Cooking for One: Soup and Fall, a Reprise

Posted by on Tuesday Sep 22nd, 2009 | Print

DISH: Asian Broth with Shredded Veggies and Noodles
TYPE: Nourishing, warming, etc.
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Veggies

I left the Northern Hemisphere a couple days before Labor Day this year. The weather had cooled a bit since the peak of summer, but it was still definitely warm out—salad and sandwich weather, if you will, not yet time for soup. I spent ten days in Mozambique visiting my dear friend Essie, in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are, of course, reversed, and they were coming out of winter. Though I’d brought a dorky sunhat and an even dorkier button-up shirt with built-in sunscreen, in fact the daytime heat gave way to these crisp evenings and mornings, and I had to wear a fleece and wool socks to sleep. The weather was also cool enough to be hospitable to a bit of soup eating, and I won’t easily forget the amazingly flavorful fish soup that Essie’s boyfriend, Chris, served us at Essie’s birthday party as an appetizer. He also warmed some up for me later that night when we got home from the bars and I was busy making pancakes for Essie, who’d momentarily rejected the soup for something sweeter.

The soup is a tradition in Chris’s family, influenced by their Portuguese background and the many places they have lived. It uses fish heads for maximum flavor, and it gets the rest of its depth from a variety of root vegetables native to Mozambique. Eventually I’ll have a go at it, but for now I guess I have to be content with memories of its spicy, tangy, seafood-infused taste and health-giving properties.

By the time I returned to Brooklyn, after more than 24 hours of straight travel, I was craving soup again. It wasn’t just that the city I had returned home to was suddenly autumnal, the days short and the breeze chilly, but also that I needed to recover from the carb-heavy diet of my trip. Much to the embarrassment of my laid-back, acclimated hosts, I refused to eat any vegetables that hadn’t been thoroughly cooked, and I limited myself to meals of fresh local fish and French fries (I mean, I was pretty happy with this choice, admittedly). For the remainder of my menu, what I ate the most of were fluffy white Portuguese rolls spread thickly with margarine and guava jelly.

So on that first afternoon back in my apartment, while I fought to stay awake to a normal New York bedtime hour, I put a bunch of pots on my stove and made soup. Soup making was partly a response to the new season and partly an effort to detox from my trip. The second reason is why I added nourishing, purifying ingredients, like chopped garlic, ginger, and scallions. But the second reason is also what led me to make a slight—mainly aesthetic—gaffe:

I had bought a beautiful red cabbage, and I added lots of thin slices of it to the soup when it was partly done cooking. Before I knew it, my pale, mild soup had turned a dark shade of reddish-brown (well, the soy sauce helped with this), and I worried that though it smelled and tasted delicious, it had ceased to look at all appetizing. I panicked for a moment or two before I remembered that the soup was intended for my eyes and my palate only. Even so, when I reheated the soup to actually eat it, I found the color bothered me far less. And once I’d added noodles and various other condiments, I had almost convinced myself that this disaster, maybe, maybe, wasn’t one.

From my kitchen, where big boiling pots are my welcome-home gift to myself, to yours,

Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**
the culprit: red cabbage wound up defining my soup

Asian Broth with Shredded Veggies and Noodles
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced

3 cloves of garlic minced
1 1/2 tablespoons of grated ginger
1 large carrot (or 1/2 cup baby carrots), cut into julienne
1/4 large cabbage (red or white), finely sliced
1/2 yellow pepper, julienned
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 lime

For serving:

2 cups rice noodles cooked according to package directions (you can also use regular pasta—I like whole wheat angel hair here)
1-2 teaspoons sesame oil
Sriracha
Fresh cilantro
1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Combine the onion, scallion, 2 cloves of garlic, ginger, and carrot in a large pot with 7 cups of water. Bring to a boil slowly. Simmer for 15 minutes, until the vegetables have wilted. Add the cabbage, pepper, cilantro, and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and simmer for another 15-20 minutes until all the vegetables are very tender. Remove from the heat and squeeze in the lime. Taste for seasonings, and add more soy sauce if you’d like.
When ready to serve, reheat the soup to nearly boiling. Distribute the rice noodles amongst four servings. Ladle the soup over each, then sprinkle with a few drops of sesame oil and a 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro, and pass the sriracha around so people can add to taste.
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  • Kate

    This sounds great. It sounds like it could be a great buffet dish–with all different toppings for different guests. Can't wait to try it. And, we're all very glad you're back in the Northern Hemisphere!!

  • Phoebe and Cara, the Quarter-Life Cooks

    Kate – that's a great idea, and a great way to elevate a cooking-for-one dish into something that's good for company.

  • Katherine

    Would the broth keep well if stored in the fridge? I try to make one meal that will last me the whole week, just cooking on Sunday.

  • Phoebe and Cara, the Quarter-Life Cooks

    Katherine–yes, the broth keeps really well in the fridge for about a week. You can add the rice noodles and any extra veggies to each bowl as you eat. Enjoy!