September 21, 2009

Vegetable soup with soba noodles

I used to dislike soup. Not in any really meaningful way--I didn't like cooked vegetables for a long time and soup always seemed like it should be reserved for cold winter days when I had a nasty cold. And it had to be Campbell's Chicken Noodle. No other would do. And then, I discovered ramen and stopped having anything in my soup but pre-fried noodles and 10,000% my daily allotment of sodium. And then, I moved out of my mom's house and I left college and I had, like, minus a million dollars all the time and soup suddenly became a lot more appealing. It's cheap, it's pretty filling, and even if you start with a ramen packet, you can make something pretty delicious and healthy by cutting back part of the seasoning packet and adding meat/veggies/eggs/whatever.

This does not involve a ramen packet, thankfully. It's a soup that I cobbled together today for me and Justin. We haven't been so good about that whole "eating more than one meal a day" thing and I figured soup would be a lovely lunch. We had picked up some soba noodles from Uwajimaya last time we went and I wanted to give them a whirl today.

Soba noodles are, basically buckwheat noodles, though they're also frequently augmented with some yam flour. They're a sickly color gray, but they have a mild and delicious taste with a pleasantly very slightly chewy texture. They're nice, give them a go!

So here's what I used in the soup:

From top left:
Chicken broth (preferably low-sodium)
Soy sauce
Eggs (one per person, so in this case, two)
Soba noodles
1/4 large onion
Worcestershire sauce
Hoisin saucse
1 carrot
2 cloves of garlic
2 spears of celery
4 large spears of asparagus

Let's get this party started! Dice up your onion, like so:

It's diced, trust me. Now, mince yourself up some garlic. An easy way to do this is a 1-2 punch. Peel it, slice it into thick slices, and then squish each slice with the flat of your knife. It works like a charm and is way faster than mincing via chopping.

It'll look like when it's squished.

Slice your celery spears in half and then chop into dices:

Now, this carrot is really skinny. It's the Kate Moss of carrots. Usually, I advocate cutting carrots into long quarters and then dicing, but due to the skininess of this carrot, I went with really thin coins, like so:

Grate your ginger. For two people, aim for abooooooooooooout a teaspoon. A tad less is fine, a tad more is fine, whatevs. Ideally, you'll have a microplane or one of those badass Japanese ginger graters. I do not. I have a really crappy box grater with a side that has tiny holes, so I used that and scraped the ginger out of the inside. Also, buy a big honking root of ginger, peel it with a spoon (it works great trust me!) wrap it up, and freeze it. Just grate it straight out of the freezer. It'll keep for 900 years and you'll always have fresh ginger!

Add some oil to your soup pot (I went with sesame seed oil, but olive oil or vegetable oil or something would be just fine) and get it to medium heat. Add everything that I just told you to chop/mince/grate with a pinch of salt. Don't overdo the salt at this point! You're going to be adding some salty ingredients later on, so just add enough salt to get your veggies sweating!

Cut the tough ends off of your asparagus spears and cut them into thicker coins than you did the carrot. Set them aside while these veggies work their magic. Asparagus cooks pretty quickly and I don't like mushy veggies. EVER.

When your veggies are nice and soft, jack the heat up to high and add in about 3-4 cups of chicken stock. You can go all vegetarian on this and use mushroom stock or veggie stock or a combination of the two, and you can go vegan by omitting the egg and Worchestershire (unless you get an anchovy-free version of it, of course). Whatever you have on hand and whatever floats your boat. It's soup! You cannot fail!

Add a splash of soy sauce, a few drizzles of Worchestershire, and a small forkful of hoisin. Taste your soup liquid. If it needs something, add it. If it doesn't need anything, don't. If it's too salty, add some water. I added some pepper. I like pepper in everything.

I'll look like this. Well, mine looked like this:

Get your eggs scrambled with about a teaspoon of water. You want to thin them out a little bit. I was going for an egg drop soup consistency with the egg which requires it being able to be poured in a very fine stream. Get your soba noodles into the soup and let them boil for about five minutes. Just before they're done (they take about six minutes to cook through) lower the heat to a simmer and add your egg, so you have this:

Let the egg firm up in your soup before you try stirring it. You want feathers of eggs, not globs. Globs are gross. Believe me, I know.

Now, add your secret ingredient: Lemon pepperYou'll have to select that little area there to show it up. It's a secret, after all! Just add a pinch of it--maybe a quarter of a teaspoon to a half of a teaspoon to the whole pot. You want just a tiny, tiny bit of a lemony hint--something that is noticeable as separate from the other ingredients in the soup, but not instantly identifiable in such a small amount. I love using this in soups made with a predominately Japanese flavor palette.

Now, get that soup into some bowls and slurp to your heart's content! This is a pretty non-soupy soup, so having a fork (or chopsticks!) might be useful for eating it. A spoon might not cope with the soba noodles that well. You can avoid that problem by simply breaking up the soba noodles into 1-inch lengths. They're easy to break, so it won't take any time. You could do it as the veggies are softening up, if you wanted to.

And that's what you have, folks! A tart/sour soup with chewy, mild soba noddles and a delicious ginger kick!

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