Vegan Mushroom Udon Noodle Soup
It’s nearly May, so you would think I’d be changing up my diet and swapping out warm comfort foods for lighter dishes. But not so, and for two reasons. First, we’ve had an unseasonably chilly spring and i’m still wearing my winter coat, and wearing your winter coat means it's still soup weather. And second, even in the summer, I have a penchant for warm comfort foods like this Mushroom Udon Noodle Soup. I can’t help it that I work in a climate controlled environment that tricks my body into thinking it’s 68° all year round.
I'm excited to share this recipe with you because it's emblematic of my favorite cooking style: creating layers of flavors and textures to produce a flavor-popping, heart-warming dish. It also features two kinds of mushrooms, which is one of my favorite foods and is a delicious, healthy way to boost those irresistibly rich and savory umami flavors.
This recipe features a few specialty ingredients, which I think add a lot of flavor. I've included notes below on where you can find these ingredients and how to substitute them if necessary.
Tofu: This recipe calls for pressing tofu to remove the excess water. That's because I prefer firmer varieties of tofu. However, if you want to skip the step of pressing tofu, you can use soft or silken tofu. These softer varieties of tofu are ready to eat once drained and are great in soup, though they are softer in texture than what you see in these photos. Alternatively, you're not a fan of the texture of barely cooked tofu (many are not) and prefer a crispier tofu, you can bake or pan-fry the tofu in a separate pan. You can find a recipe for crispy baked tofu in an earlier blog post (search "crispy tofu" in the blog post)
Kombu: Kombu is dried sea kelp and can be found in most Asian grocery stores, online, or at specialty grocery stores such as Whole Foods. If you can't find kombu, you can substitute wakame or dulse, which are also in seaweed family.
Dried Mushrooms: You can find dried mushrooms in most grocery stores or online, and while they can be a bit pricy, they add a world of flavor. If you can't find dried mushrooms, here's a guide on substituting fresh mushrooms for dried, reconstituted mushrooms.
Lemongrass: You can find fresh lemongrass in Asian grocery stores and some specialty grocery stores such as Whole Foods. You might also find jarred, pre-cut lemongrass, which will work. If you can't find lemongrass, I would just omit it since I don't think there's a good substitute that mimics the flavor of lemongrass.
Vegan Mushroom Udon Noodle Soup
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms or dried porcini mushrooms
8 ounces mixed fresh mushrooms, trimmed and sliced (reserve stems and scraps)
6 scallions, white and light green parts only, diced (extra scallions for garnish)
½ cup cilantro leaves
2 (4-inch) pieces of kombu
1 tablespoon freshly minced ginger
2 tbsp lemongrass stalks, sliced
4 tablespoons tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) or soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces dried Udon noodles
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-14 ounce block of firm tofu, drained and pressed, cut into 1 inch cubes (see recipe notes)
4 tablespoons white miso paste
Garnishes (optional): fresh scallions, thinly sliced; crushed red pepper flakes; sesame seeds; toasted sesame oil
Place the dried mushrooms in a medium saucepan and cover with 6 cups of water. Let the mushrooms rest for 15 minutes until they have softened and rehydrated. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and leave the liquid in the saucepan.
To the mushroom liquid in saucepan, add the reserved fresh mushroom stems and scraps, scallions, cilantro, kombu pieces, ginger, and lemongrass. Bring the broth to a boil and then reduce it to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
After the mushroom broth has simmered, strain it through a fine mesh sieve and discard the solids. Return the broth to the saucepan and stir in the soy sauce. Taste for seasonings and salt and pepper if desired.
While the broth is simmering, cook the udon noodles in a large soup pot or Dutch oven until the noodles are al dente. Drain the noodles and rinse well with cold water. Set aside at room temperature while you prepare the rest of the dish.
In the same pot used to cook the noodles, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic cloves and cook until fragrant but not yet browned, about 1 minute. Then add the sliced fresh mushrooms and cook for 4-5 minutes, until softened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To the pot, add the reserved mushroom broth and bring to a simmer. Add the cooked Udon noodles and the diced tofu and cook for 1-2 minutes until the noodles and tofu are heated through. Finally, stir in the white miso paste to incorporate, then turn off the heat.
Divide the noodle soup among 4 bowls and garnish with sliced scallions, crushed red pepper flakes, sesame seeds and sesame oil, if desired.