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Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth

December 5, 2013

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If you have not yet fully recovered from the excesses of Thanksgiving eating, then you’re not alone.

Discussions of calorie counts aside, Thanksgiving is lovely for the wide variety of dishes, all crammed together on the dinner table. There is such an assortment of complementary textures, colors, and flavors, it’s no wonder we eat until we’re beyond full—after all, we’re only sampling a little bit of everything.

But in the aftermath of so much cooking and indulging (and endless dish-washing), I found myself in the mood for something simpler, a meal that took the comforting form of a single bowl of noodle soup.

Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger BrothPin it!

Not that soup weather has quite arrived in Santa Barbara yet, but I guess you could say I was thinking of my (more) northern hemisphere friends.

Delectably chewy udon noodle soups were one of my favorite wintertime meals when I lived in Japan, though I usually enjoyed them at restaurants (little hole-in-the-wall shops specializing only in udon, sometimes also in soba) rather than making my own at home.

Making Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth

When I did make udon at home, I used powdered instant soup mix for the broth. It wasn’t until recently that I got to thinking about how nice it would be to figure out how to make my own dashi-based broth that would be far more satisfying (as most homemade things are) and that would have far less sugar and salt compared to instant udon soup mixes.

Making Homemade Vegetarian Dashi with kombu seaweed and mushrooms

I still think dashi-no-moto packets (like dashi tea bags) are an excellent way to quickly make a small amount of dashi (a clear-ish Japanese fish/seaweed stock) for use at home. But they have two elements that I know some people might object to: they use bonito fish shavings so they’re not vegetarian, and they contain MSG, which I don’t mind at all, but I know many people prefer to get their rich umami flavors from naturally occuring monosodium glutamate (like in seaweed or mushrooms), rather than from additives.

Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger BrothPin it!

I’ve used dashi-no-moto tea bags for several previous blog posts, mentioning that vegetarians and vegans could forgo the instant stuff (made from seaweed and fish flakes) for a homemade seaweed or mushroom vegetarian dashi, but I never actually explained how one would go about doing that… until now!

Making Homemade Vegetarian Dashi with kombu seaweed and shiitake mushrooms

This broth, which I am now hooked on, is made using a hybrid seaweed-mushroom dashi as a base. Vegetarian dashi is usually made with either seaweed or mushrooms, but I wanted something super flavorful to stand up against the ginger I’d later add to my soup, so I used both! Although it takes 8-12 hours for the kombu (kelp) and shiitake mushrooms to steep, it’s still insanely easy to make: you just let it sit in the fridge overnight—or start it steeping before you leave for work in the morning.

Making Homemade Vegetarian Dashi with kombu seaweed and mushrooms

Once the dashi is ready (it can be made up to a week in advance, then refrigerated), this hearty dinner of udon soup comes together easily. The dashi is simmered with spicy fresh ginger—not exactly traditional, but amazingly welcome in a hearty winter soup—while the pre-cooked frozen udon noodles are boiled for only 2 minutes. (One of my friends/co-workers in Japan once pointed out to me that frozen udon is infinitely superior to dried udon, and I wholeheartedly agreed and never looked back.)

Making Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth

This type of udon soup is called Kitsune Udon (“fox udon”) because of the slightly sweetened deep-fried tofu floating on top.

When I first learned of the dish, the name made sense to me, since the the deep fried inari-age tofu, sweetened with soy sauce and sugar for use in inarizushi (vinegared rice in fried tofu pouches) is a similar color to foxes’ fur, but it turns out that the dish is named “fox udon” since foxes are thought to enjoy eating abura-age (deep-fried tofu).

Ingredients for Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth

Don’t let the sound of “sweet” tofu dissuade you, though; Paula usually hates sugar in savory things, but even she enjoyed it. The sweet tofu provides a nice contrast to the gingery broth and the kick of fresh scallions.

Sliced fresh ginger for Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth

Storebought (pre-sweetened) inari-age can be cloyingly sweet, but unfortunately it was all I could find, despite going to THREE different Asian markets in town. You can cut the sweetness, though, (and get rid of the crazy amount of oil it’s packed in) by pouring boiling water over the inari-age, as I explain in the recipe below.

Another option, if you live in a real city with an actual Asian supermarket, would be to buy unseasoned abura-age (deep fried tofu pouches), pour boiling water over them to get rid of some of the oil, then simmer them in a little water, soy sauce, and sugar, to taste.

Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth and close-up of Shichimi Togarashi chili powder

If you’re looking to treat yourself to a simple meal of comforting, thick, chewy noodles submerged in a warming ginger broth, then look no further; udon satisfies, whether or not you deck it out with all the trimmings: the sweetened tofu, the shichimi chili powder, some mushrooms or other vegetables you might want to add… the only elements truly necessary to a good udon soup are perfectly cooked udon and a good broth that threatens to upstage it.

Making Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth

I’ve been making udon for two, for me and Paula, but I made myself udon for one to take the photos you see here. Meanwhile, Paula was enjoying some of our hard-earned homemade tamales for lunch (more tamale recipes coming soon!); and I wasn’t even jealous.

Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger BrothPin it.

Print both recipes. (PDF)

RECIPES:

Vegetarian Kombu-Mushroom Dashi

(Serves 2)

Active time: 10 minutes; Total time 8-12 hours

Ingredients:
~ 1-2 small sheets
kombu (dried kelp; available at most Asian markets)
~ 4 cups water
~ ½ oz. dried shiitake mushrooms

Special equipment needed:
~ fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth

How to make it:

1. Gently wipe any gritty parts off of the kombu using a damp kitchen cloth, but do not wipe away too much of the white powder that coats the seaweed; that will give the dashi much of its flavor. Place the kombu in a pitcher or bowl and add the water. Cover and refrigerate for 8-10 hours (or overnight). After 8-10 hours, remove and discard the seaweed.

2. Add dried shiitake mushrooms to the broth and soak another 1-2 hours (overlapping with the kombu soaking time, or not), then remove and discard the mushrooms.

Note: You can make this vegetarian dashi up to a week ahead of time and keep it covered in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

Making Homemade Vegetarian Dashi with kombu seaweed and mushrooms

3. Before using the dashi, strain it through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth (or at least simply pour it slowly from one container to another, since most of the particles/grit, if any, should be left behind).

Print both recipes. (PDF)

Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth

(Serves 2)

Active time: 20 minutes; Total time: 25 minutes

Mushroom Ginger Broth Ingredients:
~ 1 recipe for vegetarian dashi (above), or 4 cups of any dashi or lightly flavored soup stock
~ 2-3 slices fresh ginger, peeled
~ 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
~ 1 Tbsp. sugar
~ 2 tsp. mirin (or substitute 1 tsp. sugar)
~ ¼ tsp. salt

Kitsune Udon Soup Ingredients:
~ 2 packages/servings frozen Sanuki udon (available at most Asian markets)
~ 2 halved slices of inari-age (abura-age seasoned with sugar and soy sauce for inarizushi)
~ scallions, sliced, to garnish
~ shichimi togarashi or other chili sauce/powder to serve
OPTIONAL:
~ 1 bunch bunashimeji beech mushrooms (or other mushrooms), bottom portion removed
~ dab of wasabi, to serve

Special equipment needed:
~ fine mesh strainer

How to make it:

1. In a small saucepan, add the ginger slices to the vegetarian dashi and bring to a boil; once boiling, reduce the heat to keep the broth at a simmer, 10-15 minutes. Check on the broth frequently in the first 4-5 minutes of cooking, and use a fine mesh strainer to skim off and discard any bitter, astringent white foam that may rise to the top. (If using bunashimeji or other mushrooms, blanch the mushrooms in the ginger broth for 2-3 minutes, or to taste, then remove with a strainer and set aside.)

Skimming the foamy parts off of the simmering dashi

2. Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil (to cook the frozen udon). Place the sweet inari-age slices in a colander in the sink. Once the water comes to a boil, pour just a little of the boiling water over the inari-age slices in the colander, to wash away some of the excess oil and sugar from the fried tofu. Then set the tofu aside, leave the colander in the sink, and return the pot of boiling water to the burner.

3. Once the broth in the smaller saucepan has been simmering nearly 10 minutes, add the soy sauce, sugar, mirin, and salt, and continue simmering several more minutes until the noodles are ready.

Making Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger Broth            Boiling frozen udon noodles for 2 minutes

4. When the broth is nearly done, add the frozen udon to the boiling water in the large saucepan, and cook for about 2 minutes total (using chopsticks to gently break the blocks of noodles apart). Then pour the udon into the colander, give it a brief rinse with water, and drain it well. Portion the cooked udon into two large soup bowls to serve. Place 2 inari-age slices and half of the cooked mushrooms on top of each bowl of udon.

