Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Noodles? In a dessert?

Cumin Modern India Cafe's chef sees his way through to a delicious dish

By Chuck Martin
Enquirer staff writer

Cumin owner Yajan Upadhyaya quickly prepares a shrimp and ramen stir-fry in his Hyde Park apartment.
Photos by BRANDI STAFFORD/The Enquirer
A challenge often brings out the best in people. Sometimes, even if it's unintended.

It happened as we were explaining our "What would a chef do with?" series to Yajan Upadhyaya (ya-GIN up-a-DAY-yi), chef-owner of Cumin Modern India Cafe in Hyde Park. He already had agreed to create a dish using ramen noodles, those deep-fried, dehydrated noodles that make a quick and inexpensive meal for kids and college students.

"You could make an entree, an appetizer or even a dessert," we told him. "But maybe you couldn't really make dessert with ramen noodles."

So what would you do with Ramen noodles? Share your recipe here.

This was throwing down the gauntlet for Upadhyaya.

The chef, who moved to Boston from his native Bombay when he was 7, started considering how he could make dessert with a block of dried wiggly noodles. When we arrived in his tiny, temporary apartment kitchen across the street from his restaurant, he already had something in mind.

He would make the creamy Indian dessert called kheer (keer) with softened ramen.

Kheer was one of Upadhyaya's favorite childhood dishes, often prepared by his mother, Rekha, who inspired him to become a chef.

"She made it with rice sometimes, so why not noodles?" he said.

We give a chef a common ingredient and ask him or her to create a dish with it and no more than seven other ingredients - in 45 minutes or less - in their home kitchen. Tell us which ingredients to give the chef. (Thanks to Ron Ginter of Fort Thomas for suggesting ramen noodles.) Send ideas to: What would a chef do with? The Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. E-mail: Please include your phone number.
And come to think of it, noodles in dessert aren't that unusual - kugel, for instance, is made with noodles, though not ramen noodles.

The chef began by sauteing a handful of cashews and golden raisins in butter, added milk and cream and simmered it until thick with half a dozen pods of aromatic cardamom and a heavy pinch of delicate yellow-orange saffron. Finally, he stirred in sugar and softened noodles - without the packet of chicken-flavored seasoning.

It tasted like exotic tapioca pudding.

As if to prove he could make more with ramen noodles than just dessert, Upadhyaya whipped up a quick saute of shrimp, mushrooms and ramen, using fresh garlic, ginger, cilantro and a colorful array of dried Indian herbs and spices. The chef moved so fast - without using measuring spoons - it was difficult to keep up with how much roasted cumin, dried fenugreek, turmeric and fresh curry leaves he tossed into the wok.

"It's only food," he said, explaining why he doesn't obsess over exact measurements. "Doesn't matter as long as it tastes good."

But what would his mother and kitchen mentor say about him cooking Indian with ramen noodles?

"She'd say WHAT?"


Indian-Spiced Shrimp, Mushroom and Ramen Noodle Stir-Fry


1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1/2 teaspoon yellow or brown mustard seed

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Small handful fresh curry leaves, about 1/2 cup

1/2 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves

1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin seed

1/2 pound fresh shrimp, shelled and deveined

Salt, to taste

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1 block ramen noodles (about 3 ounces) softened in hot water and drained

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

2 cups mixed greens, cleaned and dried

In wok or large nonstick fry pan, saute garlic and ginger over medium-high heat in oil until fragrant. Add mustard seed, turmeric, curry leaves, fenugreek and cumin seed. Stir and saute a couple of minutes. Add shrimp, season to taste with salt and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until just done. Add lemon juice, stir and remove shrimp to bowl.

Add sliced mushrooms to pan (add a little more oil, if necessary) and stir-fry until mushrooms release their moisture, about 5 minutes. Add softened noodles and cilantro and stir until noodles are heated through. Remove with slotted spoon to bowl with shrimp. Stir and serve over mixed greens. Makes 2 servings.

Kheer with Ramen Noodles


1 tablespoon butter

1/3 cup cashews, roughly chopped

1/3 cup golden raisins

5 cups whole milk or equal amount of milk and half-and-half

4 to 6 cardamom pods, crushed, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Large pinch saffron

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 block ramen noodles (about 1.5 ounces), softened in hot water and drained

Saute cashews and raisins in butter in large pot over medium heat until butter begins to brown. Add milk, cardamom and saffron. Bring to boil quickly then reduce heat to simmer. Continue to cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until milk reduces and thickens. Add sugar and stir to dissolve.

Meanwhile, boil ramen in water until soft and drain thoroughly. Add noodles to kheer and stir. Serve warm or cold. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

About the chef

A native of Bombay, India, Yajan Upadhyaya moved to Boston with his parents when he was 7 years old. Like his father, he trained to become an architect, but later became interested in the restaurant business. He went on to earn a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., and to open restaurants in Connecticut and Manhattan. Upadhyaya opened Cumin Modern Indian Cafe in Hyde Park in January 2003.

Ramen cookbooks

 Everybody Loves Ramen: Recipes, Stories, Games & Fun Facts About the Noodles You Love (McMeel; $14.95)

 101 Ways to Make Ramen Noodles Cookbook (C & G Publishing; $9.95)

 The Book of Ramen: Lowcost Gourmet Meals Using Instant Ramen Noodles (Turtleback; $11.95)

Explaining curry

Many American cooks are just beginning to discover fresh curry leaves, available at Indian and other specialty food markets. Curry leaves look like tiny, shiny lemon leaves and have a fragrance much like curry powder. Dried curry leaves are also available, but don't have the same flavor as the fresh.

"Curry" is perhaps the biggest misconception of Indian food, says chef Upadhyaya. When they hear "curry," many non-Indians think of the yellow curry powder.

"But for many of us, curry means a dish, a sauce or a gravy," Upadhyaya says.

Ramen history

Ramen noodles originated in China, according to Ron Kozak in The Book of Ramen (Turtleback; $11.95), and are called "lo-mein," meaning boiled noodles. Ramen noodles get their common name from the Japanese pronunciation - "ra-men" - of the Chinese characters for "lo mein."

Japan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and other Asian countries all have their versions of ramen noodles.


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