Have you ever met a new friend and immediately felt as if you’d always known them? I experienced this not long ago when Yukiko, an online contact of mine (we first met in a group for volunteers of an international vegan organization) visited Paris from her native Japan and we got together for a smoothie in the Marais. It turned out she was planning to move to France very soon to be with her French boyfriend. As we shared impressions of Paris and discussed expat life in France, and of course the usual favorite topic of vegans from anywhere in the world—food and cooking!—the time ran short and we still had more to say. Another meetup was thus in order, and we decided to make it a culinary one so she could introduce me to one of her favorite Japanese dishes.
One chilly day not long after, she appeared at my door with a smile, bearing a cloth shopping bag full of goodies—fresh organic oranges, carrots, green onion, ginger root, vegetable bouillon and, best of all, some homemade miso that she’d brought with her from Japan! On my end, I’d stocked up on ramen noodles, sesame paste and toasted sesame oil, shiitake mushrooms and soymilk. We put on aprons, rolled up our sleeves, and set to work making the dish she had chosen: tantanmen (担々麺), a Taiwanese-Japanese fusion dish featuring Chinese ramen noodles and a Japanese-style creamy miso broth, served with a crisp carrot salad for a balance of textures in line with the traditional Japanese approach.
As we worked, Yukiko and I chatted about this and that and all kinds of things and Sésame padded in and out of the kitchen, the tip of his tail curled into a question mark, checking on our doings and trying to detract our guest’s attention to himself. We kept discovering more and more things we had in common, from similar past (mis)adventures in the romance department to literary interests and even our age—we were born the same year, exactly one month apart! In spite of all our chatter, we eventually managed to finish the dish, and sitting down to this fragrant soup at the end of the afternoon was just heavenly.
Tantanmen has since become one of my new favorite dishes. It’s the perfect comfort food for a chilly winter day, especially around this time of year when sunshine and fresh warm breezes are but a distant memory and there’s at least another month of cold ahead. The creamy miso broth with earthy garlic notes and a touch of spicy cayenne warms your tummy while the noodles fill it, the tender shiitake mushrooms and toasted sesame add an extra dimension of texture and flavor, and the tangy ginger and citrus of the carrot salad provides a burst of freshness that reminds you of the spring season that is surely coming back around sooner or later.
Since we can all benefit from a warming winter pick-me-up right about now, I decided (with Yukiko’s blessing) to share her recipe with you!
There’s some room for variation in this dish, for example substituting seitan or tofu for the mushrooms or using a different crisp vegetable (cucumber, radish or a crunchy lettuce such as romaine) in place of the carrot, according to what you have on hand.
The soup and salad may be served separately, as shown in the main photo above, but they’re best enjoyed together for the contrast of textures, so for the presentation you may opt to place the salad directly on top of the noodles, either to one side as shown in the last photo below, or all around the edges of the dish, leaving the noodles and mushrooms visible at the center.
Carrot salad with tangy sesame-ginger dressing
Serves 2 (about 3/4 cup dressing; some will be left over)
- 14 oz. (400 g) raw carrots, julienned or roughly grated
- small bunch fresh parsley or cilantro
- 4 tablespoons sesame paste (tahini)
- juice of 1 orange
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Equipment needed: food processor or blender for the dressing, julienne peeler or other device (spiralizer, grater) for the carrot (or just cut julienne style with a regular knife)
Start by making the dressing (can be made even a day ahead). Place the sesame paste, orange juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and grated ginger in your food processor or blender and pulse until you have a creamy consistency. Taste and add more soy sauce, sesame oil or ginger if needed.
Julienne the carrots, roughly chop the herbs, and toss together in a salad bowl. If you will be serving the noodle soup within the hour, you can go ahead and add the dressing, tossing to coat the carrots evenly. If you’re using a more delicate item such as lettuce or cucumber in place of the carrots, wait to add the dressing just before serving or your salad may wilt. Add the dressing a little bit at a time; you probably won’t need the whole amount, but it’s good to have it on hand in case you do! (If some remains, it makes an excellent dip for crudités, and can also work as a spread in a bánh mì type sandwich.) Transfer to serving bowls and top with an extra sprig of parsley.
