My version of a noodle soup
is a complete meal in itself and best
served in a large soup bowl, of the type sold in some Korean
stores. The bowls are
about twice the size of a standard soup bowl, perhaps nine inches in
diameter and three inches in height, meant to be filled to perhaps
half of their capacity. They are perfect for a one-bowl meal and easy to eat
from using hashi (chopsticks
Noodles fill the bottom of the bowl,
sometimes in contrasting colours or textures. If I use contrasting noodles, I cook them separately. On top of these are arranged
such ingredients as a chiffonade of fresh greens of varying colour, whole pieces
of baby bok-choy, bean sprouts, sautéed mushrooms, and red bell pepper,
cubanelle or poblano peppers cut into spears, and tofu, either silken or cotton. I do not boil the tofu (it makes it bloat and taste nasty). A
rich dashi is ladled over these and the soup is finished with the addition
of peanuts or pine nuts, perhaps a dusting of togarashi (Japanese five
pepper powder) or gomasio (toasted sesame seeds mixed with salt).
The Broth: There are many ways to make an Asian-style broth, and my own
changes week to week depending on the ingredients I have. You’ll find as you
explore ingredients, adding a little at a time and tasting as you go, that
there is no limit to the number of different broths you could make. But here are some alternatives:
You could make a dashi by boiling some kombu (seaweed) and dried Chinese mushrooms
and season the stock from these with slivered ginger, shoyu (soy sauce),
mirin, (Japanese sweet cooking wine), a little vinegar, and a few drops of sesame oil or chili oil. A large
batch of the broth could be made up in advance and frozen in portions so
that you can simply defrost the amount you need and add fresh ingredients to
finish it, such as more ginger, a little chopped kimchi, some fresh shitake.
If you don’t want to take the time to do this, you could try a powdered
Japanese kombu/green tea mixture called “Kombucha”, found in some Japanese
stores. Incredibly delicous stuff. Or some of the ready-prepared noodle soup bases available in
Chinatown. With a little experimentation you can develop your own method of
putting together a broth in less time than it takes to boil the noodles. Kikkoman also makes a noodle soup base called “Memmi”, so if a local store sells Kikkoman soy sauce, they could certainly order Memmi. I like to add minced jalapeno to diluted Memmi, along with some sesame oil for a simple, but interesting broth.
These one-bowl meals can be prepared in advance in the event that one’s
schedule is tight. First, get out a cutting board and a knife, then collect
all of the ingredients you will be using and put them next to your cutting
board so that you don't have to go looking for things. You’ll need two pots,
one to boil the noodles and one for the soup broth.
Bring water to a boil in one of the pots and start cooking the noodles.
During this time, work on the broth in the other pot, but don’t forget to
check the noodles. When they are cooked, drain them in a colander and rinse
them with cold water to stop them from cooking further in their own heat and
to make them easier to handle. Then finish preparing the broth and set it
aside. Wash and prepare the fresh ingredients you are going to use and sauté
any that are to be cooked.
Now you can fill the bottom of the bowl with cold noodles and begin
arranging the cooked vegetables and fresh tofu on top of them (without
broth). Don’t get too carried away with this. If you start fixating on
making little patterns out of red peppers, and the like, notice that you’re
fixating and stop trying to make a project out of it – it will look much
better if you allow it some freedom. Once you have everything arranged, you can add nuts for extra
You could serve it right away or wrap the bowl in saran wrap and set it
aside to be eaten later, as you need only bring the broth to a boil and
ladle it over the cooked ingredients before serving. But don’t add the broth
unless you are going to eat it immediately, or the noodles will overcook. If
you refrigerate the bowl of noodles, you will need to microwave it to bring
it at least to room temperature before adding the broth.
Before serving, sprinkle it with a little gomasio and some togarashi.
If you wanted to add small pieces of chicken or fish to this, it would probably be best to cook them first and keep them refrigerated until just before serving. Cleaned shrimp, however, will cook in the bowl, just from the heat of the broth.