I love noodle soup. There's something about taking a bowl of noodles, tasty in their own right, and then serving them not in air but in a big bowl of liquid flavour. Once you've finished lip-smacking your way through the meal you can sit back, lift the bowl to your lips and slurp away. They're a god send in hot countries, especially on street stalls where in my mind they serve a dual purpose. First off any thoughts of poor hygiene are lifted when your whole meal is bathed in boiling liquid and - secondly - you get a free pint of salty liquid to replace the pint of salty liquid sitting in your sweat drenched clothing. One probably has little need for either of these properties sat at home but when one is after a quick and filling dinner few things can beat one.
Some people might think it's a simple dish but if I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life it would be a contender - there's just so much variety. Starting with the noodles you can have slippery ho fun, soft egg noodles, chewy udon, toothsome banh pho, trashy ramen, big balls of vermicelli... Moving onto their bath you've got clear savoury broth, something hot and sour, the rich coconut of a laksa, the deeply fragrant pho... We've not even reached any fillings yet where the list is limited pretty much by your imagination - prawns always work well, as does soft tofu - if you're a bit more adventurous the similarly textured pigs blood makes frequent appearances. Tripe and tendon provide lovely textures at odds with the liquid and soft ho fun. Who could forget the won ton, or any other dumpling for that matter? The king prawn dumpling noodle soup of Chinatown's Hungs being particularly special. An unctuous trotter or pig knuckle not only gives the broth mouth-feel but makes for an enjoyably gelatinous and messy experience.
There's no need to limit the filling to things cooked in the broth either - bun cha in Vietnam can see grilled pork kebabs sat in your broth, the pho vendors of Hanoi carve away at joints of topside and flank and the Japanese are more than happy to slice a deep fried katsu into your bowl or slip in a couple of tempura prawn. Who could forget the windowfuls of crispy pork belly and roast duck that are equally as likely to end up in a bowl as they are on top a mound of rice? Even when it's been served you can still take it further - chili oil is a prerequisite condiment in many countries, others add heat through sliced chili or counter any sweetness with a squeeze of lime or a dash of black vinegar. Heading back to Vietnam's pho (possibly the world's greatest noodle soup and someday gracer of this blog) a Saigon vendor will eschew the pared down Hanoi style in favour of a side plate of herbs that allow you to mix and match flavours until it's your pho, not anyone else's. The dish is endless.
Enough of my ramblings though and onto the recipe. There was no long drawn out process that culminated in this, just two minutes of thinking what was quick and would utilise the ingredients in my cupboard and it was born. Pork and cabbage have an affinity though as do pork and egg, not so sure about egg and cabbage but together everything worked really well. Normally I'd use vacuum-packed udon but ages ago I bought a pack of dried udon from a Japanese supermarket and here I finally got around to using them. They were a somewhat different beast, ultimately similar but with a little more bite and colour. The soup won't lose a lot - if anything - from taking the easy option though.
Grilled Pork and Chinese Leaf Udon Soup
Ingredients, serves 2
125gr dried udon or vacuum packed udon for 2
2 pork loin chops
1/2 a Chinese Leaf/Cabbage
750ml chicken stock
2 slices of ginger, 5mm thick
1 clove of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
Greens of 2 spring onions, finely sliced
If using dried udon boil according to the packet instructions, whilst they're cooking add the egg till hardboiled. If you have the moister noodles you're going to have to cook your egg separately and give the noodles a brief dip in boiling water. Drain the noodles, dress lightly with sesame oil to prevent sticking and shell the egg.
Salt the pork chops and cook on a ridged griddle for 3 mins a side until just cooked. I'm more than happy with a trace of pink but it's up to you.
Bring the chicken stock to a boil and add the ginger and garlic. Slice the Chinese leaf into 4cm-5cm squares and cook in the chicken stock to taste. Whilst I'm a fan of crunchy vegetables in general I quite like the slippery feel of well cooked Chinese leaf in soup, for this I simmer maybe 6 minutes, you may want to simmer less and have more crunch. I'm not worried about losing nutrients as I'm going to drink the cooking liquor.
To serve place udon on one side of bowl, cabbage on the other and then top with stock (discard the ginger and garlic) till just covered. Slice the pork chop (pour any juices from resting into the stock) and place on top, add half the hard-boiled egg and the spring onion greens.