Pan-Asian Noodle Soup

This, a tweaked version of an old Food & Wine recipe, isn’t really Chinese, but it’s one of our quick Asian comfort food meals – definitely filed under QUICK FROM SCRATCH, which is the title of the F&W cookbook where the original, “Shrimp, Tofu, and Spinach Soup,” is found. Don’t let the long list of ingredients deter you – most are part of the broth and require just measuring and mixing in. We tend to make this vegetarian, but you can always add 1/2 lb cooked shrimp, white fish, squid, clams….


  • 2 oz cellophane noodles (although we have also had great success with fresh udon, dried or fresh Chinese noodles, and even spaghetti – using their guides for serving size, use 4 servings, although we often make 6-8 portions for 4 of us )
  • 8 oz firm tofu – you can use either the drier or the silken version here, our kids infinitely prefer the silken variety
  • 1/4 lb shiitake mushrooms, stems saved for making stock and caps cut into strips
  • 1/2 lb fresh spinach, rinsed and cut into 1″ wide ribbons (stems can be left on if not tough)
  • 2 scallions, cut on diagonal into 1/4″ thick slices


  • 1 T oil
  • 1 T fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 qt water, stock, or broth – I usually grab a box of organic free-range broth for this
  • 3 T Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam, available in Asian markets or in Asian section of conventional stores
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1&1/2 tsp brown or raw cane sugar
  • 3/4 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/8 tsp salt (you may want to start without the salt and add to taste – the need for it varies based on your choice of liquid)
  • 1/8 tsp dried pepper flakes (or you can serve chopped salted chilies, sriracha, hot oil, etc. to taste at the table)

garnish (optional)

  • lime wedges
  • cilantro – either chopped or whole leaves with a bit of stem attached
  • jalapeno slices, with or without seeds, depending on your heat tolerance


  1. If using cellophane noodles, cover them with hot water in a bowl and soften for 15 m, then drain. If using other noodles, cook according to the package directions, then rinse in cold water to remove any excess starch. (I find that pouring the hot broth over the cold noodles makes them just the right temperature for the kids to eat right away.)
  2. Cut the tofu into 1/2″ cubes and soak in enough salt water to cover (1 T salt to 2 c water) – this will keep the cubes from falling apart when cooked.
  3. In a large pot, heat the oil until it shimmers, turn heat down to medium, then add the ginger and garlic just until they release their fragrance – do not allow the garlic to brown.
  4. Add the curry powder, and again cook just until it is fragrant.
  5. Add the water/broth/stock, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, salt, and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil.
  6. Add the mushroom caps, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 m.
  7. Drain the tofu and add to the broth, heating gently until it returns to a simmer (a rapid boil will cause the tofu to break up).
  8. While the broth simmers, divide the noodles among the serving bowls and top with the spinach.
  9. Add the scallions to the broth, give it a quick, gentle stir, then ladle over the noodles.


  • You can substitute dried shiitakes if you first soak them in hot water until soft – the resulting liquid is a delicious addition to the broth mixture, but be sure to strain through cheesecloth or pour so that the grit that sinks to the bottom remains behind.
  • If you prefer the spinach more cooked, you can blanch it quickly in the water for the noodles before cooking the noodles: remove the spinach to a bowl of ice water, squeeze it out, and chop coarsely.
  • You can use a variety of green vegetables in place of the spinach, but some of them should be first blanched until tender in boiling water then shocked in ice water to stop the cooking process and set their bright color: broccoli (the usual kind or Chinese variety), kale, pea shoots and/or leaves, Japanese spinach, snow peas…. The possibilities are endless.
  • Try out a variety of noodles and/or seafood combinations.

do ahead:

You can cook and store the noodles and the broth separately as far as a day or more ahead. Toss a bit of oil with the noodles before storing. Bring the noodles to room temperature and the broth to a gentle simmer before finishing the recipe.

One Response

  1. The best noodle dish ever. I crave it often. =) Will try on my own!

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