Warming, fragrant and filled with flavour, noodle soup is the definition of food for the soul. Bookmark these recipes now for whenever you need a little lift.
As anyone who’s found themselves turning to the comfort of a richly spiced chilli con carne or creamy macaroni cheese in recent months can attest, food is a balm in troubled times. We may be facing down a pandemic winter, but when there’s a hot homemade dish on the table, everything feels significantly better.
Food isn’t just a psychological pick-me-up when it’s cold and grey outside, though: it also gives our weary bodies what they need when we’re feeling under the weather. Sore throat and sniffles? Sip a hot lemon and ginger tea. Immune system need a boost? Reach for a superpowered berry smoothie.
Some recipes are so well-loved for their healing qualities, in fact, that they can be found in kitchens across the world. Take noodle soup. A shimmering broth loaded with fresh vegetables and nourishing noodles can feel utterly restorative when you’re less than 100%. And judging by all the delicious variations out there – from Vietnamese pho to Japanese ramen and the traditional chicken soup affectionately named “Jewish penicillin” – plenty of cultures agree, too.
The beauty of noodle soup goes far beyond its ability to perk us up when we’re feeling down. It can be brilliantly low maintenance, taking all of half an hour to go from pot to plate – plus, there’s a world of delicious recipes out there. So, if you’re looking for ways to spice up your weekly dinner rotation, or cook a large pot of something that will taste just as great on the second and third day, we have five delicious recipes to share below.
Made from store cupboard ingredients and leftover meats, Melissa Hemsley’s super speedy rescue noodle soup is an inventive take on the classic chicken dish. Perfect it now, and bookmark for after your next Sunday roast.
Prefer something with a little heat? Kwoklyn Wan’s vegetarian udon noodle curry soup with beansprouts and mushrooms adds a splash of authentic Chinese curry to the mix, while Pippa Middlehurst’s noodle soup with prawn wontons captures the comforting nature of Hong Kong cooking.
If you’ve a little more time on your hands to prepare a leisurely dinner, Tim Anderson’s vegan onion ramen blends two classic soup recipes (one French, one Japanese) for a deliciously soothing bowl of fusion food. And if you’ve got a long weekend ahead of you, defer to Louise Pickford’s Vietnamese-inspired beef pho: it takes a day to prepare the ingredients, but the flavours are so worth it. Prepare for your appetite to return…
Melissa Hemsley’s rescue noodle soup
Melissa says: “There’s nothing quite like a warming bowl of homemade soup to make you feel a thousand times better. If I’ve had a Sunday roast chicken, I make this on a Monday to get a great boost of vegetables in. It’s based on store cupboard and freezer ingredients like frozen peas, onion, garlic and carrots, though you could swap in anything that needs using up. You can up the amount of vegetables or noodles here, so adjust to your liking. Post-Christmas and other celebrations, this is a fantastic way to use up leftover turkey or any other leftover meats.”
Takes 30 mins
- 1 tbsp ghee or butter
- 1 large leek or onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1.2 litres vegetable stock or bone broth
- 1 big handful of a mix of fresh herbs, like parsley and dill, leaves and stems chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried 1 bay leaf, dried or fresh
- 2 celery sticks, diced
- 2 carrots, thinly sliced
- 2 handfuls of 2cm chunks of root veg like sweet potato, squash, pumpkin, potato or (in the summer) courgette
- 400g noodles or spaghetti, any type
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 300g mix of cabbage, rainbow chard and/or chard, stems finely chopped and leaves shredded
- 300g leftover shredded chicken
- juice of ¼ lemon or 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 big handfuls of frozen peas or sweetcorn
- sea salt and black pepper
In a large wide saucepan, heat the ghee or butter and fry the leek or onion over a medium heat for 8 minutes while you prep everything else. Add the garlic and fry for another minute.
Add the stock or broth, chopped parsley or dill stems, thyme, bay leaf, celery, carrot, root veg and some salt and pepper, pop the lid on and cook for 15 minutes until the carrot is almost tender.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles in a separate pan until almost tender (check the label for suggested timings), then drain and rinse under cold water to stop them cooking further. Toss with the olive oil to stop them clumping and set aside.
Back to your soup pan: add the chopped cabbage and chard stems, shredded chicken, lemon juice or vinegar and cook for a few more minutes.
Add the chard leaves, frozen peas or sweetcorn and cooked noodles for a final 2 minutes so that the chard wilts, the peas cook and the noodles heat through. Season to taste and serve up straight away, topped with the fresh herb leaves.
