Introduction: Udon Noodles in Miso Sauce
There are a number of reasons for posting this recipe, it's healthy, tasty, quick and it will save the earth. I know, I know, that last one is a bit of a tall order, but it's true. This recipe is vegetarian and according to the UN, livestock accounts for 18% of global carbon emissions. You can actually do more to reduce carbon emissions by eating vegetarian one day a week than trading in your hummer for a hybrid.
But does eating less meat have to be a sacrifice? Absolutely not! I've been cooking a lot of vegetarian dishes just because they're easy, delicious, work well as leftovers, and as long as your not trying to match the calorie per dollar density of fast food, cheap.
This recipe is a savory miso sauce covering udon noodles and caramelized onions with spinach and sesame seeds. It has a rich sweet and sour flavor and the sauce has a rich consistency.
So what does it take?
1/2 to 1 lb udon noodles (substitute fettuccine if not available)
1 cup sliced onions (preferably red)
1-2 cups spinach
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp black sesame seeds (optional)
2 cloves minced or chopped garlic
2 tbsp ginger
1 tbsp sesame oil (substitute vegetable oil if unavailable)
2 tbsp miso
1/4 cup mirin (sweet cooking sake)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
The first step is to cook the noodles, while that is cooking, mix the sauce and caramelize the onions. Once the onions are caramelized, we add the garlic and ginger then the sauce, finally the spinach and noodles. After the spinach wilts we'll add the lemon juice and sesame seeds. This is all quick and easy when well timed.
Step 1: Cook the Udon Noodles
You will need a standard pot for cooking some noodles, udon noodles cook just like other noodles. Boil water with a little salt, then add noodles for 10-12 minutes or until desired texture. Udon is a nice noodle because it is large, soft and takes on the flavor of whatever you put it in. Try not to overcook your Udon noodles, they're much better al dente.
I recommend getting a strainer or colander ready and making sure your noodle spoon is out. Digging dirty utensils out of the dishwasher and washing them while something is on the burner is no fun.
Fill up your pot with water and set the burner on high. Add some salt, only enough to boil and help with texture, the miso will add all the salt we need to the recipe.
Once the water boils and we add our Udon noodles, turn the heat down, cover and let boil while we stir up some miso sauce.
Step 2: Mix Miso Sauce
While your Udon noodles are boiling away, mix the miso sauce in a small mixing bowl. First, a word about miso. You will most likely have to visit a specialty or Asian market to find this. It is not at most grocery chains in the US. Miso can be substituted with soy sauce and extra salt if absolutely necessary, but this is not recommended for this recipe. The internets also claim that sesame paste and tahini can be substituted, but if you can't find miso, these may be hard to find. Miso comes in different types, I picked up a red miso this time as it is usually most versatile. Which miso you have is not as important as having miso.
Rice vinegar and Mirin are also special items. You can substitute rice vinegar with either cider vinegar with a pinch of sugar or with a 3 to 1 mixture of white vinegar and water. Mirin is sweet cooking sake (rice wine). Essentially, it's Japan's answer to cooking wine. The only acceptable substitute seems to be a 3 to 1 mixture of sake and sugar.
For this step we'll need
1 small mixing bowl
2 tbsp miso
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup water
Add everything in the mixing bowl and stir till thoroughly mixed, don't worry if some pieces of miso don't completely dissolve, we'll take care of that in the pan.
You are probably better off using a whisk or spoon, the chop stick stirring method I used in the photos was slower than necessary.
Step 3: Clean Spinach and Slice Onions
If the spinach is not pre-washed, do so now. Slice the onions and set them aside. Since we're saving the planet with this meal, put any onion and spinach waste in your compost. We use a lychee nut and coconut jello cup container that we picked up when we bought the miso. The miso lasts much longer than the little jello cups, but we get to reuse the jello cup container to compost in a small kitchen without creating a stinky mess. This makes up for the fact that it ships individually wrapped 1 oz servings of said jello.
Step 4: Drain the Noodles
The noodles should be done by this point. Use a strainer, such as shown in the photos or a colander to drain the water. Be careful not to let too many delicious noodles fall down the drain during this step.
I usually run about a 1/4 cup of cold water over the noodles after draining and then strain again. If you are using a colander, you can just run cold water over the noodles after they've drained. This is supposed to keep them from getting mushy, it seems to work.
Once the noodles are off the heat and out of the water, set them aside and begin cooking the onions.
Step 5: Caramelize Onions
We will caramelize the onions in the pan where we will cook the rest of the dish. For this we will need the following:
a 3qt frying or sauce pan
1 tbsp sesame oil
Heat up the oil in the pan and add the onions, cook them until they are caramelized. If you are using white or yellow onions, this is just until they are about to begin carbonizing.
Step 6: Add Garlic, Ginger and Sauce
Make sure that the following are ready
2 cloves of chopped garlic
2 tbsp of ginger
mixed miso sauce
As soon as the onions are caramelized, add the garlic and ginger and stir well. I use chopped or minced garlic from a jar. It's much easier to deal with than chopping some fresh cloves and I don't mind sacrificing that much quality for the convenience. The same goes for the ginger. I've heard that ginger powder is a perfectly acceptable substitute for most dishes, but I prefer the pureed ginger in a tube from the produce section of the grocery store. It's more expensive than fresh ginger, but it's much easier to deal with than grating fresh ginger and mixes better than powdered ginger.
Optionally, if you like a spicier version of this dish, then add a touch of vegetable curry paste. I use close to 1/4 tsp.
After everything is thoroughly mixed, pour in the miso sauce that we mixed earlier. Make sure that everything is mixed well. If there are any pieces of miso that didn't get mixed into the sauce enough, now would be a good time to break them up.
On a medium heat, let everything come to a bubble. The sauce should be thickened nicely. Now we are ready for the spinach.
Step 7: Add Spinach and Udon Noodles
Add the spinach to the pan, mix it a little and then add the noodles. Mix them well. How wilted the spinach becomes depends on how long you leave it on the heat, if you'd prefer your spinach less wilted, do this step quickly.
Step 8: Add Lemon Juice and Sesame Seeds
Add 1 tbsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp of black sesame seeds to the pan and mix well. You might want to turn off the heat at this point, we don't want the sauce to get too thick.
After everything is properly distributed, it's done. Serve hot. I can't really give an account of how this does as leftovers since there are never any leftovers when I make this.