Double-bean mazemen, made with lima beans and gochujang, with an onsen egg and (leftover) sautéed escarole. [Photograph: Sho Spaeth]
By now, I’m sure all the people who stocked up on dried beans will agree that a) dried beans, when cooked well, are incredibly good to eat but b) the best things to eat can become tiresome if you eat them all the time. And even when confronted with a pot of perfectly cooked, plump and creamy beans, with a broth that’s almost as good as the beans themselves, fortified as it is with vegetables like onion, carrot, and celery, you might now find yourself craving something else—literally anything else!—since no matter what you do with a bean, no matter how good it is to eat, it’s still pretty bean-y.
If you, like me, are wondering what you can do to mix up your bean-based diet, why don’t you try turning those creamy beans and their delicious broth into a bean-based noodle dish, like this double-bean mazemen? It’s still got that bean flavor, but you’re eating noodles, not beans. And unlike a dish like pasta with beans and greens, where the beans and greens are more than just bit players, this dish is really just about using the beans as a flavor base and thickener, and the focus is on the noodles (which can be helpful if you, like me, cook for a young child who hates beans but loves noodles).
Mazemen, which translates from Japanese to “mixed noodles,” is basically ramen without the broth: slippery alkaline noodles are combined with a (very) savory sauce, aromatic oil, and topped with whatever you might have on hand. They’re a delicious yet low-effort way to use up leftovers—roasted meats, poached chicken breast, stir-fried vegetables, you name it—and often they rely on pantry staples, like soy sauce and rice vinegar, so the hardest thing to find is usually the noodles themselves.
Double-bean mazemen, made with chickpeas and doubanjiang, with an onsen egg and (leftover) sautéed broccoli rabe and a celery-cucumber relish.
In my previous mazemen recipes—XO mazemen and bacon and egg mazemen—I turned to very savory ingredients like XO sauce and bacon to provide a meaty flavor base. Here, the liquid in which you cook dried beans provides that flavor base, a very small amount of cooked, puréed beans provides additional body and creaminess, and in the place of the soy sauce used in those other two recipes, which provides salt and all-important glutamates, I turn to a fermented bean paste, like miso, doenjang, doubanjiang, or gochujang.
The result is a savory, doubly bean-y noodle dish that’s more than just a useful vehicle for repurposing leftovers; it’s quite delicious in its own right. And the dish is vegan if you omit the egg: just add a little more flavorful oil (about a tablespoon) for richness and to sufficiently lubricate the noodles (and temper the salinity), and you’ll be all set.
I’ve tested this dish with a variety of dried beans—limas, scarlet runners, cranberry, great Northerns, navy beans, and chickpeas—and while they all work from a flavor standpoint, some make an attractive dish you’d like to eat (limas, cranberry, the white beans, and chickpeas), while others (the scarlet runners) make an inky mess. The one thing to keep in mind is that the key to making this dish flavorful is using the dried bean cooking liquid, since, provided you cooked your dried beans with aromatics and herbs and an appropriate amount of salt, it should be very tasty.
If all you have on hand is canned beans, they’ll work, too, but please don’t use the liquid that comes in the can. First off, the liquid in the can isn’t very flavorful. Second, it has a ton of viscosity, which, when blended with the other sauce ingredients, leads to the sauce taking on an unappealingly thick and heavy consistency. If using canned beans, you’re better off using low-sodium store-bought chicken stock or vegetable stock in the place of the bean cooking liquid, although you will need to add an additional 1/4 teaspoon (or more) of kosher salt per serving.
For the noodles, you can use store-bought alkaline noodles, whether from a dedicated noodle manufacturer like Sun Noodle or the dehydrated stuff you find in an instant ramen package, or any of the homemade alkaline noodle recipes we have on the site. For the current moment, though, if you don’t have access to bread flour or specialty ingredients like vital wheat gluten or potassium carbonate (or you can’t be bothered seeking them out, which is understandable), you may find that our recipe for alkaline noodles that relies solely on all-purpose flour to be more manageable; the wider, crinklier noodles are also very pleasing to eat without broth, so they’re perfect for mazemen. In a pinch, you can even use “ramenized pasta” if you have long noodles and some baking soda on hand.
As with other mazemen recipes, I strongly suggest you dress each portion individually. This is because I find it to be suboptimal to prepare more than one portion at a time, particularly with thinner noodles, which are much harder to portion out evenly after they’re thoroughly mixed with the sauce. It’s also easier to achieve a nice emulsion quickly with a single portion of noodles than it is with two or four portions of noodles.
Why It Works
- Using super-flavorful bean cooking liquid combined with fermented bean paste as the base for the sauce guarantees depth of flavor.
- Using a larger-than-needed mixing bowl allows you to vigorously stir the noodles, which helps the oil and liquid components combine with the starch on the exterior of the cooked noodles to form a creamy sauce.
- 1 cup (240ml) bean cooking liquid, from a pot of beans cooked from dry or if using canned beans, homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock, or vegetable stock (see note)
- 1/4 cup (65g) cooked dry beans or canned beans, drained thoroughly (see note)
- 1/4 cup (60ml) fermented bean paste, such as doubanjiang, miso, doenjang, or gochujang
- 1/4 cup (60ml) sesame oil or other aromatic oil (see note)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (20ml) rice vinegar
- Kosher salt
- 4 portions ramen noodles, store-bought or homemade (see note)
- For Serving:
- Sliced scallions
- 4 onsen egg (see note)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Meanwhile, combine bean cooking liquid and beans in a microwave-safe container and microwave on high until steaming, 1 to 2 minutes (timing will depend on strength of your microwave). Alternatively, combine bean cooking liquid and beans in a small saucepan, set over medium-high heat, and cook until both liquid and beans are steaming hot, 3 to 4 minutes.
Transfer hot bean mixture to a blender jar, an immersion blender cup, or another tall-sided container that just fits the head of your immersion blender. Add fermented bean paste, oil, and vinegar, and blend until completely smooth, about 1 minute. Season with salt to taste, transfer 1/2 cup (120ml) of sauce to large mixing bowl, and set remaining sauce aside.
Add one portion of noodles to boiling water, and cook according to package directions or recipe directions.
When noodles are cooked, drain briefly in strainer or noodle basket, then add to bowl with sauce. Using tongs or chopsticks, immediately toss and stir noodles vigorously in the liquid at the bottom of the bowl, until the noodles are well-coated in sauce, about 30 seconds. Taste and adjust seasoning with more vinegar and salt to taste.
Transfer dressed noodles to an individual serving bowl, and using a rubber spatula, scrape any remaining sauce over top. Garnish with sliced scallions and onsen egg (if using). (Other toppings, like leftover sautéed or roasted vegetables; poached, roasted, or pan-seared meats; or even some additional cooked beans, can be added as they are available or desired, too.) Serve immediately.
Repeat steps 4 through 6 with remaining portions of noodles and sauce, wiping out the mixing bowl between each round, and dressing each portion of noodles with 1/2 cup (120ml) of sauce.
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