In the first of a new series, Sophie Tevlin sings the praises of the cupboard staples we couldn’t live without.
Instant noodles are great, aren’t they? Cheap, speedy, filling, vaguely reminiscent of childhood, and easily turned from Depression Meal into Proper Dinner by the addition of a few vegetables and a boiled egg. Jazzing up instant noodles barely feels like cooking at all, and for those of you who feel you’re ready to turn it up a notch, here’s a quick and savoury recipe that is very loosely based on Korean doenjang jjigae. (Loosely being the operative word. I recommend the Youtuber Maangchi if you’d like to learn more about the spectacular world of Korean cuisine.) Doenjang is a Korean fermented soybean paste, not dissimilar to Japanese miso, but with a deeper and richer flavour. Tubs of it can be sourced from the Asian supermarkets in Dublin. Some varieties contain anchovies, so if you are a member of one of the stricter vegetarian sects do remember to inspect the label. Miso and the other ingredients you should be able to find in a big Tesco.
You will need: a packet of instant noodles, some tofu, half an onion, a handful of shiitake mushrooms, two or three cloves of garlic, soy sauce, roasted sesame oil, two tablespoons of doenjang paste or miso, 500 ml dashi or vegetable stock, half a courgette, and a spring onion.
Drain the tofu. Unless it is one of those handy ones you can get that come pre-drained. (Side note: do you think the tofu enjoys being drained? I would. I think it would be quite a restful experience, not unlike being under a weighted blanket, or undergoing the better class of spa treatment. But I digress.) Chop the tofu into bite-size cubes. Put the kettle on for your stock. Cut the onion into pieces, and the mushrooms in half or in quarters. Crush the garlic cloves with the flat blade of your knife, as if you were squashing a beetle that had made some unpleasant remarks about your grandmother, and peel the skins off. Cut the courgette into half-moons, or full moons if you are getting a bit bored with chopping by now, and chop the spring onion up quite small. By now the kettle should have boiled, so pour 500ml of hot water into a jug, add your stock sachet/cube and mix. Dashi is a Japanese stock, usually involving some combination of kombu seaweed, bonito tuna flakes, and dried shiitake, and it is incredibly delicious. If you haven’t been able to source it, Marigold does a great vegan vegetable stock, and the Knorr jelly pots will do in a pinch.
Now you’ve finished your prep and you’re ready to cook! Get out your favourite pot, preferably a largish one with a heavy bottom, and put it on a medium heat. Heat your cooking oil of choice – I used a mixture of olive oil to prevent it sticking and butter for flavour, – and add the mushrooms and onions. Fry until limp and fragrant and exuding juices, then add the garlic, a dash or two of soy sauce, two tablespoons of the sesame oil, and the doenjang or miso. Mix it all about, add the tofu, pour over the stock, clap on the lid, and turn up the heat. Let it boil gently for about five minutes, then add the noodles and courgettes and cook another three or four minutes, until the noodles are done. Ladle out into a bowl, garnish with the spring onions, and enjoy.
(P.S. I apologise for mashing together Korean and Japanese ingredients in this haphazard fashion: I couldn’t source the dried anchovies that proper doenjang jjigae calls for, and dashi seemed the closest available substitute. If some kindly and better-informed soul would take the trouble to email in and put me right, or better still would like to write an article of their own, I should be infinitely obliged to them.)