Remember that old folk story called “stone soup?” A man sets up a pot of water with a rock in it and nonchalantly tells bystanders that he is making stone soup. He tells them – despite the tried and true nature of his recipe – it would be even better with a few additional items. The townsfolk are curious and cannot help but contribute a carrot here, some parsley there. As the soup bubbles away, more people are drawn by the wonderful smell, and they all eagerly offer something from their own stores. In the end everyone enjoys a bowl, which really is delicious.
While I’ve never tricked anyone into handing over a carrot, I do regularly make a bowl of noodle soup out of odds and ends. The last time I did, I posted a photo of the finished result on my Facebook page. A bunch of people “liked” the photo, one friend asked for the recipe, and someone even asked me where I had bought that dish (!). So, P-Girl, this is for you.
Because I subscribe to a CSA, I often have random vegetables in small amounts in my refrigerator. On this last occasion, I had one big zucchini, a few bunches of baby bok choy, and a handful of snow peas. Other vegetables I like to use include asparagus, sugar snap peas, any kind of greens, and aromatic herbs such as scallions and cilantro.
When I’m feeling ambitious, I will make a stock and use plain dried noodles. Any Asian store will stock a wide variety of noodle types such as wheat, rice, bean thread, buckwheat, egg noodles, flavored and unflavored (usually shrimp). These noodles will also come in a variety of widths and lengths:
Most often, when I make noodles I eat them as a quick lunch or dinner, so I start with prefab. That’s right, I am a huge fan of instant ramen. Now, I know what you are thinking, “But they are soooo unhealthy! They are fried! Haven’t you looked at the sodium content??? I once saw a photo of undigested ramen in someone’s stomach …”
To this I say, “Do you know who invented instant ramen? Do you know what nation tops the world in longevity?” The answer to both questions is the Japanese. So forgive my faith in my ancestors, but I am not going to let one nasty photo stop me from enjoying my birthright! And, honestly, about that photo – do you think if that person chewed his or her food maybe it would digest? Anyway, on this particular occasion, I started with instant udon (which are thick, non-fried, wheat noodles). You can find them at you local Asian market in the refrigerated section, although I have seen a spicy seaweed ramen (which looks halfway between ramen and udon to me) at Trader Joe’s. Udon packages come in all sorts of “flavors” such as pork, crab, abalone, mushroom, “oriental,” and spicy, and this is what they look like:
Don’t worry if the directions are in Japanese or any other language. Disregard them if they are in English.
- Boil some water in a pot that will fit everything (I use about 1.25 cups for myself, more for my boyfriend because he likes having more broth).
- Throw in whatever vegetables you would like to simmer. In this case I decided to simmer the baby bok choy so that it would flavor the soup and become soft. Sometimes I don’t put any veggies in the water and just stir fry them all; if I’m feeling really lazy, I boil everything so I only have to wash one pot. The options are truly endless – and endlessly delicious!
- As the water is boiling, heat up a non-stick or cast-iron skillet on medium. Grease lightly with olive oil, coconut oil, whatever you like. I use a non-stick skillet and pour on about a teaspoon of roasted sesame oil. I use Kadoya brand, but there are so many brands that you cannot go wrong.
- Once the skillet is hot, put in the vegetables or anything else you want to stir fry. This time I lined up slices of baked tofu and zucchini. Once one side browned, I flipped them all and threw in the snow peas.
- By this time, you water will be boiling, and your veggies will be simmering. Here is where we go wild. Open the broth packet that comes with the noodles, but only pour half of it into the water. Taste. In many cases, this is all the flavor (and the salt) you need. If you want more, add more, but err on the side of caution.
- Save the leftover half-packet of broth. I have a small box of leftover broth packets that I keep for when I want to use the plain dry noodles – because sometimes only flat noodles will do.
- Put the noodles in the pot, drop the heat to low, and let it simmer a bit (yes, even if it’s instant ramen, let it simmer a little).
- Your skillet veggies should be almost done by now. I like to splash a little mirin (Japanese rice wine) over the veggies and then cover the whole pan, just for a minute. This adds depth to the flavor and makes the veggies glossy.
- NOTE: you can also add about a tablespoon of mirin to the broth instead, or both.
- Pour the contents of the noodle pot into your bowl.
- Artfully arrange your veggies, tofu, etc. on top.
- Garnish with finely sliced scallions, cilantro, etc. I dabbed on some Vietnamese chile garlic sauce, which I prefer over sriracha. I also sometimes drizzle a bit of sesame oil on top, which just makes the bowl smell like my Mom cooked it.
- Slurp your noodles and enjoy!