Restaurant week. Customers love it- two courses for twenty five dollars. Three courses for thirty. They come for the bargains, for the chance to try the restaurant that always sat in the someday list without the someday price tag. It’s raucous and frantic and your server doesn’t linger because someone else needs bread, or water, or dessert hands. For a certain type of customer it’s the ideal.
Perhaps restaurant week is also the ideal for a certain type of cook, but I am not that cook. Restaurant week is coming in early and staying late, and coming home too exhausted to read but too wired to sleep. It’s plating desserts in flights, of four chocolate, five chocolate, six chocolate coming in all at once, and putting tickets after that on hold. It’s washing my hands every fifteen minutes because no matter how careful I am they’re always coating in sugar and caramel. It’s trying to shout to servers “Dessert hands please” in a way that’s both urgent, because this ice cream is going to melt and soon, and polite, because they also have a difficult job and we work best together when we’re being respectful. It’s plating a hundred plus desserts a night as efficient as a robot but as careful as a painter. It’s not having time for dinner and stealing pieces of bread and cheese for sustenance. It’s hell. It’s a rush.
In the past, I would have tried to survive restaurant week or other times like this with a mess of my comfort food- mac and cheese, popcorn, pizza, pasta. Carbs and cheese are my weaknesses. These foods all satisfy me emotionally, and there’s space for that. But as I’ve grown up a little bit I’ve realized that eating only emotionally during hectic times speeds my crashes, rather than preventing them. During busy times I need vegetables.
I made this caramelized onion miso stew together for lunch before work earlier this week, and when I finished my last restaurant week shift all I wanted to eat was the leftovers. It’s easy as anything. You slice yellow onions into thin moons and slowly cook them, caramelizing the sugars, in olive oil. Once they’re at the level of caramelization you want you add in water and miso paste, a handful of greens, and some somen noodles. A few more minutes cooking and you’re done. The result is a thick, noodle-y stew that’s sweet from the caramelized onions, nutty and salty from the miso, and filling from the noodles.
I can imagine making this over and over, changing out the greens for whatever other vegetables I have on hand (cooked sweet potatoes! mushrooms!), adding aromatics (ginger! garlic! chilis!), and toppings (chili oil! a 7 minute egg! cilantro and scallions!). It’s my favorite kind of back pocket meal- endlessly adaptable, and deliciously easy.
Caramelized Onion Miso Stew
Miso paste and somen noodles should both be available at a well-stocked supermarket. If you can’t find somen, you could substitute another noodle of choice. In that case, just be careful to follow the packaged cooking directions for said noodles.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 cups water
3 tablespoons miso paste (I used a mellow brown rice miso)
handful of spring mix lettuce, or other soft green (optional)
4 ounces somen noodles
In a heavy bottomed pot such as a dutch oven, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Stir well. Cook the onions over medium heat, stirring well every few minutes, until the onions are caramelized. They should darken and taste sweet but not burned. This will take somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes.
Stir in the water, being careful to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom. These are where all the flavors live, and you want them. Bring the water to a simmer, and whisk in the miso paste. Be sure to taste as you go, as different brands of miso have different strengths. 3 tablespoons was perfect for mine, but yours may vary. Add the greens if using, and the somen noodles. Simmer until the greens have collapsed and the somen noodles are tender, about three minutes. Serve.