be like hot fire lava. Seriously. Hot. Fire Lava.
 
         
     

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