Often, when people learn I’m a professional cook they ask, “What’s your specialty?”
I think through the possibilities, but my honest answer is this: I can open a fridge, any fridge, and come up with something to eat. Improvisation, I believe, is my one true talent.
I’m an innovator at heart. Ask me what I want to cook and I’ll ask you what you have. I need the concrete as a starting place and then my creativity kicks in.
A simmering pot of turkey broth has made my week during a period of time when I’m lacking inspired dinner ideas.
Part of that comes from pleasing a 4 year old who eliminates whole categories of food from her diet each week. Once acceptable omelets, avocados, rice, fresh spinach, corn, potatoes (even fried!), carrots (okay, we’ve overdone the carrot sticks a bit) are rejected out of hand.
The other factor is how at 5 p.m. all the bright possibilities of my whole day begin to constrict as the darkness looms.
The possibilities of homemade stock
Maybe the solution is as simple as having some good stock on hand. You see, I haven’t bought chicken in a very long time because all I could get was factory farmed, and I’m not a fan of canned.
After we put away most of the 24 pound heritage turkey last week, I simmered up its bones and started daydreaming of meals as the warming scents filled the kitchen, then put away quarts of the straw-hued broth.
This udon soup is the first supper that came from my turkey broth haul, a true marriage since udon is for leftovers.
I poured through cookbooks and websites hoping to get a secret ingredient to make udon soup authentic, but apart from cooking the noodles just so, there was no single formula.
Instead, it was the overall technique for constructing a soup Japanese style. In American cooking, we make soups by putting everything together for the flavors to mingle.
With udon, each ingredient is prepared separately: the tofu I broiled, the edamame I steamed, the broth I simmered and seasoned with soy sauce and mirin.
None of the ingredients meet up until they land in your soup bowl. This was not only handy for preparing it all in advance, but for my choosy and changeable daughter.
And tonight, she decided and announced with full conviction that she likes edamame now. If only for one meal, it was worth it.
Turkey Udon Soup
This simple noodle soup celebrates the pure flavors of homemade broth or stock. Use turkey broth from your Thanksgiving leftovers or substitute best-quality or homemade chicken stock. This version contains crispy tofu and edamame. Add additional vegetables, such as sauteed mushrooms, scallions, peas or seaweed as you like.
- 1 12-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
- 1/3 cup edamame fresh or frozen
- 1 9.5-ounce package udon noodles
- 1 quart turkey broth or chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- fine sea salt
- finely chopped scallions or nori (seaweed) for topping optional
Line a small baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Slice the tofu into 1/2-inch thick slabs and space them apart on the baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce and marinate for 10 minutes, turning once, while you preheat the broiler.
Broil the tofu until browned on top, about 15 minutes, then flip and cook the other side until browned. (Alternatively, you can brown the tofu in a pan with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil on the stove top.) Slice the tofu into 1/2-inch strips.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the edamame and boil for 1 minute, then scoop them out of the water with a strainer and set them aside in a bowl.
Cook the udon in the boiling water until tender to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain well, rinse briefly under running water and then set aside.
Bring the turkey broth to a simmer. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce, mirin and a pinch of salt. Taste and add additional soy sauce, if desired, to make a mild-flavored broth.
To serve, portion the noodles into 4 serving bowls and top with the tofu and edamame, along with additional toppings to taste.