As the nights draw in and the leaves change colour, all I want to do is hibernate in my duvet. The slovenly animal that I am, this means comforting, revitalising and, above all else, easy food to see me through the winter months so I may reemerge in spring rejuvenated. Slow-cooked stews and homely pies certainly do the trick, but I am lazy; the majority of the time, the gratification I seek needs to be instant. This does not mean pricking the lid of a microwave meal, nor choosing between a chicken and mushroom or beef and tomato Pot Noodle – whenever I need duvet day succour, I turn to quick noodle soups.
Give me a bowl of aromatic broth and I am revived. Here I’ve outlined three of my favourite noodle soups – a Malaysian prawn laksa, a Vietnamese beef pho and a Japanese ramen. Please do take my names as mere suggestions of influence – I am under no illusion that my recipes are authentic, but this is the way I make them according to the time, energy and ingredients I have close at hand. Indeed, I always think the USP of noodle soups is their easy-going desire to be adapted – so long as you have a rich, flavourful broth underpinning the dish, the protein, vegetables and noodles you choose can be very flexible.
MALAYSIAN PRAWN LAKSA (SERVES 2)
Found across Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and southern Thailand, laksa is a noodle soup that bolsters and invigorates simultaneously. Creamy coconut sits alongside reviving tom yum paste to produce a soup ideal for those days you don’t want to leave the house.
As with many of the world’s most delicious dishes, laksa was developed as a result of cultures colliding. Following the naval expeditions of the Ming explorer Zheng He in the 15th century, many Chinese migrants and traders began to settle in Southeast Asian communities. A product of this were mixed-race communities called the Peranakans or Straits Chinese. The food culture of these communities was a hybrid of Chinese and Southeast Asian tastes and techniques, laksa being one of the dishes that evolved. Across Southeast Asia, the recipe varies wildly, but this is my simple take on what is comfort food at its best.
1 tbsp oil
100g aubergine, thickly sliced
2 tbsp tom yum paste
100ml coconut milk
1 stick lemongrass, bruised
300ml chicken stock
½ tsp sugar
1 lime, zest and juice
100g sugar snap peas
200g uncooked prawns
250g egg noodles, cooked according to packet instructions
Heat the oil in a medium pan over a medium heat and fry the aubergine for five minutes until it begins to turn golden.
Add the tom yum paste to the aubergine and fry for a further minute.
Add the coconut milk, lemongrass, sugar, stock, and the zest and juice of the lime. Bring the broth to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Throw in the prawns and the sugar snaps – continue to cook until the prawns turn coral pink.
Divide the noodles between bowls and ladle the fragrant broth over them. Serve with more lime wedges to spritz over the laksa.
VIETNAMESE BEEF PHO (SERVES 2)
I have never been to Vietnam, however, I know the beauty that is well-made pho. Last year on my Year Abroad I lived in Berlin, a city with a large Vietnamese population. I frequently visited a couple of restaurants in the arty Kreuzberg district and pho was always my order. Soft, slippery noodles and tender slices of beef in a spicy broth – what could be better? Traditional pho takes a day to make, as for the authentic experience you want a stock that has simmered for hours – patience is not a virtue of mine, however, so a quick version with a nod to all the traditional flavours is what I put together.
200g sirloin steak
1 onion, cut into quarters
3cm piece ginger, peeled
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
750ml beef stock
200g rice noodles
2 red chillies
2 spring onions
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
Freeze the steak whilst you get on with the broth (this will help it firm up and make it easier to slice finely)
Make the broth. Over a high heat, cook the onions and ginger in a dry pan until they are charred – this should take around 5 minutes.
Next, add the star anise and cinnamon to the onions and ginger and continue to cook for a minute.
Pour in the stock and 100ml water, bring to the boil and let the broth simmer for 15 minutes.
Whilst the broth intensifies, slice the steak as fine as you can muster. At the end of the broth’s cooking time, add the steak slices to the broth and simmer for a minute.
Remove the broth from the heat and add the fish sauce and soy sauce.
Strain the broth, reserving the steak and discarding the onion and aromatics.
Divide the rice noodles between a couple of bowls, top with the steak, spring onions and chilli, then ladle over the fragrant broth.
JAPANESE RAMEN (SERVES 2)
Whenever I’m feeling delicate after a rambunctious night out, I stagger down to a very well-known Japanese chain for an uplifting bowl of their chilli chicken ramen. Alongside a few cups of their green tea, provided mercifully gratis, I begin to return to a functioning human being, reinvigorated and serenely zen (no matter how short-lived that feeling is). There are moments, however, when even the notion of slithering out from my duvet feels like a stretch. This is a ramen for those moments. There are numerous reasons making ramen is so comforting – not only is the process incredibly easy and the product glorious, but the ingredients list should be viewed only as a blueprint to alter according to whatever you have available when you need it most.
350ml chicken stock
2 garlic cloves, halved
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2-inch piece of ginger, grated
½ tsp Chinese five spice
250g ramen noodles, cooked according to packet instructions
200g cooked chicken/pork, sliced
100g baby spinach
2 boiled eggs, halved
In a large saucepan, bring to the boil the stock, garlic, soy sauce, soy sauce, ginger, five-spice, chilli and 150ml water. Reduce the heat and let the broth simmer for 5 minutes.
Divide the noodles between bowls and top with slices of meat, a handful of spinach and boiled eggs.
Strain the ramen broth and pour it over the noodles. Scatter sliced spring opinions and sesame seeds over the ramen.