Thursday, February 25, 2010

'Beef' Noodle Soup (素牛肉麵)

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Before I met VB, one of my favorite things to make for myself was Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup. It's so comforting and evokes so many good memories. Eating a good bowl of beef noodle soup is like going home, minus the 13-hour flight. Now I'm re-creating a vegetarian version of this dish. And to my surprise, it's pretty darn good! I love the rich broth and all the spices. I think it's as good as 'beef' noodle soup can get without the beef.

I made my own seitan to replace beef as the main source of protein in the dish. You can use store bought seitan, of course. To make seitan, you'll need:
  • 1 cup of wheat gluten
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger powder
  • 3/4 cup of ice water
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 6 cups of water
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thin
  • 2 slices of ginger
Mix wheat gluten with garlic powder and ginger powder. Mix 2 tablespoons of soy sauce with ice water. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Mix well. Knead by hand for 10 to 15 minutes. In the meantime, boil water, remaining soy sauce, sliced onion and sliced ginger in a large pot. Allow seitan to rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then knead it a few more times. Tear seitan into small pieces. Seitan will swell to more than double its uncooked size, so take that into account when portioning seitan. Add seitan into the boiling water. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

For the 'beef' noodle soup base, you'll need:
  • 4 whole star anise pods
  • 8 cloves
  • 3 dried red chilies
  • 1 teaspoon (about 8) of Szchuan peppercorns
  • 2 slices of fresh ginger
  • 2 Thai chilies, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of black bean paste
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of Chinese cooking wine
  • 3 plum tomatoes, cubed
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • salt to taste
In a large pot, heat up vegetable oil and, over medium-high heat, saute star anise pods, cloves, dried chilies, Thai chilies, Szchuan peppercorns and ginger until fragrant, about 2 to 5 minutes. If you have a tea bag, you can put spices in it and return the bag to the pot at this time. It will save you the trouble of flossing them out of your teeth later. Stir in black bean paste, soy sauce, and cooking wine. Cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes are softened, about 5 minutes. Add water. Bring soup to boil. Reduce to simmer and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes.

When the seitan is ready, remove from the pot. Use the remaining liquid in the pot to cook dry noodles and blanch vegetables. I used Chinese broccoli for this dish. To serve, ladle soup base into a bowl about half way up. Add cooked noodles. Place seitan and blanched vegetables on top. Ladle more soup into the bowl until soup completely covers noodles.

Generally, the soup base is the most important element in beef noodle soup. I think my soup base was pretty dang good even without any beef or chicken stock. I feel especially happy that I can share my favorite dish and childhood memories with VB.


  1. Delicious. A bit too spicy for my family but well..more for me!!!

  2. Wow! I think I'll try to make this for my dad. He's been eating the non-vegan version ever since he was little. Are you Taiwanese as well?

  3. I'm from Taiwan originally. Good luck making this recipe for your dad! I hope he enjoys it!