I always thought I’d be a “Mommy.”

My mom was “Mommy.” Her mom was “Mommy.” So when I had my first child, I waited excitedly for the day he would christen me with my son-given name.

It wasn’t “Mommy.”

It was “Mama” — a name he felt so strongly about that when his baby brother first uttered “Mommy,” the older one responded with disdain.

“She’s not a Mommy,” he snapped. “She’s a Mama.”

It’s okay. I like being “Mama.” “Mama” has heft. It has authority. It may not have the playfulness or innocence of a “Mommy,” but “Mama” gets things done.

Like dinner.

Last night was one of those nights: A day spent working and running errands; an afternoon spent putting out fires. Dinner was an afterthought … it didn’t cross anyone’s mind until the kids and husband got hungry.

“Mommy” would have ordered pizza. “Mama” hit the pantry. Thanks to a package of Hakubaku organic soba noodles, a stocked vegetable bin and a thawed pork tenderloin, she got four bowls of Asian-inspired pork-and-noodle soup on the table in 45 minutes.

“What’s this?” the big one asked as he grabbed his chopsticks.

“It’s soup,” the little one snapped.

“It’s like a soup,” the husband replied.

“It’s ramen!” I declared.

And in unison they christened the new dinner dish: “Mama ramen!”

Mama Ramen

Authentic ramen? Probably not. But this dish is noodle-y, brothy and bursting with vegetables and meat. If you don’t have a hunk of pork lying around your refrigerator, never fear. You can make this with any kind of protein … shrimp would be awesome. Chicken, too. Or forego meat altogether and enjoy a vegetarian take. Likewise, use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Just be sure to hit the broth with a healthy dose of lemon and a generous handful of fresh herbs at the end.

  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice Powder
  • Grapeseed, peanut or canola oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 bunch broccoli rabe, tough stems discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 star anise
  • 2/3 package soba noodles
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Mix the salt, pepper and Chinese Five Spice Powder in a small bowl. Drizzle in enough grapeseed, peanut or canola oil to make a paste, then slather the mixture all over your pork tenderloin. Place the tenderloin on a greased baking sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 140 degrees.

While the pork is roasting, glaze a soup pot with grapeseed, peanut or canola oil. Add the shallots and saute until they’re translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Add the ginger, garlic, carrots and fennel and saute another 5 minutes.

Add the ground coriander and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in the broccoli rabe and saute a minute or two, or until the leaves begin to wilt.

Add the beef broth and star anise. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until your vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the soba noodles and cook for 4 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Remove the pork from the oven. Let it rest 10 or so minutes, then slice it thinly.

When the soup is done, turn off the heat. Add the juice of half a lemon, the cilantro, the green onions and the mint. Stir well and taste for seasoning. Add additional lemon juice or salt and pepper if needed.

Place some pork in a soup bowl. Top with noodles, then ladle the soup over everything. Eat with chopsticks, a fork, a spoon … or all three!