Miso Soup with Mushroom, Eggplant and Udon Noodles: A Non-Recipe Recipe

I was in the mood for a mushroom miso soup with noodles. Normally in the summer, I go for cold soups like Gazpacho, Mango/Red Pepper Gazpacho, Vichyssoise, Borscht, or Strawberry Soup (the last, a mix of strawberries, orange juice, yogurt and a hint of cardamom is like a smoothie you eat with a spoon).  Hot savory soups are for cooler weather, but I was craving miso, so it was off to 99 Ranch to pick up some vegetables and noodles and head into the kitchen.

When I first started to cook seriously in college, I had just taken chemistry lab where everything was titrated to the fraction of a cubic centimeter, so my mother’s recipes that called for a “pinch” of this, “some” of that, or salt to taste, scared me—how many grams in a pinch? And it turns out that her taste for salt demands far more of it than mine. Eventually I got over the need to follow a recipe so precisely. And you should too. So while I was inspired by some online recipes, none of these matched what I bought or had in the pantry, and really, using what you have is the best way of cooking.

So the non-recipe recipe that follows is not intended to be followed exactly as written. This is not a professional cookbook recipe that I made in a test kitchen a dozen times and refined. Cooking is an art, and a personal one at that. You should experiment, varying things to suit your taste, not mine. Get creative and use what follows for inspiration, not precision. The soup was delicious, a mélange of flavors and textures, but the next time I make this, I will definitely alter a few things. I included some suggestions for alternatives, but don’t be limited by my ideas, come up with your own and share them in comments. That is what makes cooking an adventure and shared experience.

Miso Soup with Mushroom, Eggplant and Udon Noodles (Kosher, Pareve, Vegan)

Soup ingredients
(Clockwise from left) Chinese Eggplant, Large Bok Choi, Silken Tofu, Taro Root, King Oyster Mushroom, Wood Ear Mushrooms

Ingredients

  1. Eggplant: I wasn’t planning to include it at first, but 99 Ranch had beautiful Chinese eggplants so I figured why not? Always adjust your plans to what is fresh and available in your market—shop first and look up recipes later, especially if you are lucky to have a good local farmers market nearby (which sadly I do not) or are a member of a CSA. I sautéed the eggplant, but as with the mushrooms, next time I will probably roast it since they absorb a lot of oil in the pan. You could add or substitute other vegetables too, like zucchini, beans, or broccoli.

  2. Greens: I had a small amount of kale from my garden and bought some “large bok choy” (which is a misnomer since it is smaller than the regular bok choy and more tender). The small stems add crunch (and I added them before the leaves to cook through). You can use any green—kale, collards, chard, spinach, Chinese broccoli, even lettuce. If you like peppery, go for arugula; spicy, go for mustard. Markets like 99 Ranch and H Mart have many greens you won’t find in other chain supermarkets that are very suitable for soup.

  3. Tofu: I used silken, about 2-3 oz per serving, brought to room temperature and placed in the bowl before serving. You could use a firm tofu and cook it with the vegetables first, or use tofu puffs, but I liked the idea of a soft tofu, almost like sour cream in borsht. Be sure not to serve the tofu straight out of the fridge, it will be too cold. It takes an hour or two in the tub to warm up to room temperature, less if you prep individual bowls. If you want an alternative or additional protein, you could add seitan, but do so very late in the process since you do not want to overcook it. Just let it simmer for a few minutes or let it sit in the soup overnight to absorb some of the flavors.

  4. Root vegetables: I figured I would toss in a carrot for color and some flavor, but I also love the texture and look of taro root, and picked up a small one at the market for next to nothing. Browning the carrot by roasting or in a pan enhances its natural sweetness and gives it more depth of flavor. I did not precook the taro and it added a nice crunch.

  5. Mushrooms: I wanted shitake but 99 Ranch was out. They had oyster, king oyster, Portobello, wood ears, white, and bunapi. I opted for the king oyster and wood ears, and ended up tossing in some left over baby bella (cremini) mushrooms I had at home. There is no rule here, any mushroom adds umami; but I would avoid white and limit the baby bellas because they really do not have as much flavor as “wild” mushrooms. I sautéed them, but roasting might be even better and less work (see similar comments for other vegetables). Either way, browning them enhances the flavor and releases excess liquid. The wood ears didn’t really benefit much from browning in my opinion, but it doesn’t hurt. You could use reconstituted dried mushrooms as well. Strain the liquid and add it to the broth.

