When cooking naked, an apron goes a long way towards protecting delicate areas … just kidding. As soon as I published my last post it occurred to me – lots of people cannot tolerate msg in their food, and most instant noodles packs, especially if they are made in Asia, probably contain a ton of msg in the broth packets.
So how do you make a tasty bowl of noodles that won’t give you a headache? Use unflavored dry noodles and make your own soup base. How do you make your own Japanese-style soup base you might ask? Well I’m about to tell you!
Oh! if you haven’t noticed, I don’t really measure ingredients or follow recipes when I cook. In fact, someone once (jokingly?) accused me of deliberately altering recipes constantly so that no one could ever reproduce anything I served, thus insuring my dishes remained elusive. While I don’t try to keep my recipes secret, I am forever playing with them. I’ve given ballpark measurements, but you need taste things as you go along. I tend to “under-salt” almost everything (and make up for it by eating potato, pita, and tortilla chips like I’m on a mission), so make sure to taste and adjust.
Miso Soup Base for Noodles (vegetarian)
Ingredients (aside from water):
- dried mushrooms (shiitake add plenty of flavor, so count on about 2 per cup)
- scallions (put fine shreds of the white portion in the broth, mince the green part to use raw as a garnish)
- ginger and/or garlic – both can be “smashed” with the flat side of your knife, thrown into the pot, and fished out later
- vegetables – I like to use Asian greens like napa cabbage and bok choy
- miso – white (shiro) miso is sweet and mild, the least salty, and makes a beautiful creamy-looking broth, but red is richer in flavor
NOTE: some dried mushrooms have a lot of grit stuck in their gills. You can soften your mushrooms in hot water (just enough to cover). Once they are soft, strain the liquid into your soup base – I use a tea strainer lined with a small piece of paper towel – and rinse the mushrooms. But I’ve also found an amazingly grit-free brand (and crazy-inexpensive at my local Asian grocery). If you know your mushrooms are clean, you can just throw a few into the pot to simmer with everything else:
- Put a little oil in the bottom of your pot, once it shimmers, throw in any garlic (1 clove), ginger (roughly the size of a quarter), or other aromatic herbs (curry powder is also really delicious, and even 1/4 tsp will add plenty of flavor)
- Stir them a bit, just until they start to soften and smell amazing, then pour in your water (1.25-1.5 cups per person) and vegetables
- If you pre-soaked your mushrooms, rinse them off, remove the stems, slice thinly and add them to the pot (I’ve also served them whole, stems and all); if your mushrooms are reliably clean, throw them in with the vegetables
- If you want a true one-pot dish, wait until the vegetables are not quite done, then throw in your noodles
- Bring everything to a boil and simmer just until the vegetables (and noodles) are tender
- Remove about a 1/4 cup of water and “dissolve” your miso in it – this is really hard to gauge, since miso varies so much in saltiness. Start with a teaspoon per cup of water, because you can always add more. Once the miso has dissolved, add it back into the pot.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning. Feel free to add more miso or maybe some soy sauce, tamari, or mirin
NOTE: miso should not be boiled (it kills the enzymes), so either add the noodles to the pot before you add the miso, or boil them separately, place in your bowl, and ladle the soup and veggies over them.
Remember: every bowl of noodles is a new adventure! Use whatever you have on hand, and make it your own! Yesterday I topped a bowl with stir-fried celery and red swiss chard but skipped the scallions. Since I had added a pinch of curry to the soup, the fresh crispiness of the vegetables provided a wonderful contrast to the rich and spicy broth. It also looked really pretty!