Noodling up your best

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You’ll be fine, as long as you do your best, they say. I’ve lived and sworn by this for my entire life, or at least as soon as I had the slightest clue of what any of those words meant. But lately, I haven’t been so sure.

What does fine mean?

What does my best mean?

Is the concept of ‘fine’ a well-defined range of achievement? Let’s assume it is, then what does that include? If it means life will go on, and I wouldn’t die, I’m not too sure if I want to trust that interval. For all that the lower limit implies, there could be all sorts of devastation, loss, and injury that fit quite comfortably inside that bracket. There could just as well be an upper limit to the concept of fine. When we say something is capital-A Ahhmazing, we don’t say that it’s “fine”. Now it looks like being fine really sucks doesn’t it? Sure does, considering you’ve traded ‘your best’ for this can of worms.

What is ‘your best’ anyway? The saying doesn’t say be the best, it specifically says do your best. So taking into account the whole “You are special”, “You are unique”, and “You are you” type stigma, it’s pretty clear that there is strong evidence against your best being equal to my best being equal to his/her best. So without even unpackaging the word ‘best’ we’ve already found the assumption of the statement to be quite liberal, essentially undefined.

So what, does that mean that no matter what we do we’re going to be fine?

Well, I think there’s two ways of looking at this.

1. The statement, wise and comforting as it sounds, is meaningless. Consequently there’s no point in trying since everything’s going to be fine regardless of what you do.

OR

2. Everything I’ve just walked you through is quality crap, and there is a definitive “fine” and a definitive “best”, both of which are unknown, both of which we grapple at constantly in our daily struggles, but there’s one thing that tells us the two have aligned and proves the statement to be true: peace.

and as your days,

so shall your strength be.

Deuteronomy 33:25

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I’m supposed to write a food brief here, but I’m just going to boss you around and threaten you into making these noodles. If you don’t your taste buds will roll over and die in protest, no joke. If you do, your mouth will be in a fiery heaven of silken ramen noodles smothered in a cool and tangy tahini yoghurt sauce and lamb dripping in its own fat that’s been infused with chili, cumin, and szechuan peppercorns. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ingredients for the Szechuan Lamb Mince:

1 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns

1 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tbsp vegetable oil, such as grape seed or avocado

1 small brown onion, finely diced

1 tsp sea salt

1 1/2 tbsp minced ginger root

2 fat cloves garlic, minced

500g fresh ground lamb

2 tbsp Szechuan chili oil

1 tbsp doubanjiang or Chinese chili bean paste (not gochujang)

1/2 cup rice wine

To make the dry spiced lamb ragu, place the peppercorns and cumin seeds in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and pulse until coarsely ground then set aside.

Heat a wok or pan to medium-high heat then add 1 tbsp oil and fry the onion with the salt until soft and starting to caramelize (the salt draws out the moisture so the onions soften quicker and prevents charring). Add the ginger and garlic and stir until fragrant then incorporate the ground spices. Stir for 1-2 minutes, until the spices have been cooked out and the mixture is fully fragrant.

Push the mixture to the side of the pan, add the remaining oil to the vacant side, then add the lamb. Let the lamb sit for a couple of minutes so it can brown nicely before you start breaking it up. Add the chili oil and chili bean paste. Stir until there are no more large clumps of lamb and the mixture is starting to sputter and get sticky. Add the rice wine and let it cook until it’s completely reduced. Add more salt as necessary; you want it to be quite salty – think of it as more of a condiment than a dish eaten on its own – and remove from the heat.

Ingredients for the cheater’s ramen:

4 bundles dried wheat noodles, such as Taiwanese Guan Miao noodles

good pinch of salt

1/2 tbsp baking soda per litre of boiling water

Here’s a genius trick for transforming regular egg-less dried wheat noodles into silky, elastic, aromatic ramen that literally bounces as you pull it a foot high above the bowl. In a large pot, bring water to a rolling boil, add the salt and baking soda, yes – baking soda, and cook the noodles as you would in the alkalized solution. You’ll notice the water and your boring white noodles turning yellow – like ramen! After 9-10 minutes of boiling, fish out a piece and see if it’s cooked through; you’re not looking for al dente, you want it to be completely cooked in the center.

Drain and rinse under cold tap water until the noodles are cool.

Ingredients for the assembly:

1/2 cup tahini

sea salt

1/2 sour cream or plain whole milk yoghurt

4 scallions, thinly sliced

To assemble, toss the rinsed noodles with the tahini and some more sea salt, adding more room temperature water as necessary so a smooth sauce coats the noodles without clumping.

Divide the noodles among four plates or bowls, top with the spiced lamb mince, a good dollop of sour cream or yoghurt, and finish with the green onions. Have your guests mix everything together themselves before they dig in – it’s one of the key joys of eating saucy Asian noodles, I think.

Enjoy!

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them!

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