There are certain smells that arouse a specific mood or memory. The acrid odor of cigarette smoke always reminds me of my grandmother, who liked to sneak a few puffs in the kids’ bathroom when she thought everyone was out of the house. Or, on a less morbid note, there is the unmistakable chemical scent of sunscreen; one whiff and I am immediately transported to a warm, sandy beach, watching seagulls drift lazily overhead as I let the ocean waves slowly rock me towards peaceful slumber.
Until, of course, a rogue wave smacks me right in the face, and I get a gallon of burning salt water funneled up my nose.
Still, these smells are welcome to in my nostrils anytime. (I’m less keen on the cigarette smoke now that the mere sight of a cigarette triggers a million screeching alarms in my head, along with a voice screaming “CANCER STICK, CANCER STICK” on an endless loop.) But my nose might be even happier still if certain odors just disappeared off the face of the planet altogether. And you might be wondering – what gets my pick for the most cringeworthy, suffocating, gag-inducing smell in existence? Well, my friend, that honor would have to go to reheated cabbage.
Alright, alright, so I am clearly exaggerating my dislike to make a point, but there is, without a doubt, something mildly offensive about how its odor just creeps into your breathing space and liiiingeeerrrrs for an uncomfortable amount of time. Whenever I stick a bowl of anything with cooked cabbage in the microwave, I make sure to approach the warm food with caution (an arduous task, considering my ability to maintain any semblance of self-control disappears completely around lunchtime) lest I get hit with a wave of cabbage’s moldy vapors. I’m even fairly sure that my reheated cabbage dishes have managed to clear out the kitchenette at my work – I’ve seen my coworkers circling the microwave at a safe, odor-free distance, clutching their tupperware full of cold soup closely to their grumbling stomachs.
And yet, I find it difficult to resist the cabbage’s watery sweetness, or the way its leaves slump into a soft, translucent heap in a hot pan. Stir fried with udon, carrots, and a fiery gochujang sauce, they also offer a little crunch to an otherwise chewy mouthful. I’ve been making this not-very-authentic yakiudon recipe for dinner (and bringing the leftovers as lunch) at least once a week for the past couple of months now, and its addictive quality overcomes any embarrassment I might feel when fellow microwave users begin shooting death glares at me. But hey, you can’t please everyone – in the meantime, I’ll just be over here enjoying my stinky cabbage, and maybe someday I’ll have enough foresight to bring an air freshener with me the next time I pack this for lunch.
Yakiudon with Cabbage and Carrots
Makes enough for 2 servings
Anything in parentheses ( ) will be my personal commentary. Feel free to ignore, adjust, and unapologetically change as you wish.
For sauce (Honestly I just throw this together and taste as I go. I prefer a lot more gochujang, enough so that it turns the sauce a bright red when poured over the noodles.)
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 2 to 3 teaspoons Korean hot-pepper paste (sometimes labeled “gochujang”)
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 head of cabbage
- 1 medium sized carrot
- 2 servings of udon (I use frozen noodles purchased from my local Japanese market)
1.) Stir together all sauce ingredients until brown sugar is dissolved, then set aside. (The gochujang is pretty thick, so what I like to do is mix all the liquid ingredients together first, and then, using a pair of chopsticks, I whisk it into the sauce a little bit at a time. Works like a charm!)
2.) Chop cabbage into 1/4 inch strips. (Or whatever you feel is a comfortable, bite-sized piece) Julienne the carrot.
3.) Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then saute cabbage and carrot, stirring, until the white portion of the cabbage is translucent and the green section is tender. Add shiitakes and saute, stirring frequently, until tender and starting to brown, about 6 minutes. Add 1/3 of the sauce and simmer 2 minutes.
4.) While cabbage is cooking, cook udon until noodles are just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cool water to stop cooking and remove excess starch, then drain well again. Transfer to the pan with the cabbage mixture and stir fry with the remaining sauce.