Ramen bowl with two types of broth, hard boiled egg, and assorted vegetables
Homemade chili oil
Sticky rice with mixed fruit
Passion tea with lemonade
At the start of class, we often ask everyone what their favorite food is. It might be a specific category, (favorite breakfast food, favorite comfort food…), or just generally what is their favorite food at that moment. Last class, S. said that his favorite food was ramen. That got Jan and I thinking that we should make a homemade and healthy alternative to packaged ramen, so that the kids could taste that it was possible to make a savory and flavorful ramen without all of the sodium and preservatives. I suggested pairing it with mango sticky rice for dessert, and Jan found a quick and easy rice cooker version that looked like it would work for us. Not only would the boys be making their own ramen, but they’d need to make enough for the other two pods who weren’t able to cook with us, so we had a lot to do in not much time.
I was working with C., P., and U., who I had worked with the week before. We were in charge of making the chili oil, vegetable broth, and prepping all of the vegetables. I was feeling slightly panicked because it seemed like it might be too much for us to do. C. and U. got started prepping the vegetables, and I was immediately impressed with their attention to detail. Particularly U., who was slicing the scallions to a restaurant quality level. They were perfectly uniform, small, and neat. Plus, he was fast. I realized that I was underestimating my crew. We had everything under control. While they worked on the vegetables, P. and I prepared the vegetable broth. It would be packed with flavor from plenty of garlic and ginger with a splash of sesame oil and soy sauce added to the vegetable bouillon. We threw in a handful of beautifully prepped scallions for good measure. While that simmered, we got to work searing the vegetables in a wok. I showed the boys how to properly use a wok, at very high heat, with lots of stirring, and for just a short amount of time. C. was a natural. P. was nervous that he was going to burn the green beans and was almost too nervous to try, but I assured him that he could do it. Slowly, he began to relax and enjoy the fun of cooking with a wok. (Later, when we were eating, several boys said that the green beans were their favorite part of the meal.)
After we put the vegetables and chili oil on the table, we went over to lend a hand to Jan’s crew. They were wrestling a mountain of sticky ramen noodles. We helped to wrangle them into a bowl. They had finished up the chicken broth. Apparently, S. (who had inspired us to make this meal in the first place) was disappointed that we wouldn’t be using the flavor packets that came with the noodles. We told him that the whole point of the meal was to show that we could make something delicious and healthy from scratch. He was skeptical and insisted that the chicken broth be left plain, so there was only bouillon in that broth. Jan dished out the noodles and I asked which broth each boy wanted. At first, because they like meat so much, boys were only asking for the chicken broth. Since I knew that the vegetable broth was going to be more flavorful, I suggested to a couple boys that I add a splash of it their chicken broth. They relented. When it was P.’s turn, he requested the vegetable broth. Since he made it with me, he knew everything that was in it, and was eager to sample his hard work.
The boys devoured the ramen, and L. said that it was the best he had ever tasted as he scooped himself seconds from the pot. Several boys said that the sautéed vegetables were their favorite part of the dish. Only S. didn’t like our take on ramen and asked if he could add one of the seasoning packets to his bowl. It was a good reminder for us that sometimes favorite foods are favorites not because they are the most flavorful or interesting, but because they bring us back to a certain time or place and provide comfort. Perhaps S. was nostalgic for packaged ramen, and what we made didn’t quite transport him out of CCYC to better times. But for the other boys, they realized that not only could they improve upon packaged food with fresh ingredients, they could also cook for a crowd. We were able to prepare an inexpensive and nutritious meal (with dessert!) for approximately 20 people in a little over an hour.