When I lived on Okinawa (a small country made up of a chain of islands that is now part of Japan) one of my favorite ways to spend the day was to venture off the Air Force base we lived on with my girlfriends, take a harrowing cab ride to downtown Naha, shop the street-markets and end up in a noodle house eating noodle soup bowls. (Of course, this was long before my gluten free recipes days and the noodles contained wheat of some sort, or at least the soy sauce did, but I didn’t know better at the time.) We would get big, steamy bowls of noodles in a fragrant broth topped off with whatever our hearts desired – meat, chicken, octopus, tofu, veggies, eggs, sea urchins – you name it.
We could get a filling and satisfying meal for about a dollar which was a good thing seeing as we usually spent most of our allowances on black market American jeans and local handcrafted jewelry.
To me, noodle soup bowls represent both comfort and adventure. For an American teenager, venturing off the uber-safe confines of an Air Force base onto the streets of an “unprotected” foreign country held excitement – there seemed to be no order to the way people drove their cars, we didn’t understand lots of the language and there were sights, sounds and smells you just don’t see in the U.S. We would pass vendors selling whole octopuses attached to long sticks, little old ladies yelling at us in Japanese to buy their wares and of course the alluring but forbidden Pachinko parlors (Pachinko is a cross between an arcade game and a slot machine) with their smoky, dark interiors, flashing lights and the constant sound of small metal balls dropping into holes and ringing bells.
After the over stimulation of a day on the “streets,” the comfort of the homey noodle bowl houses and a rich bowl of noodles was calming and soothing. And of course the soup bowls were ever so tasty.
Regardless of how inexpensive the noodle bowls were, they were always so visually appealing as well as delicious. Part of the appeal was that each element of the noodle bowls was prepared separately, cooked to perfection, and then arranged in that oh-so-Japanese aesthetic of clean and orderly.
It takes a tiny bit of extra work to cook each ingredient separately and arrange them into the final product but the extra time and effort is worth it. Of course, if that seems like just too much trouble, than no worries, chances are I (and the Okinawan noodle bowl shop owners) are never going to know! Just toss everything together – it will still end up being a big bowl of comfort.
For my noodle bowl soups I use brown rice pasta from Maplegrove Gluten Free Foods. They cook up more quickly than most gluten free pastas and don’t get mushy. The fact that they are organic and a whole grain food is a big bonus.
I also used in this recipe chicken thighs that I poached in the stock, removed and shredded. If you are really in a hurry, get a rotisserie chicken and shred the meat – easy peasy, just simmer the stock for about 5 minutes before putting in the noodles to let the flavors meld. You can substitute any type of meat, poultry, fish or seafood you prefer or in fact this recipe can easily be vegan by leaving out the meat all together and using vegetable or mushroom stock in place of chicken. And of course, you can change up the veggies to suit your own liking, just make sure they are cut small for quick cooking.
The broth for this recipe includes fresh ginger, finely grated (a micro-plane grater works well for this). Please, please, please do not consider using dried ginger – it is just not the same! A little tip – I buy my ginger, wrap it in a plastic bag and throw it into the freezer. Then when I need fresh ginger I just take it out and grate or cut it up frozen – no need to thaw – and I always have fresh ginger on hand!
Another thing – I prep all my vegetables before I start – that way it all goes along smoothly and I can get this on the table in about half an hour, piping hot!
Finally, the addition of the lime and cilantro is not typically Japanese, I just like it. Which goes to show you can customize this recipe however you see fit.
This is a recipe that transports me to a cherished place in my memories – do you have a dish that does the same for you? Please share!
Gluten Free Noodle Soup Bowl Recipe
2 quarts gluten-free chicken stock
2 cups water
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 tablespoons gluten-free Tamari or soy sauce
3 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (4 – 5 ounces each)
8 ounces brown rice pasta, spaghetti style
12 whole sugar snap peas, tips and strings removed
½ cup grated carrots
3 – 4 ounces shitake mushrooms, stems removed and discarded, caps sliced
Kosher or fine sea salt and pepper if needed
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Small handful of cilantro, basil or mint leaves for garnish
Slices of lime for serving if desired
Sriracha or other chili paste for serving, if you dare
Combine the chicken stock, water, sesame oil, Tamari or soy sauce and ginger in a large soup kettle. Cut the lime in half, squeeze the juice into the mixture and toss in the rinds. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken thighs, reduce heat to a simmer and poach the chicken thighs for 12 – 13 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from the broth along with the lime rinds. Discard the limes.
Raise the heat and bring the stock back up to a full boil, add the pasta and cook for 6 – 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the pasta is cooking, shred the chicken meat using 2 forks. Cover and keep warm.
When the pasta is done, remove from the stock with tongs or a strainer and divide among four soup bowls. Add the peas to the boiling stock and cook for 2 minutes. Remove with a strainer or slotted spoon and set aside, cook the carrots in the same manner for 1 minute and the mushrooms for 30 seconds. (I run all the vegetables individually under hot water in a strainer and place on a plate until I am ready to finish off the soup bowls.)
Taste the broth and add salt and pepper if needed. Ladle the broth over the noodles and arrange the chicken and veggies in individual little piles on top. Garnish with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and herb leaves if desired and serve right away.
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