Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hot pots and noodle bowls, simplified

I'm smitten.  Every night that I'm not making dumplings, I'm into the hot pots and noodle bowls, and now that I've got the technique down, they're so easy, and so fast, and really such a nice thing to do on a work night, putting together a pretty little meal that doesn't make a huge mess or keep you up all night doing dishes.

For both hot pots and noodle bowls, you want to start with a good stock.  This is the beginning of a variation on the Delicious stock from Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, but you can of course use a Japanese dashi, or whatever stock tastes good to you.  (The dried mushrooms can be eaten after the stock is done.)  Ideally, the stock is all made ahead of time.

For hot pots, first you build the hot pot on top of a layer of Chinese or savoy cabbage:

Pour on some stock, cover, and cook until the vegetables are just tender, usually around ten minutes.  While it's cooking, you can make your rice or boil noodles to serve with the hot pot.  Cooked noodles get strained and rinsed in cold water to stop them cooking; properly rinsed they'll hold out in the strainer without gluing themselves into a mass for the time it takes the rest of the meal to come together.

Incidentally, those white noodles in the pot are shirataki noodles.  These are the plain kind (there is also a tofu kind).  They're made from a type of yam and recently have been billed here and there as a no-calorie, high-fibre miracle food ("Imagine a world where noodles are calorie free!").  What are they like?  They come water-packed in little plastic packets that cost about $2 Cdn each.  Right out of the packet they're pretty disgusting, with an unpleasant fishy smell.  Rinsed, they have no taste or smell at all, and will take on the taste of whatever they're cooked with.  The texture is somewhat rubbery, but they won't turn mushy in the broth, which makes them good for dishes like this.  I admit I liked them and will certainly buy them again.  The tofu kind has a little tofu added, which is supposed to lessen the rubberiness somewhat and add some flavour (and also a very few calories) but I haven't tried it yet.

Now add anything that only takes a minute to cook:

Put the noodles in the bottom of your bowl, add vegetables from the hot pot, pour on some of the stock, and you're done!  You can also add condiments at this point: a few drops of sesame oil, a little soy sauce, hot sauce if you wish:

For noodle bowls, I've got a one-pot method that uses a saucepan with a steamer insert.  Have your broth ready ahead of time and in a measuring cup for microwaving (if you don't have a microwave or prefer not to use it, then it's a two-pot method: heat the stock in a small pot and keep it simmering).

Cook the noodles in the pot part of the steamer.  When done, drain them or fish them out into a strainer, rinse them in cold water to stop them cooking, and set them aside.  Now place the longer-cooking vegetables into the steamer basket and steam until just tender:

Add the ones that only take a minute and steam for another minute:

Put the noodles into the bottom of the bowl, arrange the vegetables on top of them, and pour on the very hot stock.  That's it!  I was rebelling against all the uncanny orderliness around here lately and deconstructed this one:

Here's some miso soup I had last night that I just made all in one pot because I wanted the vegetables to flavour the broth.  It's possible to do it this way as well, and if you want order in the bowl afterwards, just place the cooked noodles in the bottom of the bowl, carefully fish out the vegetables and tofu and arrange them on the noodles the way you want them, then ladle hot broth over them.

There are potatoes in this miso soup (they were cooked separately).  The possibilities, Eastern and Western, are endless...


  1. You have every reason to be smitten- such gorgeous food! They look incredible, each and every one.

  2. Sorry if this is a dupe; I tried to post this, but then it disappeared in the not sure whether it went through or not.

    Your hot pots look so pretty and colorful and they are full of such a variety of delicious items...I have to find some of those yam noodles. Also, I'd love to learn how to make tofu so puffy and golden looking like yours is.

  3. Thanks, Tami! I'm having way too much fun with these bowls.

    Rose, you can get that puffy and golden tofu just like I the store ;-) I'd always rather pooh-poohed it in the past. No more. The stuff is seriously delicious. It was called "tofu puffs" but all it is is tofu deep fried (by someone else). It works especially well in dishes like these which are, of themselves, very low fat.

  4. Looks delicious! I absolutely love these type of vegetable noodle bowls. I am definately going to make this. Thank you.

  5. Looks amazing--are those shiso leaves in the 3rd to last pic?

  6. Thanks for the info: I've got my eyes peeled for Tofu Puffs and Yam Noodles!

  7. Stacy...broccoli rabe, I'm afraid. There are exotic leaves of various kinds in my local oriental market, but I'm still sorting them out...