  6. Broth: Some miso soup recipes call for dashi, a broth made with kombu (a form of sea vegetable) or fish, plus mirin, sake and other umami flavors. But I didn’t have either dashi or the ingredients (some of which are hard to find kosher though they are available) nor did I want to go to the trouble of making it anyway. Instead, I had about a cup of boxed vegetable broth left over and added plain water to get to about 4½ cups (for a more soupy soup, given the other things I put in, one could probably go to 5 or 6 cups of liquid).

    I figured that with the miso and other aromatics, there would be plenty of flavor (I was right) and to be honest, boxed vegetable broth is not really that great and can overwhelm a dish. But I did not have any homemade broth and in the end the diluted broth was just fine. However, if you do have a good vegetable or mushroom broth, you may want to reduce the amount of miso, garlic and soy sauce (or not, depending on your taste).

     

  7. Miso mix: I used red miso, but you could use white which is milder. I love garlic so I used more than some recipes called for. Fresh grated ginger, scallions, soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil rounded it out.

    Miso Master Red

  8. Noodles: I bought fresh Udon (thick) noodles which cook in the broth for the last 5 minutes or so. If you use thinner noodles, they cook faster so add them shortly before serving (really think ones cook in a minute or two, so add them right before serving). Twin Marquis has a large variety of noodle styles and wonton wrappers that are all kosher and are sold in H Mart and 99 Ranch stores, at least in the NY/NJ area.

    Udon Noodle Package

  9. Quantities: Do not go by these all that strictly. They are what I ended up using because that is what I had on hand and thought was about right. Adjust up or down depending on your taste or what you have on hand or can buy. The amounts of vegetables really do not matter so much, this is not baking. I do nearly everything by weight.
Ingredient Quantity Preparation
Broth and/or water
4-6 cups
Bring to boil
Mushrooms
10 oz
Cut into ½” thick pieces
Eggplant
8 oz (1 medium Chinese)
Peeled, 3/4" pieces
Carrot
3.5 oz (1 large)
Sliced on bias; thick if browning
Taro root
2 oz
Thinly sliced
Scallion
.75 oz (about 4)
White and green parts, chopped
Leafy Greens
11 oz (about 2 handfuls)
Roughly chopped into large pieces
Miso (Red or White)
2 oz (about 3 Tbs)
Garlic
1 oz (3-4 cloves)
Sliced
Ginger Root (fresh)
.4 oz (from about 1.5")
Grated
Soy Sauce
1 Tbs
Toasted Sesame Oil
1 tsp
Tofu (Silken or firm)
1lb
Spooned into bowls or drained, pressed and cubed if browning

Steps:

    1. Roast or sauté mushrooms, carrot, eggplant and firm tofu if using. This step is optional but deepens the flavor.

    2. Combine miso, sliced garlic, scallions, grated ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil. Note, you might save some or all of the scallions and add them as a garnish at the end. Next time, I will probably do that. You can also hold off on adding the ginger and sesame oil until the end of cooking, since heat tends to breakdown their essential oil and reduce their flavor somewhat. If you like garlic flavor but not the harshness of fresh garlic (though it is already going to be tempered by cooking in the broth), you could also substitute roasted garlic, which is both sweeter and milder.

    3. Heat broth until just starting to boil. Add about ½ cup to the miso mix and whisk until it forms a smooth paste. You could add the rest of the liquid to the mix and combine it or do this in the next step.

    4. Place the precooked vegetables, the taro and any other root vegetables you are using, thicker stems of any greens, and any other vegetables into a stock pot. Add the miso mix and broth. Stir well and cook at a low simmer (do not boil) for 15-20 minutes. Add the greens and thicker noodles and continue to simmer until these are just cooked through. If using fresh thin noodles wait until just before serving since these cook very quickly. You may add a splash of rice vinegar to brighten the flavors a bit before serving.

    5. Bring silken tofu (if using) to room temperature before serving. Place a spoonful or two of silken tofu into each bowl and serve soup over tofu. Garnish with scallion greens.

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