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Don’t just cook noodles, have fun with it

Experiment and play around with noodles to prepare one-bowl meals, salads and soups

(left) Udon, mushrooms and fried egg; and Asian Noodle Salad with Soy-Honey-Ginger dressing.
(left) Udon, mushrooms and fried egg; and Asian Noodle Salad with Soy-Honey-Ginger dressing. (Nandita Iyer)

What connects a Taiwanese-Japanese inventor, a Swiss entrepreneur and hostel students around the world?

In the late 1940s, post-World War II, Japan was facing extreme food shortage and economic difficulties. Momofuku Ando, a Taiwanese-Japanese inventor, saw 20-30m long queues of people waiting for ramen soup, shivering in the cold. This pushed him to come up with a convenient, affordable and tasty solution to combat hunger.

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Ando spent years experimenting and developing a method to create dehydrated noodles that could be cooked quickly by adding boiling water. He came up with a unique process of flash-frying the noodles, which removed all traces of moisture and allowed for a longer shelf life. He also developed a method to pack in a seasoning packet. Ando tasted success in 1958 when he introduced the world’s first instant ramen noodles, which he called “Chikin Ramen”, under the Nissin brand.

As with anything new and revolutionary, instant noodles faced scepticism in the early days. It did not help that they were more expensive than locally bought fresh noodles.

Ando’s determination and entrepreneurial spirit, however, led him to refine the product and develop new flavours. Over a decade later, he also introduced the concept of cup noodles, where the noodles and seasoning were packaged in a disposable cup and hot water added to the cup cooked the noodles. They were ready to eat in two minutes.

Julius Michael Johannes Maggi, born in 1846, was a Swiss entrepreneur. His aim was to improve the diet of working-class families with better nutrient supply and faster preparation, through industrial food production. In 1884, he founded Maggi, a firm that made a protein-rich flour from legumes that could be cooked quickly to make healthy meals. In 1886, he invented the first instant soup based on this very legume powder. Maggi would go on to expand its product line with many other foods.

In the 1970s, Nestlé, which had merged with Maggi in 1947, recognised the potential of the instant noodle market and acquired the rights to use the Maggi brand for instant noodles worldwide. Maggi, a Swiss brand, gained worldwide visibility and became synonymous with instant noodles in many countries.

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The combination of Momofuku Ando’s innovation, Julius Maggi’s entrepreneurial spirit and the power of branding made instant noodles popular in college hostels around the world. It is estimated that over 100 billion servings are consumed worldwide each year.

Not all noodles are made the same, nor do they all have the compelling backstory of instant noodles. Fortunately, these days, there are hundreds of brands online selling an incredible variety of noodles (udon, soba, sweet potato, glass, rice, shirataki, gluten-free, millet, whole wheat and so on) that you can play around with in your kitchen, be it in noodle bowls, salads, soupy noodles or in its other versatile avatars.

Before jumping into the recipes, let me quickly address one question which is bound to be on your mind. “But, are noodles healthy?” Think of noodles as a fun vehicle to get your protein, veggies and healthy fats and you will be fine.

Udon, mushrooms and fried egg
Serves 2

1 pack udon noodles (150g)
2 tsp oil
200g button mushrooms, washed and halved
2-4 eggs
Oil to cook eggs
Salt and pepper for eggs

For the chilli oil
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp sesame seeds
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp sunflower or any neutral oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar

Cook the noodles as per pack instructions. Drain and keep aside. In a pan, heat the oil and stir-fry the mushrooms on high heat until lightly golden brown. Combine chilli flakes, sesame seeds and garlic in a small bowl. Heat 2-3 tbsp of oil in a small ladle or pan and pour hot oil over the ingredients in the bowl and stir well. Mix in the soy sauce and vinegar.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked noodles, sautéed mushrooms and chilli oil and toss well. Divide in two bowls.

Prepare fried eggs. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the eggs. Transfer one-two fried eggs over each bowl and serve hot.

Asian Noodle Salad with Soy-Honey-Ginger dressing
Serves 2-4

1 large cucumber, julienned
1 large carrot, julienned
Half cup shredded purple cabbage
2 cups cooked rice noodles/or any other noodles
A handful of coriander, finely chopped
2 green or red chillies, finely chopped
Half cup roasted peanuts, coarsely crushed

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar or regular white vinegar
Half inch knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 tbsp brown sugar or peanut butter
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp white sesame seeds
Half tsp red chilli flakes

Use a julienne grater to grate the cucumber and carrot. Discard the seeds of cucumber. Finely slice the purple cabbage and separate into thin strands. Put the rice noodles in a large pot of boiling water and cook for three-four minutes. Follow pack instructions if using any other kind of noodles. Drain, wash under cold water and keep aside.

Add all the dressing ingredients to an empty bottle, shake well and keep aside.

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl using a fork or a whisk. Toss the veggies, rice noodles, coriander, chillies in a large bowl along with the dressing. Top with partly crushed roasted peanuts.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram. 

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