Sunday, February 14, 2010

The New Alamo Soup

Don't worry; it's nothing like the original Alamo Soup.

For those of you who remember, the Alamo Soup ( was a tragedy. An abomination. A hideous freak of nature that should never have been created. Still, our motivation for creating it was sound; Udon noodle soup is pretty delicious, and we wanted to try something Japanese that didn't look too difficult. Our problem was that we went about it entirely the wrong way, and decided to just wing it.

Well, this time, we decided to just wing it after researching it a little bit.

Surprising how much of a difference that can make! Instead of just a guess at what should go in, we had more of a hypothesis... in that it was an educated guess. We looked at a few different recipes, and just sort of mixed and matched a little bit; a lot of it came down to how much we could find at the local Heinen's. Nevertheless, the New Alamo Soup turned out to be a triumph! It was authentic, tasty, and relatively easy to make. Luke and I both said that we would eat it again, as did Luke's friend Chuck who happened to show up just in time for some of the tasty Conquista-soup.


We had an interesting time gathering the ingredients, since many of them aren't domestic; we spent some quality time in the Asian aisle (mostly searching for ingredients that ended up being elsewhere.) If we couldn't find something, we just substituted it for something similar; it worked out fine! Anyways:

Basically what we're making is a very noodley soup with tempura shrimp and vegetables in it. Udon has a somewhat sweeter base, which you can adjust by adding salt or soy sauce. The tempura shrimp and veggies give it some substance beyond the noodles. Perhaps it's just the novelty of it that makes it taste good; or maybe it's just good.

For the soup:

~ 10 oz. Udon noodles - they're usually thick and round, but the only kind that we found was flat. It really doesn't affect it at all, but if you're a texture person, do what you gotta do. We bought ours uncooked; I'm sure precooked works just as well (precooked noodles would probably weigh more than 1o oz? You can always add or subtract while cooking.)

~ 1 green onion - otherwise known as "scallions." ~ about 3 large fresh shiitake mushrooms - we had a choice between fresh, kinda fresh, and dried; we took the fresh ones because we only needed a few and we were using them that day; plus it was cheaper that way. Grabbing them out of the mushroom bin without packing is greener too, right?

~ Soup base - most recipes recommended "Dashi stock," but we couldn't find that anywhere, so we just used a couple packets of White Miso Soup Base. Get as much as you need; about 5 cups worth. We probably didn't get enough, but that problem can always be solved with soy sauce.

~ 4 tbsp. Mirin - a sweetened sake. Don't use regular sake; mirin is sweetened for culinary use.

~ 5 tbsp. Soy sauce - "67% less sodium? What is this junk? Gimme the salt!" -Luke

~ 1/3 tsp. salt - you can also add salt to taste after serving. If you went a little heavy on the mirin, you should probably throw some in there. For the tempura:

~ 1/2 pound cooked shrimp* - easy to find, they're usually in a bag in the freezer department. Some recipes recommended fish cakes; we couldn't find those.

~ 1/2 pound sliced zucchini and yellow squash* - that's what we used, feel free to experiment with anything you find appealing.

~ Tempura batter - we used McCormick.

~ Vegetable oil (a generous amount) - for frying the shrimp and such. * you can use just a pound of shrimp or just a pound of veggies; we wanted to try them both, but it's up to you.

Preparation; Cooking

~ Slice n' Dice - Chop up the mushrooms (we used three large ones) and a green onion. Mushrooms should be cut into strips, the green onions should have the root part cut off and the green part sliced up diagonally.

~ If cooking noodles - bring some water to a boil and put in the uncooked noodles. Drop the heat and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Again, remember the Alamo; asian noodles cook fast!

~ For the tempura - follow the directions on the box. For the stuff we used, we mixed a cup of the batter with 3/4 cup ice cold water. Then we heated some oil in a frying pan (a good amount of oil,) dipped the shrimp in the batter one by one and put them in the frying oil. Leave them in there for 3-5 minutes, flipping once. You can eyeball them to see when they're golden brown. If you're tempura-fying both shrimp and veggies, do them separately.

~ Soup - if you got your hands on some Dashi stock, bring 5 cups of that to a boil. If you are using the white miso soup base, bring about 5 cups of water to a boil and add the base. Toss in onion, mushroom, and cooked noodles; simmer. Add mirin and soy sauce, stir it all up, and it's ready to serve.

~ Serving - I recommend putting your tempura stuff in the bowl first and pouring the soup over it. If you want to feel really cool, you can try eating it with chopsticks; otherwise, I'd suggest a fork.

The Consensus

Both Luke and I went into this one with low expectations, given our previous "experience" with Udon noodle soup and our failure to find some of the right ingredients. In the end, however, the New Alamo Soup makes up for the failure of its forbear; it's a tasty, noodley soup that also makes you feel pretty cultured after making it. Granted it's not a massive success or by any means our greatest achievement, but we would both make it again, and it's an interesting and different addition to soup month.

Alamo Soup now has a new meaning. Rather than "always remember to stay away from burnt chicken and random onions," we can now see it as "always remember that you can arise from your mistakes with a little investigation and enough soy sauce." That's how Texas did it, right?

Luke has a plan for next week in soup month! I'll give you a hint... it's Austro-Hungarian, it's decently weird and lumpy, and it starts with a "g" and ends with an "ulash"! Keep in touch, folks!

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