Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kabocha-Udon Soup

This udon soup is packed with kabocha squash, mushrooms, and healthy goodness in a low-calorie meal that is easy to make.

I love the use of both udon noodles - which are thick and a little chewy- combined with sweet kabocha in this dish.  If you haven't heard of kabocha squash before, read on for veggieosity info; if you have, read on for a new recipe to use it in.

Sidetrack from the soup: Kabocha squash veggieosity
Never had kabocha? GO FIND ONE. Seriously, kabocha=delicious. Chances are, if you've had a Thai pumpkin curry or a Japanese dish with "pumpkin" in it, you've actually had kabocha. Kabocha is "Japanese pumpkin," sort of a cross between a pumpkin and a squash with a sweet, rich flesh. You can also eat the skin, which will give you added fiber in addition to the kick-butt vitamin A, C, B vitamins, and even omega-3s, AND low caloric intake.

Kabocha squash is filling and versatile too - you can roast it, cook it whole, steam it, temporah it, or, as I found out in this recipe, boil it in a soup. Usually, for winter squashes, I simply halve and place them face down in a pan with about an inch of water, and cook at about 375F for maybe 40 minutes, depending on the squash and its size. You can do this with kabocha as well (it may take a little longer), but I've found that slicing and roasting it is particularly tasty, as is steaming it. You can find some good kabocha preparation info here.

If you're stuck in a butternut or summer squash rut, try out some other varieties, including kabocha!

More adventurous squash varieties: Top left: Kabocha; Top Right: White Acorn Squash, Center: Delicata Squash. You can also eat the skin of delicata after cooking.

Now back to the soup: Besides the kabocha, which you should be able to find at your grocery store, this soup does require some other ingredients that may be tricky to find unless you have an Asian market or a store with a good selection of Asian products. BUT, I think there are some short-cut steps, which I list below, that still produce a tasty soup.

Recipe adapted from Veganomicon's Kabocha-Udon Winter Stew
Makes 4 large servings


For the broth:
  • 1.5-2 quarts of water
  • 1-2 pieces of kombu (kelp- the package I found had "Dashi Kombu" written on it, which is what you want. You will actually need this to produce the broth for this soup, but see notes below if you can't find it).
  • 1/3 cup shoyu (Japanese soy sauce- I used 1/4 cup of regular, low sodium soy sauce, and it all turned out well)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 ounce of dried shiitake mushrooms (I think you could sub with fresh shittakes, see notes)
  • 2-4 slices of fresh ginger, in 1/4 inch thick slices
The Kombu (Kelp) I used
 Soup fillers:
  • 1 small-medium kabocha squash, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 package of udon noodles 
  • 1 large carrot, cut in 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 1 package of silken or firm tofu, drained and sliced into cubes
  • 1/3 cup sake (I actually didn't have any, so ended up using 4 Tbsp of mirin, which worked fine; mirin is a cooking sake that you may be able to find in the Asian aisle near soy sauces)
  • 2 Tbsp mirin
  • 2 scallions, sliced finely
  • Optional garnish: Pea shoots and ginger slices
  1. Prepare the broth by putting about 1-2 quarts of water in a large pot. (The original recipe called for 2 quarts, but I found that produced waaaaay too much soup. I prefer my noodle soups, as my Asian friends tease, "white people style" - aka, with a higher noodle-to-broth ratio. I started with 2 quarts and poured out a bit, so I suggest around 1.5 quarts). Add in the kelp (I used 1 large sheet from package shown above, but depending on packaging and taste you may want to use 2 pieces). Crush the ginger slices slightly, and add them into the pot along with the rest of the broth ingredients. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  2. Remove the kelp and discard (it's used for flavoring the broth only). You can also remove the ginger slices. (I actually left them in bc I liked the added kick of ginger- just be sure if you have large chunks in there not to serve them to your guests!) If your mushrooms came in large slices, remove them from the pot and slice into smaller chunks, and then return them to the broth.  Cover and keep on low heat.
  3. Heat water for the noodles (about 1 quart should do it for a package of udon) in a separate pot. Once boiling, add the udon noodles and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Drain after cooking.
  4. While the noodles are cooking, add to the broth pot all the other soup ingredients, and simmer on low-medium heat for about 15-20 minutes, checking the kabocha squash for tenderness with a fork to avoid overcooking. 
  5. Add the udon noodles to the soup, plus any optional garnishes, and serve. 
As long as you don't overcook the squash and you use a firm tofu, this should store & reheat well for at least a day. 

As mentioned, some of these items may be tricky to find. Here's an idea if you can't easily find kelp, shoyu, dried mushrooms, mirin, etc, etc: Most udon noodle packages come with a little flavor package. Mine had a mushroom flavoring with it; I actually added a small dash from the package for a little extra flavor since I didn't have the sake. A word of warning, though: those flavor packages are usually over-kill, especially sodium wise. Don't use much more than half of one if you're subbing for the home-made broth. Another option is to substitute for a miso broth base, which most grocery stores should have on hand.

I liked this new way to use kabocha, and it was pretty quick & easy to make, too. I'm not a huge fan of "seaweedy" tasting broths, so I cut back on the kelp and upped the ginger. I think leaving out the saki resulted in a broth that was mild and slightly lacking in flavor, but the garnishes of pea shoots and ginger, combined with the yummy noodles and awesome kabocha, made up for it!

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