Healthy Cooking: The noodle soup that makes everyone happy, including the cook

Some people keep recipes handed down from generations of home cooks before them in a box. I have a pile of raggedy pages liberated from the periodicals in my orthodontist’s waiting room. (Believe me, I have paid for those magazines. And his new boat, too.)

My stack of recipes is simultaneously aspirational and delusional. It says, “I am the sort of person who makes steamed pork buns from scratch while sipping a lovely pinot noir.” Even though I’m actually gulping whiskey from a dirty coffee mug and serving Do-It-Yourself Asian Noodle Soup. Never heard of DIY Asian Noodle Soup? That’s because I made it up. But you should be making it up, too, because this recipe is the easiest, tastiest, cheapest way to serve a healthy meal that satisfies everyone at your table.

Start with broth, any broth. The quart of homemade chicken stock in the freezer? Fantastic. A box of prepared veggie broth in the pantry? Perfect. Authentic Japanese dashi broth? Invite me to your house, please. A wrinkled, stained envelope of dry Lipton Onion Soup mix? Not so much. This is the cornerstone of your recipe, so use a quality broth that’s low in sodium but full of flavor. If you don’t have a go-to favorite, pick up a few different varieties and do a little taste test.

Keeping broth on hand means you can whip up a healthy home-cooked meal when you’d otherwise hit the drive-thru. It’s a requirement of adulthood, like changing your sheets every week. Don’t spend too much time worrying about the difference between “broth” and “stock.” Both are cooking liquids flavored with vegetables and sometimes meat. Broth usually has more seasonings. Stock has been simmered with bones. As a practical matter, I use them interchangeably.

I like to flavor my broth with miso. Miso is a thick paste of fermented soybeans, but I promise it tastes so much better than it sounds. Miso is an umami bomb; it’s savory and salty and a veritable party of probiotics. It’s also what sets this soup apart from its blander chicken noodle cousins. I think it’s an essential ingredient, but I’ve made it optional in the recipe below because I recognize that you may not have a rainbow of white, yellow, red and brown miso pastes lining the back of your refrigerator like I do. And above all else, DIY Asian Noodle Soup should be effortless.

Dried ramen noodles bulk up this soup, because my Asian grocery sells them in 5-pound bags and I have enough noodles to last for the next thousand years. I’m talking about bona fide ramen noodles; the ones that are long and flat and look like linguini but cook in just three minutes. You can use rice noodles, udon noodles, Italian noodles or even noodles from the foil packages of four-for-$1 college ramen. DIY Asian Noodle Soup does not judge, as long as you throw away that sodium- and MSG-laced seasoning packet. Gluten-free folks can get in on the noodle love by using lightly sauteed spiralized zucchini in place of pasta.

Fill individual bowls with broth and noodles, and then behold the real magic of this soup. Everyone tops their personal bowls with their favorite add-ons. For my sons who crave meat, I offer bowls of shredded rotisserie chicken or cubes of leftover steak. My plant-based daughter gets shredded red cabbage, bok choy, and/or kale. Dear Husband Bob would dearly love a marinated ramen egg; he cheerfully settles for soft-boiled eggs. I pile on the heat with Sriracha sauce; the kiddos prefer splashes of soy sauce. You get the idea — the ingredients can be as diverse as your cravings and refrigerator contents allow.

Maybe someday my family will sink their perfectly straight teeth into the same magazine-perfect meal. Until then, we can enjoy this no-fuss family meal in (relative) harmony.

DIY Asian Noodle Soup

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