It is 4:24 pm and by some small miracle, I currently find myself alone in our apartment. Max and Bruno left a little while ago to trudge through the snow to the pharmacy and drugstore. Hugo is in the courtyard playing in the snow. He can't stay away from it, he's bewitched by it. It's dystopian to think about how novel a truly cold winter is for our little Berliner, when the very cold winters of our childhoods in Berlin were practically a defining feature of the experience of growing up here. But wait, I'm getting away from things. I am home alone.
First I blasted music, just to feel something. Then I drank a cup of scalding hot tea and burned my mouth. Now I'm sitting here by the radiator, trying to write. A child outside is screaming bloody murder at her father for making her play in the snow and although I usually barely register the noise of children who don't belong to me, this one is making me want to howl out the window. We're all losing our minds a little, yes?
Where was I. Home alone. You all. This soup.
Oooh, this soup. It comes from East by Meera Sodha. One of the best cookbooks I own. Every recipe I've tried has been delicious and complex, but also easy and fun and interesting. If you follow me elsewhere, you may be sick of hearing me wax on about it. I'm sort of sick of me going on about it! But it really is an amazing collection. It has taught me so much and broadened my pantry immeasurably. My cooking is better for owning the book, my diet more varied. The recipes are all vegetarian or vegan, Asian-inspired and simple to make.
Meera's recipes are a study in the masterful layering of flavors, and this soup is a perfect example. You start by caramelizing onions (I got impatient and moved on after 20 minutes and my soup was still staggeringly delicious), to which then add stock and cooking wine and soy sauce and miso. Taste the broth and kapow, it'll blow you away. Best of all, your work is now mostly done! All you have to do is cook your noodles, drop them into the deep brown soup along with some greens (I used Napa cabbage) and a jammy egg (she recommends a soy egg, which requires a little advance planning), and sit down to eat.
You'll feel like you're eating restaurant food, which is the highest praise I can give food right now, because I am so sick of my own cooking and my dinner staples and if I could, I would just order in dinner from a different restaurant every day, but I can't, so instead I depend on cookbooks to give me a glimmer of the outside world.
Which cookbooks are you leaning on to give you that sense that the world is still out there, awaiting us? I love a good cookbook chat, so have at it.
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Caramelized Onion Ramen
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3 large onions, peeled and finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
½ tsp salt
1 bird's eye chile, finely sliced
6 cups/1½ liters vegetable stock
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1½ tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown rice miso
Salt and black pepper
7 ounces/200 grams ramen noodles (I used gluten-free buckwheat noodles)
7 ounces/200g leafy greens like gai lan or choi sum, or Napa cabbage, cut into 6cm pieces
Chile crisp, to serve
4 7-minute eggs or soy eggs
1. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, warm 5 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and salt to the pan, stir to coat in the oil, then cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes. The onions will gradually start to caramelize and color. Eventually they'll start breaking down into a soft, sweet, caramel-colored paste.
2. Add the chile, if using, and stock to the pan, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and add the rice wine, soy and miso, stirring well to combine. Taste, adjust the seasoning, then turn off the heat.
3. Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, then drain, refresh under cold water and stir in a little oil to keep them from sticking together.
4. Cook the greens just before serving. Bring the broth up to a boil, drop in the greens and cook for a minute or two, until just tender.
5. Divide the noodles between four bowls and ladle the broth over the top, making sure to share out the greens evenly. Halve the eggs, if using, and place two halves on each serving. Drizzle over the chile oil, if using, and serve.