Imagine you are the evil queen, and I am Snow White. You obviously want to poison for my superior beauty. Then, the good news is you don’t’ have to wait for the fall to get apples. An invite for a bowl of noodle soup, heaped with a variety of toppings, would definitely make me get an Uber to your castle, and devour the whole bowl. (Not sure why I am publicizing ways to terminate myself on the internet, but I hope you all get the idea that I take soups very seriously).
Some people say that the outcome is a lot more than the sum of its parts. I certainly feel that way about noodle soups. It is not one specific flavor, such as salty, sweet or bitter, that defines a good bowl, but rather the ability to evoke a certain experience. Ok, I might sound too much touchy-feely, but it’s true. I used to think that those candles with the scent of “A walk under the moonlight with a cat” sounds extremely stupid, but now I think I start to understand the concept. For instance, when I think of Burmese roasted duck noodle soup, I first always seem to recall the downpour rain, thunder and that intense smell of earthiness right when the rain hits the hot cement of Yangon. Then, comes the actual taste. The broth, which almost looks like liquid obsidian gems, has concoction of spices that, altogether, create an almost a new flavor profile with extreme umami and earthiness. The aroma is almost like walking into a Chinatown herbal medicine store- hard-to-describe yet I know it is very special.
Unfortunately, this deep complex flavor requires a 4-hour simmering step for the broth in the original recipe. Patience was never my virtue especially when I am pulling my hair out and need food fast. So, a few days ago, I set out to try several shortcuts, and I think I have come close. The trick is to use 1) concentrated chicken stock packages and 2) dried porcini mushrooms. Dried porcini mushrooms are well-suited to increase the flavor volume here for their high glutamic acid, the compounds that make Parmesan cheese tastes like crack. The broth is easily made in less than 15 minutes, but still delivers a warm hug that I direly need.
I would normally top this soup with roasted duck, but my student “salary” cannot feed me duck yet so I am going with ground pork instead. But, the spongy brown mushrooms soaked with the broth, fried crunchy onion bits, runny egg and generous amount of scallions and cilantro easily compensate for the lack of the billed poultry. Since I am already breaking rules, why stop now? Instead of using Asian egg noodles, I am paying my homage to the incoming fall by using spaghetti squash instead. The color contrast of white-bellied mushrooms, golden strands of squash and excessively dark broth makes the dish belong in an art museum.
Make this “noodle soup” and invite me. I will Uber anywhere. Even to the evil queen’s castle.
Ingredients for noodles and broth (one person)
- 1 ½ cup of spaghetti squash noodles
- 1 star-anise
- 2 cups of hot water
- 2 packages of Trader Joe’s chicken concentrate
- 1 tablespoon of dried porcini mushrooms (soaked in ½ cup of warm water)
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- One tablespoon of garlic-infused olive oil
Basic pork meat balls
- ½ quart of ground lean pork meat
- 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
- 1 clove of garlic (grated)
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- Obviously, you will not finish ½ quart of ground lean meat. However, I feel that you can easily over-mix and make the meat a lot tougher if you are starting with anything less than ½ quart.
- Mix all the ingredients together, but be sure not to agitate the mixture too much. In my opinion, using a spoon and gently folding things over work the best.
- Make into 1-inch diameter meat balls with hands.
- 4 brown mushrooms (quartered)
- Fried onions (from Trader’s Joes)
- 1 egg (boiled for 6-minutes)
- Mixture of scallions and cilantro
Instructions (for one person)
- Heat up one tablespoon of garlic-infused oil.
- In the mean time, half the spaghetti squash, place it on a microwave safe shallow tray with the cut side facing up, pour in 1/2 cup of water, and microwave for 10 minutes.
- Brown 5 meatballs under medium high. Don’t worry about cooking the meat all the way at this point.
- The meatballs may render some fats out. Scoop out extra until you have one tablespoonful worth.
- Add in 2 cups of boiling water from the kettle, followed by 2 packages of chicken concentrate packages. You are kind of deglazing the pan using chicken stock.
- Add in porcini mushrooms, along with their obsidian-colored liquid they have been soaking in.
- Add soy sauce, star anise, meatballs and mushrooms.
- Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Using a fork, scrape the spaghetti squash gently but firmly so that you are left with gorgeously bright golden strands.
- Pour the broth over spaghetti squash strands, and top with eggs, fried onions, scallions and cilantro.
- Savor till the last drop.