Meatless Monday: Udon noodle soup

A delicious broth is the key to this noodle and vegetable Asian soup.

Novel Eats
Most udon noodle recipes call for a broth, noodles, some vegetables and mushrooms, and a protein.

I love many cuisines from Mexican to Italian to Spanish to good old fashioned American, but if I were really honest with myself I’d have to confess that my absolute favorite is Asian. I say “Asian” because I cannot commit to any particular aspect of the breadth of Asian foods. I’m in love with Indian breads, samosas, and papadum, I salivate over Korean kimchi and bibimbap, and I crave Japanese sushi rolls and inari for weeks at a time – and that’s just scratching the surface.

While I do prepare some Asian foods at home on occasion, I admit that I am still a little wary that I don’t understand how to cook it well enough. That said, I am really fortunate to live so close to multiple Asian markets, and I feel that I am slowly stretching my culinary wings. It’s easy to go into one of these stores, discover an ingredient remembered from a restaurant and have the impulse to buy it and try replicating the dish at home. This is what happened last week as I was wandering down the pasta aisle and came upon some Japanese style udon noodles. As soon as I saw them, I realized that I needed to learn how to make udon noodle soup.

After researching various recipes I have come to realize that udon noodle soup is less about recipe and more about what you have on hand. In many ways, it is very similar to how I am used to throwing together a hearty vegetable soup without wondering if I have added too many or not enough potatoes or carrots, or worrying if I have a specific ingredient on hand or not. It doesn’t really matter, because the end result will still be delicious. What I found is that most udon noodle recipes call for a broth, noodles, some vegetables and mushrooms, and a protein. It’s my opinion that the key is to get the broth down, and then experiment, experiment and experiment. Luckily my first try had me wanting to recreate it the next day, so this recipe I’m sharing with you is a winner in my book.

Vegetarian Udon Noodle Soup
 Roughly based upon the Easy Udon Noodle Snack Recipe found on The Messy Vegetarian Cook
 Makes 2 servings

3 cups water
1/2 to 1 cup mushrooms (you can use most any mushroom you like, but I used king oyster and the original recipe calls for shiitake)
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons mirin or rice vinegar
4 teaspoons tamari, soy sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos (if you do not have any of these on hand, you may also substitute 2 heaping teaspoons miso)
1/2 teaspoon vegan sugar
1 sheet nori, cut into small pieces or strips
2 dry red chili peppers, optional
1/4 cup tofu or another vegetable or wheat protein, optional
1/4 cup carrots, juliennedDry udon noodles (enough for two servings – this is usually one or two individually separated bunches of noodles)
Sesame oil (optional, but so divine – I highly recommend not skipping this ingredient)
Green onions or chives (optional)

First prepare your broth. I used about half of a king oyster mushroom, and diced it into bite-sized pieces.

Mince your ginger by first cutting off a small amount from the main part of the root, then peeling away the outer skin. You can also crush it like garlic.

Julienne your carrots. “Julienne” just means that you’re cutting your veggie into little strips.

Place the water, mushrooms, ginger, carrots, mirin, tamari (or soy sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos), sugar and nori into the broth. If you are using chili peppers, you can add those in now, too.

Tip: If you are going to use miso as a substitute for the tamari, you will need to add that at the end after the broth has finished cooking.

If you don’t want your carrots to overcook, add them after the broth has boiled.

Bring your pan of ingredients to boil, stirring occasionally, then turn the heat down to medium low or low.

Add in your protein now so it will warm up.

Allow the broth to steep for about 20 minutes.

If you are using miso, you may add it after the broth has finished cooking and has been removed from the heat. Miso takes a few moments to dissolve, so be sure to stir the broth a few times.

Cook the noodles as instructed with a little salt. These cook fast, so be sure you are giving these guys your full attention. Once they are done cooking, drain and rinse under cold water.

Once the broth is done, add some noodles to a bowl, then ladle the broth over the noodles.

Drizzle a small amount of sesame oil over the soup, add some sliced green onions as a garnish.

Tip: Be sure to rinse the green onions really well to get rid of any specks of dirt that may have gotten stuck inside the onion as it was growing.

I loved this soup. It was full of flavor, had tons of texture and really hit the spot. Plus it makes me want to come up more variations. Remember, if you don’t have a particular ingredient on hand, don’t fret – you can experiment and discover your own unique soup, too!

For a step-by-step photo illustration of this recipe, click here.

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