9/11 Soup

February 5, 2013

Author Notes: For my entire life, that date had been known as my sister's birthday. Remember how you could practically hear the jangle of everyone's nerves? Not long after, Ruth Reichl wrote a story in the late, great Gourmet Magazine about a soup she prepared to calm her and friends' jangles. There was no recipe, merely a description of flavors and qualities. It was almost more of a tisane to be sipped from a favorite cup cradled in needy hands.

It spoke to me. I immediately began working on bringing it to life for myself and anyone who needed a bit of peace, perhaps of hope. It has been through many iterations, the most recent one including star anise.

From the beginning I tied up all the aromatics in a gauze bag to simmer in the stock and infuse it lightly yet deeply. By the time the soup arrived in bowls, flavors were present, though their ingredients were by then missing. I added silken udon noodles because I felt that in order to be a true soup, it should have a bit of texture. But just a bit. Just enough to draw one's attention away from worry and fear to focus on goodness.

Typically, when I prepare a noodle soup, I cook the noodles separately and add them to bowls along with soup at the moment of serving. Otherwise, the noodles tend to take up excessive amounts of liquid and go all soft and spongy, especially as leftovers. Here, though, I break the udon noodles into pieces about an inch or so long and simmer them right in the soup. There is never anything leftover.

I'm deliberately a bit imprecise about some measurements: soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, chili oil. They all come together to perfectly complete the soup, but I am aware that they are also strong flavors and should be added judiciously. That said, I go around looking for things to which to add fish sauce and chili oil; what is just right for me might be overpowering for others. On the surface, this is just soup; more deeply, it is about making a moment in life just right for you and those you love.
boulangere

Serves: 2 generously, or 4 average sized portions; simply increase to feed more
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 45 min

Ingredients

FOR THE STOCK

  • 1 quart good chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon Maggi Seasoning
  • 12" piece of cheesecloth and string to bind it
  • 1 pod star anise
  • 1 dried Thai chili or 2 japones
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons dried lemongrass, or 1 of fresh
  • 4 slices fresh ginger, 1/4” thick
  • One dozen stems cilantro
  • Handful of dried shitake mushrooms

FOR THE SOUP

  • All of the stock, aromatic bundle removed
  • 10 ounce package of udon noodles
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce and fish sauce to taste
  • Chili oil
  • Lime wedges for garnish
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. If you've never used Maggi Seasoning, please, oh please let this be your introduction. It is the magic ingredient that marries all the flavors here for ever and always. 1 teaspoon may seem insignificant, but trust me, it is in fact essential. Bring the stock to a simmer in a soup pot. Tie up the aromatics, with the exception of the mushrooms, in the cheesecloth to make a sort of sachet-shaped bundle. Add it to the pot along with the dried mushrooms, and cover it. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, until stock is deeply flavored. Remove the sachet and discard. Leave the mushrooms in the stock.
  2. Raise the stock to a boil. You can either leave the udon noodles slurpingly long or break them into user-friendly pieces and add them to the pot. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook until noodles are silken and tender, but not excessively soft, about 10 minutes.
  3. Ladle into your favorite bowls. Give each a golden kiss with sesame oil, then let people season to taste with the soy and fish sauces, and some drops of chili oil. Don't forget the lime wedges. Inhale the goodness. Makes a lovely birthday celebration.

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Reviews (24) Questions (0)

24 Reviews

creamtea February 26, 2013
so lovingly written, b.
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 26, 2013
Thank you, darling!
 
pierino February 6, 2013
Sounds wonderful. Good luck and I so much agree with you about measuring. When you write recipes you have to be precise. But real cooks don't do that. Well, okay you pastry chefs need to measure. It's kind of a left brain v right brain thing. Excellent thought in all of this.<br />I was just down in Gardena two days ago and had this outrageously great red ramen soup at the Marukai market.<br />Now, go and make me proud!
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 7, 2013
It's a constant dilemma for me in writing recipes. Yes, we pastry people need to be precise, but I'm equally relieved when I don't have to be. It perplexes me in teaching classes when there is someone whose hand is continually in the air, asking exactly how much of something I added. I sometimes even ask if they measure each and every ingredient precisely, and often get a look of "of course!" in return. I treat those people gently because I think they either are not intuitive cooks, or don't trust their own judgement or sense of taste - thinking of food as how it does taste as a result of following a recipe to the letter, rather than how it might or should or could taste based on their own preferences. <br /><br />Red ramen sounds pretty divine. One of these days my sister & I are going to meet up in LA, where her son is at UCLA, and I hope I'll have a chance to meet you in person. I'd love to go grocery and condiment shopping with you. Thanks for your generous words.
 
pierino February 7, 2013
There's a name for "those people": "lawyers".
 
ATG117 February 8, 2013
I agree with this for cooking, but when I'm baking, unless we're talking flavorings, filling for a pie ,or something less precise, I usually measure accurately. When do you veer from formula while baking?
 
creamtea February 26, 2013
nah, it's just that confidence that comes with experience, like anything else.
 
Marian B. February 6, 2013
Everything about this is just so lovely.
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 6, 2013
You are so kind. Thank you.
 
drbabs February 6, 2013
I love your writing, and the soup is perfect.
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 6, 2013
Thank you so much!
 
ChefJune February 6, 2013
Aaaah! Looking forward to trying this soup. Reading the headnote took me back to that trying day. Don't think even this would have made a dent after running from City Hall to Houston Street....
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 6, 2013
I hope you enjoy it. In the intervening time, the day has gone back to belonging to my sister.
 
TiggyBee February 6, 2013
Such lovleiness here...from the headnote to the soup.
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 6, 2013
Thank you! It's so good to hear from you.
 
luvcookbooks February 6, 2013
Like the head note and the recipe. Perfect for a tired weekday if you have the stock ready. :))
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 6, 2013
Thank you, and you're right - it is a good weeknight soup.
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 5, 2013
I neglected to mention that it should be served with a wedge of lime to complete the flavor profile . . . and final nudge towards one's own preferred blend.
 
mrslarkin February 5, 2013
A bowlful of goodness. Yes, please.
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 5, 2013
Just wait till you smell the aroma ;0)
 
Panfusine February 5, 2013
I'd love a cup of his comfort brew right now. Seems perfect to adapt to a vegetarian broth!. with strands of the noodles dripping down my chin!
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 5, 2013
Yes, totally adaptable to a vegetable stock base.
 
dymnyno February 5, 2013
Great prose and delicious sounding soup...I want to noisily slurp some now.
 
Author Comment
boulangere February 5, 2013
Thank you so much, Mary!