5. Remove and discard the ginger slices from the broth. Gently pour half the broth over each bowl of udon. Garnish with sliced scallions and serve immediately with shichimi togarashi or some other chili sauce/powder (or wasabi), to taste.

Print both recipes! (PDF)

Kitsune Udon in Mushroom Ginger BrothPin it!

Related recipe posts:

Japanese Kabocha (Pumpkin) Leek Soup Ochazuke (Rice with Green Tea) Hearty Miso Soup Takamatsu Udon Noodles
Japanese Kabocha (Pumpkin) Leek Soup Ochazuke (Rice with Green Tea) Hearty Miso Soup (Travel Photos) Kyoto Tofu and Takamatsu Udon
56 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2013 9:41 am

    Love this soup. Not only attractive, also very health minded…not to mention the flavors! Everything about it is good! Beautifully photographed too.

    • December 5, 2013 9:55 am

      Thank you! It’s definitely an attractive and tasty soup… I don’t know about health-minded though, since udon noodles are not the healthiest of noodle choices (though they are one of the most delicious!), but yes, just by making my own dashi and broth, I save myself from lots of added sugar, sodium, & MSG. :)

  2. December 5, 2013 9:46 am

    Delicious! :-)

  3. December 5, 2013 9:46 am

    Mmmn, looks lovely! I really like udon noodles but I normally just have them as a stir fry. I’ll have to give the broth a go for a change.

    • December 5, 2013 9:58 am

      Yaki udon (stir fry) is really good, too!

      I most often ate udon in soup form in Japan (although there are SO many different varieties of udon soup besides “kitsune”…), but now that I’m in the U.S. and I’m pretty picky about how restaurants’ soup broth tastes, I’m probably more likely to order yaki udon at a restaurant here than to order soup!

  4. December 5, 2013 10:10 am

    Allison, oh my GOODNESS. What a wonderful post! I’ve not seen any udon recipes out there lately and I LOVE that you did one. It’s such a comfortingly delicious soup — it deserves more attention! Like you said, it’s so warming and hearty. I love that you have vegetarian dashi stock, too. I need to try to make it myself (all I do is use the cheat powder packets!) I seriously love this. And your pictures are just beautiful. Thanks so much for posting!

    • December 5, 2013 10:22 am

      Aw, thanks for the super encouraging comment!! I agree with you that udon soup totally deserves more attention than it gets. (I love all kinds of noodles in all kinds of noodle contexts, but taken out of context, udon noodles are probably my favorite. :)

      I also used to use the cheat powder packets for dashi, but a year or so ago I switched to using dashi “tea bags” (for lack of a better word)– which somehow I feel better about, even though I have no idea if they’re actually healthier or not. And NOW that I have that whole bundle of kelp in my pantry (and dried kombu and shiitake are both seriously cheap!), I believe I will be making my own homemade dashi from now on. :) So so easy and worth it! The next time I make it, I’ll probably try it the non-vegetarian way, with kombu and katsuobushi… I just wanted to finally post a vegan-friendly dashi option on my blog.

  5. December 5, 2013 10:56 am

    This looks incredible! What wonderful combinations. I love your Asian meals so much!

    • December 5, 2013 11:16 am

      Thanks, Amanda! :) I would eat Asian food even more often if the ingredients were easier to find and more affordable… someday I’ll live in a big city again so I don’t have to make grocery shopping pilgrimages to LA or SF!

  6. December 5, 2013 11:20 am

    I want to have it now ). Beautiful and lovely…delicious..thanks for sharing.

  7. December 5, 2013 12:00 pm

    This looks so appealing. Fresh yet warming.

  8. December 5, 2013 12:43 pm

    I love your post! It’s so nostalgic for me. Homemade dashi is so delicious. My Japanese girlfriends always laugh when I tell them I sometimes prepare it at home- so much easier to buy it from the supermarket. I love exploring the supermarkets and foodhalls in the basements of department stores in Japan, they are such treasure troves of fresh ingredients. And nothing beats slurping your way through a steaming bowl of freshly prepared udon noodles.

    • December 8, 2013 12:21 pm

      Thanks! That’s funny; I guess it really is the most common, even for Japanese people, to use some kind of dashi short-cut these days. But this kind of overnight steep-in-the-fridge method is incredibly simple– it just requires some planning in advance!

      Anyway, I agree with you that nothing beats slurping up a bowl of fresh udon noodles. And I share your love of Japanese supermarkets and most especially the dangerously tempting department store basement food emporiums– if I had endless time and money, I could just live in those basements for DAYS.

