Flavors at Home: Noodle Soup, Homemade Dosas and Timeless Beans

This earthy noodle soup made from dried mushrooms conjures an earthiness reminiscent of matted leaves on a damp forest floor. (Olivia Won)

In light of the shelter-in-place order, many of us have resorted to cooking at home, revisiting old recipes and getting creative with our pantries. Instead of our usual Flavors Worth Finding column with recommendations from restaurants, KQED staffers are sharing the meals they’ve been making at home to find some comfort and grounding during uncertain times.

The Noodle Soup, All Grown Up

When I was sick growing up, my dad would sometimes make me a bowl of simple noodle soup. It was just broth made with concentrated powder that came from metallic pouches, fresh noodles from Oakland’s Koreana Plaza that he always kept well stocked in our freezer, and a runny egg suspended in the center of the bowl. Maybe it was the rarity of my father taking time out of his busy day to tend to me, or the delirium of fever, but I grew convinced that a bowl of his soup would rid my body of any ailment.

Now, as an adult confined to my apartment, I’ve been experimenting with variants of this childhood comfort food, using dried mushrooms as the soup base. When soaked, the mushrooms expand and impart their rich umami flavors into the broth. Paired with ginger, my halmoni’s very funky homemade soy sauce and some butter, the mushroom soup base conjures an earthiness reminiscent of matted leaves on a damp forest floor, layering flavors that deepen with each slurp. With sanuki udon noodles (a staple in my freezer because I am my father’s daughter), a soft-boiled egg, and some fresh radish, a lunch in isolation becomes a reminder of how small acts of care, like a simple bowl of soup for a sick daughter, can do a world of healing well beyond the duration of a fever. —Olivia Won, Associate Producer, Check, Please! Bay Area

Making dosa from scratch evokes memories but it demands focus as well.
Making dosa from scratch evokes memories but it demands focus as well. (Lakshmi Sarah)

Dosa from Scratch

When my cousin in India recently asked me where I was and what I was doing, I got to tell him I was at home making dosa batter. In my first time making it from scratch, I aimed for edible at the very least. I thought back to visiting my favorite aunt in India. While she made breakfast, I hovered around, attempting to memorize all the steps and keep her company. I know all the Malayalam words for spices and kitchen items, even if I can’t properly pronounce my father’s family’s village name.

For dosa, my aunt always scurries to the kitchen before bed to mix the urad daal and idli rice. It’s a process I was usually too lazy to observe—or maybe she was too quick for me. Now I soak my ingredients one day and grind them in my food processor the next. On the third day, it finally looks like batter.

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Dosa evokes memory, but the process of making it also allows me to focus. I wait for the pan to heat, testing it with a small amount of batter. Then I add more batter, dropping coconut oil on top and around the edges. I flip the dosa and sprinkle it with chaat masala. When my friend calls from the South Bay to ask what I’m doing, I say “Making dosa!” She is too, so we cook and eat together. —Lakshmi Sarah, On-Call Interactive Producer

Beans, not an apocalypse food, but an elegant food through thick and thin.
Beans, not an apocalypse food, but an elegant meal through thick and thin. (Ruth Gebreyesus)

Beans, Now and Forever

By some twist of global proportions, the object of everyone’s desire is a humble, dried legume. In a moment where folks are searching both for answers and models of resilience in the news and in their pantries, beans have shyly stepped forward. Napa heirloom bean provider Rancho Gordo has had surging demand in recent weeks. Rancho Gordo’s founder Steve Sando told The New York Times he used to be the loneliest man at the farmer’s market, but those days are gone.

Why do beans seem like the answer all of a sudden? Their prolonged shelf life surely can’t be all. Maybe it’s because the same beans you can soak and cook to eat whole, you can whip into a paste to spread on bread, or use as a sauce for grains. You can even plant that same dry bean in your garden and harvest more beans in the future. (The canned variety gets two out of three on that count.) For me, beans are not apocalypse food, they’re simply a good food. They endorse my desire to take my time in life. But they also satisfy my hunger with a combination of starchy weight and protein.

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I’ve probably cooked five different varieties of beans in the last month and the cranberry beans currently reign supreme. Though each bean comes with its own flavor, the velvet soft cranberry beans most gracefully took to the garlic, onions, thyme and chili flakes I added to them. As always, a good amount of salt and fat, and maybe a squeeze of lemon to finish, will turn beans into an elegant meal, now and forever. —Ruth Gebreyesus, Food Reporter and Visual Arts Columnist