(Updated 11/25/16: fixed broken links)
Noodle soup can be a wonderfully comforting meal on a cold winter night. For many years I have been experimenting with Japanese noodle soup, with little success. The past attempts were edible, but not quite right–they just didn’t reproduce enough of the aromas and flavors I remember from my trips to Japan. But recently, Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku has helped me close in on what I’m seeking.
One of the keys is to have a good dashi (stock), as it forms the base for the other flavors and the aroma profile. I make a simple vegetarian dashi using kombu sea vegetable and shiitake mushroom stems. (The recipe I use is near the bottom of this post.) After you have a good stock recipe, there are endless possible variations: different kinds of tofu, mushrooms, other sea vegetables, greens, and so on.
A Basic Recipe for Japanese Noodle Soup
- Make some dashi (vegetarian recipe below). After you strain the stock, add some mirin and soy sauce (about 1/2 tablespoon each per cup of stock).
- Add the additions to either the stock or your soup bowl (see list and instructions below).
- Cook some udon (fat noodles made from wheat) or ramen (medium-sized egg noodles) noodles. When done, either drain and rinse for later use, or put them into a soup bowl and immediately cover with hot broth.
Additions to Noodle Soup, and When to Add Them
Different ingredients require different treatment. Some cook so quickly that the heat of the broth in the soup bowl is sufficient. Others need a few minutes in the hot broth to soften or gain seasoning.
- Diced tofu – add to broth about 10 minutes before serving
- Tofu “skin” (abura agé or yuba) – add to broth a few minutes before serving
- Enoki mushrooms – put in soup bowl (the hot broth will cook them)
- Shiitake mushrooms – if dried, rehydrate them in hot water, then strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter into your broth. If fresh, add to broth a few minutes before serving.
- Sliced scallions – put in soup bowl
- Greens like mizuna or spinach – put in soup bowl
- Grated diakon – put in soup bowl
- Wakame (a sea vegetable) – add to broth a few minutes before serving
- Other vegetables – add to broth in advance so that they’ll be cooked to your preferred tenderness
- Miso – add to broth at the last minute
Adapted from Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku
To make a vegetarian dashi, place a piece of kombu sea vegetable and several dried shiitake mushrooms into some cool water. The ratio that Andoh uses is 15-20 square inches of kombu and three mushrooms to 4 1/4 cups of water. Let this mixture steep as long as possible in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. A long soaking allows the natural glutamates (flavor enhancers) to go into the water (indicated by slime on the kombu). When ready to make the stock, put the mixture in a pan over medium heat. Bring it almost to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly to keep it at a low simmer. Keep it at this point for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Let the mixture steep for 5 minutes more, and then strain into a saucepan.