08-01-29_soup.jpgThe “Vietnamese “Beef”-Noodle Soup,” from Nava Atlas’ Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons (recipe below), intrigued me with its use of seitan, which is wheat gluten, processed as a “meat substitute.” I wanted to know if this long ingredient list would produce a “beefy” flavor -- perhaps the elusive umami taste quality? Well, I did get a soup with a nice texture and taste. But beefiness? Not really…

Vietnamese “Beef”-Noodle Soup
6 servings

3- to 4-oz. bundle thin rice noodles or bean-thread noodles
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
One 32-oz. carton low-sodium vegetable broth
One 5- to 6-inch piece kombu (sea vegetable), optional
2 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger, or more to taste
1/2 tsp. five-spice powder
2 cups water
6 to 8 oz. seitan, cut into thin shreds
1 cup fresh mung bean sprouts
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
2 tsp. lime juice, or more to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Thinly sliced lime sections for garnish

Cook the noodles according to package directions until al dente, then drain and cut into shorter lengths suitable for soup. Set aside until needed.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté over medium-low heat until both are golden.

Add the broth, optional kombu, soy sauce, ginger, five-spice powder, and water. Bring to a rapid simmer, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Add the bean sprouts, half of the scallions, and half of the cilantro. Season with lime juice, pepper, and if desired, some additional soy sauce. Simmer for 3 minutes longer, then remove from the heat.

Serve at once, garnishing the top of each serving with a thin wedge or two of lime, and the remaining cilantro and scallions.

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Rice noodles cook into an interesting gelatinous mass. I used both shallot and red onion. I did indeed use kombu, because I always have it on hand. This is the seaweed rich in glutamic acid, an amino acid responsible for -- you guessed it -- umami, one of the five basic tastes. This soup does indeed cook quickly. I added more soy sauce at the end for flavor. As I said before, I ended up with a decent soup, but it had no tangible “beefiness.”

20080129_2496.jpgI also cooked the “Broccoli Pancakes,” from Dr. Weil. This was a fun recipe to make and eat. I used frozen broccoli and chili paste. The recipe asks that you do not purée the vegetables in your food processor, but I came quite close without regrets. These pancakes cook quickly and have a nice taste. I made 20 small pancakes with this recipe. They are a good appetizer size. I did use real sour cream for a dip.

RECIPES: soup is not one of Nava Atlas’ best; the pancakes are fun
about 30 minutes for each
the soup’s long ingredient list produces only a mediocre dish; pancakes have a good green flavor

Next time, I’ll cook one of those one-dish crowd pleasers that I so adore: “Chicken Caesar Tetrazzini,” from Recipe4Living.com. Return here on Wednesday, February 20, to see what happens.