Recipe: Udon with Ramps and Tempeh
Twice a month, Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, tentatively titled “Meals from the Homemade Pantry,” due out in 2015. This week, she offers a recipe that represents what Berkshire Food is all about.
In Search of Berkshire Food
A few weeks ago, I went to the Thinkfood Conference, a day of great panels and conversation cohosted by the new food studies program at Simon’s Rock and The Nutrition Center. The first panel was a conversation between Matt Rubiner of Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers, Serge Madikians of Serevan Restaurant, and Angela Cardinali of Berkshire Farm and Table, all moderated by Dan Shaw, one of the founders of this very website. The topic was food and Berkshire media, but the conversation landed very squarely on one question: What is Berkshire food?
There were lots of ideas thrown around, both at the table and in the audience. But the closest thing to a consensus was the general idea that concept of Berkshire food involves the farm-to-table journey being shorter than your average food transport. Here in the Berkshires, chefs and farmers work closely, and the food rarely has to travel more than 10 or 15 miles.
Sure, sure. I agree. But in the days following the conference, I thought more about this question of Berkshire food identity. And upon reflection, I felt that a few key elements were missing from that initial answer.
The first is macrobiotics and, I would say, natural foods in general. In 1978, Michio and Aveline Kushi founded the Kushi Institute in Becket, bringing a huge influx of natural foods pilgrims to the Berkshires. In 1983, Kripalu moved into its current home, and then there were two places where one could find a good bowl of brown rice and steamed tofu. In fact, when someone asked me this very question last year—What is the most Berkshire-y food?—my first answer was Ume Scallion dressing from Bizen in Great Barrington. I still hold to it (with a close second being Rawson Brook Farm’s chevre).
I think the second missing piece in the conversation was that Berkshire food is centered around a certain resourcefulness and an ability to think outside the box. That local career choice fondly and eye-rollingly referred to as “the Berkshire shuffle” can be frustrating for we shufflers, but it also inspires creativity and a sense of possibility. You can develop a new line of chocolates or ferment some secret blend of hot sauce while waiting tables or being a bank teller. You’re not a true Berkshirite unless you have three jobs, so you better make at least one of them something you love.
With that in mind, I’ve constructed a recipe for the week that I think is real Berkshire food: A macrobiotic inspired stir-fry with ramps and tempeh. If you can get it, the tempeh must absolutely be from Hosta Hill. Not only is their tempeh good enough to turn any tempeh hater around (including yours truly), it’s also made with love by two real life Berkshire shufflers. You can find it at farmers’ markets or in the freezer section of The Berkshire Co-op. And the ramps? Well, you’ll have to find those for yourself. The Berkshire woods await.
Udon with Ramps and Tempeh
1 pound udon
salt, for the water
8 ounces Hosta Hilli tempeh
2 tablespoons neutral, high heat oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
2 medium carrots, peeled and shaved with a vegetable peeler (or cut into long matchsticks)
4 ounces washed ramps (bulbs and leaves, or just leaves, depending on how you’ve picked them)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, or more, to taste
2 teaspoons tamari, or more, to taste
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
1. Boil the udon in lightly salted water until tender. If you have a pot that allows for simultaneous boiling and steaming, set the steamer basket over the pasta and steam the block of tempeh for 10 minutes. (Alternatively, steam the tempeh separately.) Drain and rinse the udon, and slice the steamed tempeh into 1x3-inch rectangles that are about ¼ inch thick.
2. Heat the neutral oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring often, just until the mixture is fragrant and shiny, about a minute. Add the tempeh, and cook, again stirring often, until crispy. Add the carrots, ramps, sesame oil, and tamari, and continue to cook until the carrots soften and sweeten and the ramps wilt, 1-2 minutes. Add a touch more oil if the pan seems to dry out, and lower the heat if the mixture seems on the verge of burning.
3. Use tongs to add the udon one scoop at a time to the hot pan, gently tossing it with the other ingredients as you go. Taste, and add more tamari or sesame oil if you feel it needs it. Serve hot, with toasted sesame seeds scattered over each bowl.