  9. December 5, 2013 1:20 pm

    Looks delicious, but any tips on how to make a meat loving man eat more healthy? This is the kind of foods I love and since I have been with my partner of 10 years I have gained about 40 lbs…. Need to eat your soup

    • December 8, 2013 12:30 pm

      Hm, I’m not sure I’d qualify udon as *that* healthy since it’s mostly just chewy, delicious wheat noodles! But I definitely ended up making it a little healthier simply by making my own dashi and avoiding the instant stuff which would have had more sugar, MSG, and sodium.

      I’m not sure I’m qualified to give healthy eating advice, but I think the best advice I’ve ever heard is simply to eat everything in moderation—maybe start by eating a little less meat, with plenty of vegetables on the side (or try more vegetable-centered dishes in the first place), but make sure you’re still getting plenty of protein (which is where this particular recipe falls short—other than from the little bit of inari-age tofu) so that you don’t just fill up on refined carbohydrates (i.e., choose whole grains that have protein over refined wheat products that have been stripped of nutrients).

      Again—despite the image many people have of Japanese food as being healthy—this udon is not one of the healthier meals I’ve shared on my blog, but it’s definitely a delicious treat I like to enjoy for dinner every once in a while! (And it can always be dressed up with extra vegetables added to the soup, or quick pickles on the side.) Everything in moderation! :)

  10. December 5, 2013 2:47 pm

    This is exactly the sort of food I love to eat, feel better for eating and look forward to warming me up in this weather. I make a lot of noodle soups and will be trying this out. Lovely recipe Alison xx

    • December 8, 2013 12:33 pm

      Thanks, Deena! I’m so glad to hear you plan to try this out! I love eating noodle soups in cold weather, too. It *almost* makes me want to move back to somewhere with a colder climate, like Wisconsin where I grew up, so I can have more real cold weather to enjoy food like this… almost. :)

      • December 8, 2013 12:55 pm

        Oh Alison, so many if the Brits reading this would love to be somewhere Warmer this winter, but yes a steaming bowl of noodle soup in the cold is pretty awesome. I’ve got a few on my site, would love for you to take a look xx

      • December 12, 2013 11:45 am

        Haha, yes I’m sure that’s true! :)

  11. December 5, 2013 3:19 pm

    jeez girl, you even got out the shichimi? looks you had an authentic udon shop in your kitchen there.

    i love kitsune udon, and your looks fantastic. i think kitsune is my favorite udon dish (maybe second to curry udon, but i don’t count that as true udon). something about that fried tofu just makes my tastebuds dance and sing.

    • December 8, 2013 12:42 pm

      Thanks, Misha! I want you to know that I seriously enjoy reading your comments.

      Not only did I even get out the shichimi—I actually went and splurged on a new bottle(/vial?) since the previous one that I hadn’t quite finished had expired YEARS ago… haha. I guess I don’t get to make/eat udon/soba soups as often as I’d like. (Actually I know exactly why this is the case: first, there’s never any room in my freezer for a giant brick of frozen udon since it’s usually full of homemade bagels, homemade tamales, homemade falafel, homemade salmon cakes, and homemade breakfast burritos; and second, I like udon soup much better than soba soup, and enjoy soba more in zaru-soba form.)

      Anyway, I obviously share your love of kitsune udon. (I love tsukimi udon, too!) And curry udon, which I agree is not a true udon soup, although it uses real udon noodles. Btw, you might be a good person to ask about this—have you ever had any luck making a Japanese curry-tasting curry from scratch without using curry roux that contains beef/pork? I’d love to make a chicken bouillon-based “Japanese curry” that doesn’t contain beef or pork. I miss eating Japanese curry (from my days of blissful ignorance before I knew how it was made).

      • December 9, 2013 8:47 pm

        it just so happens that i have made my own curry roux from a variety of different goodies. the process is a little too long to include in this comment. but just for you, i may just do a post about it on my blog. i’ll see if i can throw together a chicken version in the next few days. it doesn’t require anything too impressive, so it shouldn’t break the bank or anything.

      • December 12, 2013 11:32 am

        Awesome!

  12. December 5, 2013 4:25 pm

    I love Asian noodle soups – definitely a simpler food that feels so cleansing!

  13. December 5, 2013 8:40 pm

    This looks amazing. Maybe something to try during this cold snap we’re having!

  14. afracooking permalink
    December 6, 2013 1:22 pm

    This broth looks so wonderfully pure – so wholesome!

