Nothing says summer like a piping hot bowl of brothy noodle soup, am I right? Clearly I can’t do in-season foods. Happy July, y’all.
This time last summer I was putzing around Lao, a Southeast Asian country “traversed by the Mekong River and known for mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements and Buddhist monasteries” (Wikipedia is succinct) with three of my friends. Lao was less oppressively hot and humid than Thailand (where I also putzed around), less chaotic than Bangkok, replete with dazzling landscapes and natural wonders, and full of kind people. I returned to the U.S. with a melancholy of romantic-era proportions.
Luang Prabang, a city in Northern Lao, teemed with French colonial architecture, incredible food (see pics below), and the infamous, death-defying tuk tuk*. After mostly avoiding this transportation option in favor of walking and scootering around the area, we hopped on one to treat ourselves to Lao fondue at Dyen Sabai, a somewhat secluded restaurant with a picturesque view of the Mekong river. The day had been long and dramatic – think scooter accident, broken wrist (not mine), soviet-era medical facilities -and we needed to indulge.
Night market in Luang Prabang – put as much food as you can in a bowl for the equivalent of $1.50. Most of these dishes were vegan! Food comas were easy to come by in these parts.
An order of spring rolls here = like 8-10 of these guys.
One of my favorite meals; I had this 2-3 times. Green curry with sticky rice and spring rolls from Delilah’s Cafe.
The Lao fondue at this place is like a DIY hot pot. You get a huge basket of fresh herbs and produce, noodles, meat or tofu, and a contraption to cook your meat/tofu on surrounded by a moat of broth. This broth. This BROTH, girl. We couldn’t stop. It had the look of pho or simple vegetable broth, but the flavor was intensely rich and satisfying. We ate for hours. We refused to leave until all the broth was consumed, though this proved futile when the staff brought extra kettles of the stuff out to our table. We left with happy tastebuds and bellies on the verge of exploding.
I planned to recreate it upon my return to the U.S., and here we are a year later. Memory can be faulty, but with with a few test recipes under my belt I think I recreated the “get in ma belly” factor from that dinner in Lao. This broth has the nuanced spice of pho, the sweetness of coconut, and deep saltiness of soy. It’s a straightforward preparation and versatile; use is as a soup base, a base for a sauce, dump over rice and protein/veggies..drink it alone (I did it – worth it). It is best complemented by fresh herbs, something crunchy, and leafy greens like bok choy, spinach, and gai lan (Chinese broccoli). I developed two tasty options for y’all to try out: a soba noodle soup with roasted sweet potatoes, tofu, and baby bok choy, and second noodle soup with two eggplant preparations, edamame, and toasted sesame oil!
*Or Lao variation of the tuk tuk, anyway
Makes 6 cups of broth, or four servings
- 6 c Water
- 3 c coconut water
- 1/4 – 1/3 c soy sauce (1/3 c if you want a saltier broth)
- 1/3 c dried shiitake or oyster mushrooms
- 1 large shallot
- 5 garlic cloves
- 2 inch piece of ginger
- 1 lemongrass stalk
- 1 (whole) star anise
- 1 tbs hoisin
- 2 tbs lime juice or rice vinegar
To make the broth, quarter your shallot and peel and chunk your ginger. Hold these pieces over the open flame of your stove. Once these pieces are blackened / charred in some areas, dump into a soup pot (or similarly large pot). Smash and peel the garlic cloves. Peel and smash the lemongrass*. Add the water, soy sauce, lime juice / vinegar, mushrooms, lemongrass, start anise, garlic, to the pot and boil over medium heat for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, add the coconut water and reduce the heat to low / simmer and cook for another 30 minutes with the lid on the pot. Strain the broth after cooking. Will keep for a week; freeze in jars after that.
*Lots of good smashing in this recipe. Great for temporarily alleviating some of the bitterness that deepens at the realization that we still have a mangled apricot hellbeast for a president.
Noodle Soup #1: Soba noodles with marinated tofu, sweet potato, and bok choy
Makes four bowls
- 6 c broth
- 14 oz. package firm tofu
- 8 oz. (about 1/2 a package) soba noodles
- 1 large sweet potato
- 4 tbs coconut oil, divided
- 4 tbs soy sauce, divided
- 3 tbs lime juice, divided
- 2 tbs hoisin
- 1 tbs chili oil
- 8 cracks of pepper
- 8 small baby bok choy
- 2 carrots
- 2 scallions
- Toasted sesame seeds
First marinate your tofu and roast your sweet potato. Cut your tofu into small rectangles, or your preferred shape, and put it in a ziploc bag or container with 3 tbs soy sauce, 2 tbs hoisin, 2 tbs lime juice, 2 tbs coconut oil, and 1 tbs chili oil. Press it first, if you have the time. It will allow the tofu to soak up the marinade better. Shake it around a few times to evenly distribute the marinade and let those nuggets soak for a while in the fridge; 20 minutes minimum, overnight maximum.
