I first started trying to be funny on the internet in 1996. My first two websites were, in order, a multi-page, five-navigation-levels-deep, exhaustively researched homage to the glory days of the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, called “NintendoSlut,” which mostly consisted of MIDI sound files of the tinny theme songs from my favorite old games, and pages filled with armies of 16 color animated GIFs of the Eggplant Wizard from “Kid Icarus” endlessly marching in sequence, looped forever in bug-eyed lockstep. The only people that were interested in reading it were other kids who were even more obsessive in their knowledge of the minutiae of the Nintendo universe, and mostly, they just wanted to correct me when I misspelled “Hayabusa.”
My second wasted effort was a collection of hundreds and hundreds of instant ramen noodle recipes, painstakingly re-typed into fifty-foot long HTML pages that, when printed, would lead to a request from my Computer Science professor that I maybe stay out of the lab for a few days. Few of the recipes from that website stand out in my mind. Most were barely recipes at all, instead mere suggestions that crushed-up dry ramen noodles were a good addition to a sandwich, or that the flavor pack from a package of 17 cent ramen was delicious sprinkled on popcorn. The more ambitious recipes suggested that a microwaved brick of ramen covered in jarred spaghetti sauce was a reasonable, low-budget alternative to an expensive night out in a fine Italian restaurant. This website has long-since been lost to the annals of internet history (though plenty of others have taken its place), and people have gotten rich (?) self-publishing cookbooks along the same lines, marketed toward broke and starving college kids.
Spending a year testing ramen recipes, to the benefit of no one but my future cardiologist, was enough to put me off of packaged instant ramen for more than the next decade. Recently, however, thoughts of ramen have been nibbling around the outer edges of my brain, and I have become overwhelmed with visions of slamming that MSG-and-sodium spike back into my vein. And unlike the recipes from college (“Mixing cooked ramen noodles into instant mashed potatoes and canned gravy makes every day taste like Thanksgiving!”), this dressed-up instant ramen recipe actually tastes good and resembles real food. With its strong cinnamon and ginger flavors lending complexity to the beef broth, and the ability to add as much spicy heat from the raw serrano peppers as you’d like, it makes for an excellent Winter warmer, when you just can’t face another bowl of corn chowder from the freezer.
Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit; Serves 2-4
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 onion
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 big piece fresh ginger, peeled
- 2 1/2 cups beef broth
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cups mixed mushrooms (such as oyster or stemmed shiitake), thinly sliced or torn
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 2 packages instant ramen (noodles only; you can discard the flavor pack)
- 1 1/2-pound piece beef eye round, sliced against the grain as thinly as possible
- Bean sprouts, basil leaves, and thinly sliced serrano chiles
- In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion (with the cut side down), the garlic, and the ginger. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic begins to brown, about three minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups water, beef broth, star anise, and cinnamon, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, about ten minutes. Add mushrooms, simmer two minutes more. Add scallion, and check seasoning. Add salt, as needed.
- In another pot, boil ramen until tender, but still firm, about a minute less than package directions. Drain, and divide among bowls. Add beef slices, and simmer until just barely cooked through, about 15-20 seconds. Use tongs to transfer beef to bowls.
- Discard the onion, ginger, garlic, star anise, and cinnamon; ladle broth into bowls on top of noodles and beef. Garnish as desired with sprouts, basil, and chiles.