    • December 8, 2013 12:44 pm

      Definitely! I’ve been feeling very happy with the broth. (Especially considering that there are quite a few mediocre Japanese restaurants in my town where I’ve been disappointed over and over again by broths that are far too salty or too sweet.)

  15. December 7, 2013 4:37 am

    So I’m laying here in bed, drinking coffee, and I can basically SMELL this dish. Like scratch and sniff blogging. It sounds/smells deeeeelightful, and now I’m wishing I could have it for breakfast…

    • December 8, 2013 12:46 pm

      Scratch and sniff blogging! I was about to say that I hope that’s where the future is headed, but on second thought: no. That could be even more torturous than pouring over people’s gorgeous blog photos during those moments when you’re both ravenous and lazy. (I have a lot of those moments.)

      Also: udon soup for breakfast = yes. You could even make it a combination kitsune/tsukimi udon and crack an egg in there!

  16. December 7, 2013 9:36 am

    Light, flavorful and beautiful…this soup is a winner!!!

  17. December 7, 2013 8:35 pm

    This looks SO amazing!!!! I wish I had these ingredients near me :(

  18. December 8, 2013 7:48 pm

    This looks so simple and yummy!

  19. December 9, 2013 3:43 am

    Just stumbled upon your blog- awesome job! I never would have thought to make Udon soup at home, but it seems easy! Beautiful photos.

    • December 12, 2013 11:34 am

      Thank you—and welcome! :) Homemade udon soup can easily be just as good if not better than the restaurant version as long as you have access to frozen pre-cooked udon noodles (versus dried udon noodles). After that, it’s truly easy to make!

  20. Nami | Just One Cookbook permalink
    December 10, 2013 8:42 am

    Beautiful and hearty kitsune udon! Among all kinds of udon dishes, I make kitsune udon most! It’s so easy, and I love inari age. My daughter really loves this dish that I cook this when they don’t have lunch at school. :) Love the ginger broth. Good to maintain our health in this cold weather!

    • December 12, 2013 11:38 am

      Thank you, Nami! Kitsune udon is one of my favorite kinds of udon, too (along with tsukimi udon). Your daughter is lucky to have you cook it for her so often. :) And Paula and I both love anything involving fresh ginger—it’s definitely an added bonus that it’s healthy, too!

  21. December 10, 2013 2:25 pm

    This is such a nice, and healthy break from all that food from Thanksgiving. I will definitely have to find my local Asian market, so I can try this. Thanks for sharing!

  22. December 12, 2013 7:03 pm

    Great pictures and this looks delicious! I lived in Japan for awhile as well and some of my best food memories are from that country. Simple ingredients and so much variety! I’ll give this a try sometime, udon is delicious. This is a nice break from the thanksgiving/heavy-winter-food. Thanks for posting!

    • December 13, 2013 5:13 pm

      Thanks for commenting! :) Where did you live in Japan? I was mostly in Western Japan (I’ve lived in Yamaguchi and Okayama prefectures).

  23. December 29, 2013 10:58 pm

    Hi Allison, Today, I took some time to catch up. I loved everything I saw. I picked this post to leave a comment, of course. Why of course? I grew up in Osaka, the hometown of ‘kitsune udon’. We had this hole-in-the wall close to our home in Osaka… when my Mom was too busy, she would ask us to call the shop and order our favorites for ‘demae’/delivery. I would always ask for ‘kitsune udon’ (once or twice asked for ‘kare- raisu’ or ‘omuraisu’). ‘Aa natsukashii’.
    Your twist of adding fresh ginger to the ‘tsuyu’ is brilliant. Like last May, I’m choosing a month to post a marathon of ‘okosama’ favorites of Japanese or Japanized foods. ‘Otanoshimini shite kudasai ne’!
    ~ Fae.

    • January 2, 2014 10:22 am

      Thanks so much, Fae, for catching up on my blog and taking the time to comment!

      I actually had no idea that Osaka was the home of kitsune udon! I always just associate udon with Takamatsu in Kagawa-ken, since I know they’re so famous for their sanuki udon there. That’s great that you have such fond memories of getting udon demae! (I also like kare-raisu and LOVE omuraisu.).

      I will definitely look forward to your marathon month of ‘okosama’ Japanese favorites!! I haven’t been checking out other people’s blogs much myself, since my parents have been visiting me for the past two weeks (and they’re still here now), but I’ll try to stop by sometime soon. :)

      Oh and 明けましておめでとうございます!

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