Jess: This soup was an utter failure and a complete disappointment. It looked wonderful in the photo; I love Asian soups. I love shrimp, bok choy, ginger, lime, bean sprouts, and coconut milk.
But the first recipe frustration came right off the bat, when the description said “Furikake…is a Japanese seasoning made with sesame seeds and seaweed flakes. It’s a delicious alternative to sea salt, especically for East Asian dishes.” There’s no mention of furikake in either the ingredient list or the cooking directions. So did I need it? And what was I supposed to do with it?
I priced the three ingredients I couldn’t easily get at King Soopers on Amazon. It would be about $21 to buy white miso paste, mirin, and furikake (assuming I was supposed to sprinkle that on top). Then I remembered that there’s a big Asian market only a few minutes from work. On Monday I drove over there and bought my three ingredients, plus three sesame balls (one of my favorite treats), for $17. However, saying “I bought them” doesn’t really describe the experience. Almost everything in the shop is in an Asian language, though the isle signs are bilingual with English, which was very helpful. I know enough geography and the basic sounds of the Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese languages to figure out which language I was reading. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find mirin. In the “cooking wine” isle everything was Chinese. I Googled a few of the brands, only to confirm they were Chinese. I couldn’t find miso or furikake either. I asked two different stockers, each of whom said “I can’t help you” and turned abruptly back to stocking the shelves. Finally, after wandering for 20 minutes, I asked one of the cashiers, an older Asian woman. She led me to the very last aisle, marked “Japanese.” Aha! I found everything I needed there. The whole time I walked around the store, I thought about how much harder it would be to study abroad somewhere like China; I spent a semester in Liverpool. Although I was terribly homesick, I loved England and could speak the language. I even started saying “ta” when I got off the bus!
Anyway, the recipe says “Despite the long ingredients list, this is basically a pantry soup that takes 10 minutes to make, and all in one pot too.” I quibble with that; it took half an hour to collect and chop everything, and the only reason it’s now a pantry soup is because I went and bought a bunch of stuff I’ll never use again, so it’ll all sit in my pantry (and fridge) for the next 10 years. Still, as I said, I had high hopes.
It was easy to pour in a few things, boil, simmer, and add a few more things. I doubled the recipe because I thought I was really going to like it. The udon noodles came in a 12-ounce package, but I was only supposed to use 8 ounces. I figured that was no big deal; we all like noodles. I dumped them all in, and everything went south. The noodles soaked up all the broth and stayed sticky and undercooked. I sloshed them around in the pot, but there was already no broth left and a big clump of udon. I ended up pouring water over the whole thing and cooking the noodles at least three times longer than the directions said I should. Was my udon somehow different? Should I have cooked and rinsed it separately and then added it to the soup for the final minute or so? The recipe didn’t say so, but if I ever try again (and maybe I should, since I have all the ingredients now!), I’ll do it that way. I used uncooked shelled shrimp because I figured no one would want to eat it with the shells, as it’s pictured. The shrimp cooked beautifully, pink and meaty and lightly sweet, but it turns out the kids only like shrimp scampi. The bok choy never really wilted. I didn’t use the chili pepper so the kids wouldn’t burn their mouths, but the spicy flavor would’ve helped. The whole thing was sticky, mild, and too sweet.
Naturally, Benjamin ate 3 helpings. Dave did his best. Phoebe whined and moaned and ended up eating only one bite of a piece of shrimp. I’d like to try again, but I’m not sure I’d be forgiven for that. Especially because we’re soon to leave “Quick Fixes” for the pleasures of “Roots and Tubers.”
p.s. Speaking of too sweet, the sesame balls I bought were a disappointment, too. The inside was mung bean instead of red bean paste! And while the dough was chewy and oily on the first day, the second ball was inedible on the second day. I should’ve shared instead of hording them in my snack drawer. Lesson learned.
p.p.s. Benjamin reached up to grab the cup on the counter and poured all my fresh-squeezed lime juice all over his head and onto the floor. Fortunately, he didn’t get any in his eyes: only in his mosquito bites.
p.p.p.s. In the end, I forgot to put the furikake out on the table. I guess I’d better start eating rice balls for lunch. Rice balls with salmon furikake.