Japanese Udon Noodle Soup

Happy New Year!!  Somebody told me long ago that in some cultures it’s traditional to eat “long noodles for long life” at the turn of the year.  We all like noodles in our family, so we have taken up this tradition.  This year and last I made Japanese Udon Noodle Soup for dinner on New Year’s Eve.  It contains two main ingredients that might be unfamiliar to non-Japanese people, but it’s quick and easy and tasty!  My mom taught me to make it.  (We’re not Japanese, but we spent a few months in Japan when I was a toddler and my dad was working there, and my parents have visited Japan several times since.)

These ingredients should be available from any Asian grocery store, and many supermarkets carry them these days:

  • Udon noodles are like thick linguini.  They’re made from wheat flour and have a very plain yet pleasant flavor.
  • Bonito broth mix is like bouillon; you buy a little jar of strongly flavored particles that dissolve in water to make a broth.  Bonito is a kind of fish.

UPDATE: In researching my article on seaweed, I learned how to make a scrumptious Japanese broth without fish–great for vegetarians, people with fish allergies, or anyone who loves umami–and it’s easy to make from shelf-stable ingredients available at any Asian market or many supermarkets!  Check out the recipe at the end of this article.

This recipe is very flexible.  You can use up leftovers in it or use the vegetables you happen to have in the house.  The protein can be tofu, egg, mushrooms, or fish (already cooked, not breaded or strongly seasoned).  You can add any Japanese-style garnishes you happen to have, such as seaweed sprinkles or pickled radish or mung bean sprouts or green onions.

For each main-dish serving, you will need:

  • A handful of udon–about 1/4 pound
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups broth: Either mix bonito broth mix into water (start with 1 Tbsp.) until it tastes like a nice fishy soup, or make Delicious Dashi Broth.
  • 1 cup raw or frozen vegetables: carrot, turnip, daikon radish, snow peas, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, and sweet potato all are tasty in this recipe.  A mixture of about 3 different vegetables is best.  (If you want to use any vegetables that are already cooked, add them in the last few minutes of heating the soup so they just get warm, not too mushy.)
  • Protein: 4 ounces tofu OR 1 egg OR a handful of mushrooms OR 1/2 cup pre-cooked fish . . . or some combination of these
  • Optional seasonings: I taste the broth and sometimes throw in some extra flavors.  This time, I added a few slices of fresh ginger root and about a teaspoon of hoisin sauce.  (I know, hoisin is Chinese.  Tasty, though!)
  • Optional garnishes.  See above.
  • 2 cooking pots (If making multiple servings, you still need only 2 pots.)
  • 1 deep soup bowl
  • chopsticks, if you know how to use them.

Put water in a covered pot over high heat.

Make or reheat broth.  Add vegetables (and tofu or mushrooms, if that’s your protein), bring to a boil, and cook until vegetables reach desired tenderness.

Meanwhile, when the water comes to a boil, add the noodles.  They need to cook only about 5 minutes–follow package directions, if they’re in English!  Drain noodles and rinse with cold water so they don’t stick together.

Place noodles (and fish, if that’s your protein) in soup bowl.

If using egg, cook it in one of these two ways:

  • Egg drop: Get a fork and something to drop the eggshell into.  Crack the egg into the boiling soup.  Drop the shell.  Immediately break the egg yolk with the fork and stir vigorously until you see small, feathery bits of cooked egg floating in the soup.  Turn off heat.
  • Poached egg: Before putting noodles in bowl, pre-heat the bowl by pouring some boiling water into it, sloshing it around, and pouring it out.  Get a lid or saucer that will fit tightly on top of the bowl, and place this next to the bowl along with the egg, something to drop the eggshell into, and a trivet for the soup pot.  Place noodles in bowl.  Turn off heat under soup and immediately pour the boiling soup into the bowl.  Set pot on trivet and immediately crack the egg into the bowl, drop the shell, and cover the bowl.  Let stand 5 minutes.  The egg should be cooked by the heat of the soup.

Ladle the soup on top of the noodles (if you didn’t just add it when poaching the egg).  Add optional garnishes.  Eat with chopsticks and loud slurping noises!

Japanese Udon Noodle Soup works for me at the New Year and any time of year!  It’s a nice warm meal for winter, but it’s also pleasant to make in summer because the cooking time is so short.  Visit the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop for more recipes!

11 thoughts on “Japanese Udon Noodle Soup

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