Cut your sweet potato into one inch cubes and toss in 2 tbs coconut oil, the cracked pepper, one tbs lime juice, and one tbs soy sauce. Roast in the oven at 425° on a parchment lined baking sheet for 25 minutes, or until they’re crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Do the same to the tofu – roast it in the oven at 425° on a lined baking sheet for 25-30 minutes, until they’re golden brown and crispy. Flip the pieces halfway through.
Cook the soba noodles according to the package instructions, but al dente. You want them slightly undercooked at this point. Peel and finely slice the carrots. Trim the end of the bok choy. Now heat up the broth in a pot and add the carrots. After it comes to a low boil, add the baby bok choy and noodles. Boil over medium heat for about five minutes. Take the pot off the heat and serve immediately. Top each bowl with the sweet potato, tofu, a sprinkling of scallions, and toasted sesame seeds.
Noodle Soup #2: Rice noodles with edamame, eggplant two ways, and basil
Makes four bowls Makes one bowl – multiple for how many bowls you need
- 6 c coconut broth
- 8 oz rice noodles or linguine
- 1 c frozen edamame
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 batch of eggplant bacon
- 1 can diced water chestnuts (or fresh if you can find them!!)
- A couple handfuls of fresh basil
- 2 scallions
- 1 tbs soy sauce
- 1 tbs toasted sesame oil, plus more for garnish (garnish optional)
- 1 tsp chili garlic sauce
- Dash of chili flakes (optional)
Wash one eggplant and place on a lined baking sheet. Pop it in the oven at 375° for 40 minutes, until the insides are completely soft and mushy. Scrap the flesh out into a bowl and add toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and chili garlic sauce. Mix with a fork, making sure to mash any remaining eggplant lumps. You can leave as is or fry in a small pan for a few minutes to deepen the flavor.
Cook and drain the noodles according to the package, but al dente. Finely slices the scallions. Julienne most of the basil. Drain and rinse the water chestnuts. Make the eggplant bacon and crumble a few pieces (you’ll have leftover bacon..not a bad thing). Put the cooked noodles, water chestnuts, and broth in a pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the edamame and take the pot off the heat immediately – these suckers don’t need much cooking. Pour everything into large soup bowls and top each one with a scoop of the eggplant flesh, crumbled eggplant bacon, julienned basil, scallions, and a dash of chili flakes and toasted sesame oil. Serve immediately.
- Coconut water. Oh boy, I have a lot to say about it. I’ll keep it short and *sweet*: that bullshit we’re buying at grocery stores (aka Zico, Naked, O.N.E., and Vita Coco, por ejemplo) is a fucking tragedy. Tasteless, taken from matured coconuts, made from reconstituted coconut water, pasteurized, and several brands have added sugar and flavorings. After having the real stuff, brands like Naked and Vita Coco taste like garbage juice. Taste Nirvana is the best packaged coconut water I’ve tried in the U.S. I swear, it almost tastes like melted ice cream…you can google other reliable brands. If you have access to them, though, the best thing is a straight up young coconut.
- If you have an electric stove, I send my condolences. To charr the shallot and ginger you can use the broil setting on your oven. Just make sure to watch the char develop on them.
- Water Chestnuts are delicious and crunchy. You can find them canned in most grocery stores. If you stumble upon fresh water chestnuts, count your blessings and snatch those bad boys up!
- The eggplant bacon is a delicious topper. If the extra step to make it is overwhelming or you don’t have time, you can thinly slice a Chinese eggplant, toss it in 2 tbs of coconut oil, sprinkle with salt, and pop them in the oven at 350° until the slices are browned and crispy.
- Many variations of chili oil exist. I use chili oils like this or this when I cook. Either of them work in these recipes.
- I like to prep components ahead of time so I’m not in the kitchen all night. I suggest making the broth, marinating the tofu, and making the roasted eggplant flesh ahead of time.
- Experiment. Try it with spaghetti, the eggplant, and tofu. Or sweet potato, water chestnuts, and zucchini. Throw some tempeh in there. Do ya own thang. These two recipes are suggestions, not the only options. The world is your seitan-based oyster.