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Tantanmen Ramen Soup


Many cultures enjoy special foods to ring in the New Year and ensure good luck and prosperity. From the Spaniards popping a grape into the mouth with each chime at midnight, Germans eating pickled herring as the first food of the New Year, to American southerners enjoying "Hoppin' John" collard greens and black-eyed peas, and of course, the champagne toast at midnight.

In many Asian cultures, the date for "new year" changes each year based on the lunar calendar. This year, the Chinese New Year is celebrated on February 5th, heralding in the astrological "Year of the Pig." For Chinese New Year, families like to eat long noodles called "longevity noodles." In Chinese culture, the belief is the longer the noodle, the longer your life will be. You can imagine the amount of slurping that goes on to ring in the New Year!

I'm sharing with you one of my favorite noodle dishes, Tantanmen, a spicy ramen noodle soup laced with chili oil and soy bean paste and served in a savory miso broth. The highlight of the dish is ground pork sautéed with shallots, garlic and ginger and spiced with bean paste and red pepper. The recipe is similar to Chinese Dan Dan Noodles which is not served in a broth base.

Tantanmen is also very popular in Japan and, since it contains pork, I think it's the perfect recipe to ring in the Year of the Pig! In Chinese culture, pigs are the symbol of wealth, and eating a roasted pig is supposed to ensure peace. What a nice way to begin the year!

The ingredients are easy to find at Whole Foods, on Amazon or at your local Asian market. You'll use three pans to make Tantanmen: one to sauté the ground pork, one to make the miso soup base and a third pot of boiling water to blanch the bok choy, then to cook the ramen noodles. Serve the Tantanmen in wide, deep bowls, with chopsticks (to slurp the noodles) and a soup spoon to make sure you enjoy every drop!

TANTANMEN (Serves 2)

Ramen noodles
2 teaspoons peanut or canola oil
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon hot chili oil (or less)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons bean paste (or Korean Gochujang)
1/2 teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon sake rice wine (optional)
2 bok choy, sliced in half lengthwise
Additional sesame oil (for blanching)
Sesame seeds
Optional: 1/2 cup of assorted Asian vegetables, such as mushrooms, snow peas, carrots, edamame
Miso soup mix (or make your own with white miso paste, 2 tablespoons tahini, adding 1/2 tub Knorr chicken stock if you want a little more flavor)

Make the miso soup stock using your own favorite brand or make some from scratch by combining the following ingredients in a medium soup pot: 3 cups water, 6 tablespoons Minute Miso Organic White Miso, 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste), 1/2 tub Knorr Chicken Stock.

Fill another medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil. The sesame oil will add some "gloss" and flavor to your bok choy and noodles.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and blanch the bok choy until tender, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bok choy to a dish, saving the water to cook the ramen just before serving.

In a medium sauté pan, heat the peanut oil until shimmering. Add the shallot and cook until the shallot is soft. Add the ground pork and cook until the pork is lightly browned and cooked through, breaking up the pork with a wooden spoon into uniform small pieces.

Add the garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, and bean paste, stirring well to combine. Add the chili oil (to taste) and Korean red pepper flakes - 1/2 teaspoon for lightly spiced, or more if you want it spicier - you can always add more later so be cautious not to make it too spicy! Sprinkle on the sake, stir, turn off the heat and set aside.

In the same pot in which you blanched the bok choy, cook the ramen noodles until soft and al dente. As they cook, reheat your miso broth and pork.

To serve, put noodles in each soup bowl, top with enough broth to just about cover the noodles. On top, place a sautéed bok choy on one side and a large scoop of pork on the other side. You can also add additional vegetables if you want a bit more crunch. Top with a light drizzle of sesame oil or a little more chili oil and sesame seeds.