The other weekend, Poppa Trix and I felt like total garbage: sore throats, dizzy, achy, sleepy, runny noses - the works. Fortunately, we had made a trip to Asian supermarket extraordinaire H-Mart before we got too sick to go anywhere, and so we had all the makings for a blissfully soothing nabeyaki udon soup.
This is one of the world's simplest soups, and for my money it's just as healing as the chicken variety. (And since I don't eat chicken anymore, that's a good thing!) It was so medicinal, in fact, that we made it two nights in a row. The second time we decided to get fancy and drop an egg in the soup bowl to create that cool fried-egg-on-top thing ... and let's just say the soup had to go back into the pot to actually cook the egg. Our poor sick brains just weren't working right, because even a child would have known that the broth wasn't hot enough to cook that egg! But once cooked and incorporated, the soup still tasted great.
The only real cooking part of this dish is the dashi, or broth - everything else is just assembly. Normally I'm all for making everything from scratch, but when everyone in the house is sick you gotta do what you gotta do.
For the dashi (there are many dashi variations, I just went with a method that sounded most appealing):
6 cups of water
4 inch square piece of konbu, dried kelp
1 ounce of bonito flakes
Bring the water, with the konbu in it, to a simmer. Before it can boil, remove the konbu and add the bonito flakes. Bring to a boil, and in few minutes strain the broth through a fine seive. That's it! It's really versatile - vegetarians can omit the bonito and do just a konbu broth or incorporate shitaake mushrooms. I added mirin and some white miso to the dashi, which gave it a nice depth.
Next it's just a matter of deciding what to put in your soup. Of course you need udon noodles, which you should boil until just tender and rinse in cold water before adding the broth to them. We also used fresh spinach, small glutinous rice cakes, fish cakes (the classic ones with the hot pink color), chopped leeks, and black sesame seeds. For a final touch - and this is fantastic for a stuffy head - I drizzled sesame oil that had been infused with cayenne pepper over the finished soup. The subtle heat combined with the nuttiness of the oil complemented all of the flavors in the soup perfectly.