“I live on good soup, not on fine words.” — Moliere
Every society has it’s special soup, whether it be a Provençale Bouillabaisse, an Italian Minestrone, a Parisian Soupe a l’Oignon, a Russian Borscht, an American Seafood Chowder, a Scottish Cock-a-leekie or a good old Aussie Pumpkin soup. But nothing, to my mind, even approaches the great soups of Asia. These days Vietnamese Phō has replaced the ubiquitous (and awful) Chinese restaurant Chicken & Sweet Corn soup. There was a phase when everyone was ordering fiery hot Tom Yum Goong from Thailand. The Phillipines gave us Sinigang, the Koreans a spicy beef and vegetable soup called Yukgaejang. And of course, the Japanese are so fanatical about their ramen, udon and soba that Juzo Itami made Tampopo, a wonderful (and funny) feature film about the search for the perfect noodle soup. (Apologies for the thousand soups I missed)
I’m a sucker for a bowl of Chinese noodle soup, any day, any time, whether it be a simple Wonton Min from a Kowloon street stall, a Smoked Brisket Noodle Soup from the Mandarin Oriental, a rich umami Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup (the best I ever had was at the Iron Cow, Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong) or just a Combination Long and Short Soup (Women’s Weekly Recipe) from the local, suburban Chop Suey Restaurant.
Only the pure of heart can make good soup” — Beethoven
(If you can believe he had time to eat)
Quick & Dirty Noodle Soup
I make this soup for lunch at home when I only have ten minutes and I’m scrabbling around in the cupboard for ingredients. There’s nothing refined about it, but it keeps me going all afternoon.
- 1 tbsp Doenjang (Korean soy paste – I like the spicy version in the green box), alternatively a lump of white or red miso, or a few cups of home-made chicken stock (in desperate times, a good quality chicken stock cube).
- 2-3 dried Shitaki mushrooms
- rice noodles – actually any kind of noodles is OK
- Something green like baby bok choi or broccolini
- half a dozen frozen won-tons – or make them yourself if you’re confident and have time. (If you have some left-over cooked pork or lamb or a few prawns, use them as well, the more the merrier.)
- a good handful of chopped scallions and/or bean sprouts
- optional: sliced chilli or some dried chilli flakes
- Good soy sauce (eg. Tamari), rice vinegar, sesame oil.
- Put the dried mushrooms into a bowl and add a couple of cups of boiling water. Leave to soak for 10 mins, then remove, squeeze and cut into thin slices. Transfer the mushroom water (it has flavour!) to your saucepan.
- Put the noodles into the empty bowl and pour on boiling water. Leave to soak.
- In your saucepan, bring the mushroom water to the boil and add the Doenjang to taste (it can be strong) or miso or stock. Stir till dissolved and add the mushrooms. Simmer until the mushrooms are tender.
- Add the wontons and simmer for a few minutes until cooked/thawed and heated through. (If you have some cooked meat or prawns, add them now)
- Add the green vegetable and simmer a few more minutes.
- Season with a spoonful of rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, whatever takes your fancy,
- Strain the noodles, then replace them in the bowl. Pour the soup over the top and sprinkle with the scallions and/or bean sprouts.
- Don’t forget to slurp.