I have been doing so much cooking and eating lately that I’m honestly surprised I’m still hungry. I’ve been baking — testing out multiple pies and cakes for a certain upcoming holiday. Every morning I’m forced to drink smoothies by a certain hubby. For lunch I’ve been eating at old haunts in San Francisco, and on top of that I still cook dinner almost every night. And then there’s the late-night snacks. It’s a lot.
So when dinnertime comes around and my appetite hasn’t faded, I’m confused, but maybe that’s just who I am! I’ve never been one to diagnose why I eat things. However, I do know that I go through food cycles. Sometimes that means I only want to eat one thing like dairy or carbs or a combination of both. Sometimes it’s just that I can’t stop eating — perhaps that’s partly because of the type of career I’ve chosen, but it’s my appetite, too.
When I was younger, my parents would have Top Ramen lying around for this very moment when they were away. I didn’t know how to cook back then and they knew I’d be hungry. It was something easy, cheap, delicious and, most importantly, I could cook it on my own because the only cooking skill needed is to know how to boil water.
I’d add other things to that steamy bowl of flavored noodles, “doctoring it up” as my brother would call it. Sometimes that was an egg he’d fry for me, very roughly chopped green onions that I’d cut myself or sometimes it was some hot sauce, frozen peas and sesame oil. I like to think of these simple add-ons as a nod to the Japanese dish that, back then, I didn’t realize was a thing. I blame this partly on the fact that my hometown only had, like, 12 restaurants; none were Japanese and mostly had a Euro vibe.
My current incessant hunger has me cooking ramen noodles again. This time my process is a little different but my noodles are still from a package. Only now I prefer the fresh, curly wheat noodles that I get at my local market. Dried noodles work, too.
I start by searing and roasting chunks of the yellow-y orange flesh of the Kabocha squash. It gets a little sweeter when roasted and its slight dryness eventually marries well with the brothy stew.
While the squash is roasting, I cook a pork shoulder steak in my Dutch oven. It gets caramelized and renders its fat in the pan, which I then use to my advantage to saute a robust amount of ginger, garlic and curry spices along with miso for extra umami. If you’re not familiar, a pork shoulder steak is like a pork chop, but it’s cut from the shoulder and has more fat marbling equaling more flavor. If you don’t see these in the case at the butcher counter, just ask for one. That being said, a pork chop also works here.
I then add coconut milk that adds a creaminess and makes a broth that’s just thick enough to coat everything it touches.
In my recipe I don’t call for individual spices, but instead a curry spice blend. It’s a convenience I like that I admit is not very specific. It’s absolutely OK to make your own for a more pronounced flavor, especially if you have fresh spices you want to use up.
To serve, I like to add scallions, herbs like cilantro, and pomegranate seeds (they add a tart-sweet-crunchy chew that I love) to the bowl after I ladle the hot coconut broth over the noodles and roasted squash. After that I top it off with a few slices of pork, and sometimes I add a squeeze of lime or even a spoonful of chile crisp for good measure. My hunger has subsided, for now.
Christian Reynoso is a chef, recipe developer and writer. Originally from Sonoma, he lives in San Francisco. Email: [email protected] Instagram: @christianreynoso Twitter: @xtianreynoso
Roasted Squash & Pork Curry Ramen With Pomegranate
This is a warming, coconut milk and curry spice-based soup with noodles, chunks of roasted squash and sliced pork shoulder steak on top. Super great for the weather. Your local butcher should be able to easily slice a pork shoulder steak, but you can also use a thick-cut pork chop here. The kabocha squash can be peeled or not here; I prefer it peeled in this recipe.
1 small kabocha squash (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
1 to 1¼-pound pork shoulder steak sliced into 1-inch thick pieces
Ginger, a 3-inch piece, finely grated or chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
4 garlic cloves, finely grated or chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
¼ cup white miso
1 tablespoon curry spice
2 cans unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
10 ounces freshly cooked ramen noodles
1 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems
Chopped scallions for finishing
½ cup pomegranate seeds (from about ½ large pomegranate)
1 lime, cut in wedges
Instructions: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice the top and bottom off the squash, making two flat ends. Peel off the green skin, leaving only the yellow flesh. Cut the squash in half from flat end to flat end, scoop out and discard seeds and pulp, and then cut the squash into 1½-inch chunks. Toss the chunks in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of oil, season generously with salt, and lay the chunks flat on a lined sheet pan or large skillet and roast until tender with caramelized bits, about 30-40 minutes.
While the squash is roasting, heat a Dutch oven over high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Season the pork steak with salt and pepper. Once the oil is hot, add the pork to the pan, pressing down firmly and cook until browned to your desired doneness, about 5-7 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before thinly slicing against the grain.
In the same Dutch oven, turn down the heat to medium low. Add the ginger, garlic, miso, curry spices and cook, stirring often until very fragrant, slightly browned and the miso begins to stick to the bottom, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk, broth and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to help break up the clumped pieces of miso and ginger, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and taste. Turn off heat if serving immediately.
To serve: Place the noodles and squash in bowls, ladle hot broth over, and then garnish with sliced pork, cilantro, scallions, pomegranate and lime on the side.