Creamy miso ramen soup
- 10 oz. (280 g) brown rice ramen noodles, or other noodles
- 6 oz. (175 g) fresh shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon miso, preferably red
- 2 tablespoons blond sesame paste (tahini)
- 1 cube vegetable bouillon
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
- 1 and 3/4 cup (400 ml) unsweetened soy milk
- 3/4 cup to 1 cup (200-250 ml) hot water
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce, or more to taste
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 green onions/scallions
Begin by rinsing and slicing the shiitake mushrooms.
Place them in a nonstick skillet or frying pan over medium heat, without any oil at this stage as the mushrooms will release liquid as they cook. As always with mushrooms, the volume will reduce considerably, so don’t worry too much about overcrowding at the beginning if your skillet is on the smaller size, as is this one in the photo above.
While the mushrooms cook, mince one clove garlic.
When the mushrooms have become tender and browned, as shown, you can push them to one side and, tipping the skillet slightly, add the toasted sesame oil and minced garlic to the other side. Reduce the heat to low or medium-low, cook the garlic a minute or two, stirring gently, then mix it in with the mushrooms and remove from heat. Note that this is just my own convenience-based approach and not the way my friend did it. You can alternatively remove the mushrooms and return them to the pan again to combine them once the garlic has browned. Set the mushroom-garlic mixture aside. Ideally, keep them in the skillet and cover them so they retain some of their heat (unlike what I have done in the photo below). 😉
Prepare your ramen (or other) noodles according to the directions on the package, being very careful not to overcook them because they will be heated further once combined with the hot broth at the end. If in doubt, go for al dente. Drain the noodles, return them to the pan they cooked in, cover to maintain the heat and set aside.
You will now make the creamy miso broth. Combine the sesame paste, the remaining clove of garlic (minced), miso paste, bouillon cube, soy sauce (not shown) and 1 tablespoon of the toasted sesame oil in a small or medium ceramic or glass bowl. Ideally, you should prepare these ahead of time so the mushrooms and noodles don’t lose too much heat while you make this part. Heat 1 cup water in a tea kettle, but not to boiling. If you have a way to check the temperature, it should be around 158°F (70°C). Add about 3/4 cup hot water to the bowl and whisk to combine.
Heat the 1 and 3/4 cup (400 ml) unsweetened soymilk on the stovetop until close to simmering (do not allow to reach a boil). Turn off the heat and quickly incorporate the miso mixture with a whisk. Important: avoid reheating after this stage, and definitely do not bring it to a boil since the soymilk would most likely separate and the health benefits of the miso (a fermented product) would be neutralized.
Add the pinch of cayenne pepper, taste, and adjust if needed. If you want the broth to be saltier, add a bit more soy sauce. Cover the broth and transfer the drained noodles directly to the serving bowls. At this point, you will want to work somewhat fast since you need to put everything together without losing too much of the heat—this is why it’s useful to have the salad already prepared ahead of time.
Ladle the broth over the top of the noodles, dividing it evenly between the two bowls, until you have the right quantity of broth for a soup but the noodles can still be seen poking through the top.
Add the shiitake mushrooms to the top of the noodles and ladle a bit of the broth over the top of them. Top with sliced green onions and you’re ready to serve your dish!
As I mentioned above, you can serve the soup and salad separately, as shown here, or in the same bowl, as below. Encourage your guests to combine noodles and salad together in each bite. 🙂 You will want to remember to provide a spoon too!
I hope you enjoy this soup, a fusion dish that celebrates international encounters and friendship. It tastes best when made with a friend! 🙂
Variations: Instead of mushrooms, use finely sliced tender seitan or diced tofu. Substitute lettuce leaves or sliced cucumber for the carrot.