You don’t have to use noodles here, you can add any pasta shapes you like so just use whatever odds and ends of pasta packets you have. You could even add the pasta straight into the soup to cook and save on using a second pan.
For a vegetarian version, swap the chicken for 500g roughly chopped mushrooms and a pinch of dried seaweed or seaweed salt. Sometimes I add even more garlic and a thumb of grated ginger plus 1 tsp ground turmeric for an extra boost. Try adding a tablespoon of miso or tamari just before serving or swap the herbs for coriander and mint.
From Eat Green: Delicious Flexitarian Recipes for Planet-Friendly Eating by Melissa Hemsley (£20, Ebury Press), out now
Kwoklyn Wan’s udon noodle curry soup
Kwoklyn says: “We all love a good curry and this dish combines the authentic Chinese curry taste with a soup. Served on top of soft noodles, crunchy beansprouts and meaty mushrooms, it’s sure to satisfy those curry cravings.”
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
- 2 tbsp oil (vegetable, groundnut or coconut)
- 1 medium white onion, sliced
- 1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
- 50g beansprouts
- ½ large portobello mushroom, cut into thin strips
- 750ml vegetable stock
- 250ml curry sauce (see recipe below)
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- ¼ tsp salt (or to taste)
- 2 nests (170g) fresh udon noodles
- 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
For the curry sauce:
- 1 tbsp oil (vegetable, groundnut or coconut)
- 2 onions, finely diced
- 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, finely diced
- 1 celery stick, finely diced
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 1 ½ tbsp curry powder (use your favourite: mild, medium or hot)
- 600ml vegetable stock
- ½ tbsp honey
- 1 ½ tbsp soy sauce
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp garam masala
For the curry sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan, then add the onions and garlic and cook until softened. Stir in the carrots and celery and cook over a low heat for 10–12 minutes. Add the flour and curry powder and cook for 1 minute.
Gradually pour in the stock, stirring constantly until combined, then add the honey, soy sauce and bay leaf. Slowly bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the sauce thickens but is still of pouring consistency. If your sauce is too thick, add a splash of water to loosen it. Stir in the garam masala, then strain the curry sauce through a sieve and set to one side.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium-high heat, add the onion and carrot and fry until lightly browned. Add the beansprouts and mushrooms and fry for a further minute.
Add the stock, curry sauce and soy sauce and mix well until smoothly combined. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat to a low simmer.
Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the fresh noodles and cook for about 90 seconds. Drain and place into serving bowls.
Pour over your curry soup, garnish with spring onions and serve.
From The Veggie Chinese Takeaway Cookbook: Over 70 Vegan And Vegetarian Takeaway Classics by Kwoklyn Wan (£15, Quadrille), out now
Tim Anderson’s French onion ramen
Tim says: “I can never figure out why French onion soup ever went out of style. It’s just so good. I had some that my great aunt Jean made a few years back at a family get-together in Wisconsin and it made me think, ‘I should eat French onion soup every day!’ Suddenly fixated on French onion soup, my thoughts quickly turned to ramen. The molten onions mingle beautifully with the noodles so you get a lovely sweetness and silky texture in every bite, all bathed in a rich, beefy broth that just happens to contain no beef. The onions do take a while to caramelise properly, but for comfort food I think it’s worth the wait.”
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 brown onions, halved and thinly sliced
- pinch of salt, or more, to taste
- 1 tsp caster or granulated sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed and thinly sliced
- 4 tbsp sake
- 2 tbsp ruby port or red wine
- 1.2 litres mushroom dashi (see recipe below)
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)
- a few grinds of black pepper, or more, to taste
- 4 tbsp soy sauce, or more, to taste
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp mirin, or more, to taste
- 1 tbsp Marmite
- 1 ½ tsp cornflour
- 200g fresh spinach, washed
- ¼ savoy cabbage, cut into thin strips
- 4 portions of uncooked ramen noodles
- 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 80g bamboo shoots (if you can, use Japanese menma – pickled bamboo shoots)
- a few drops of sesame oil and/or truffle oil
- 60–80g vegan cheese (cheddar or Italian-style), grated
- 4 slices of good-quality bread, toasted
Heat the oil in a deep saucepan or casserole and add the onions and the salt.
Cook over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently, until they soften, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for another 45–50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. After about 15 minutes, the onions will start to caramelise, so make sure you scrape the bottom of the pan when you stir to prevent them from catching and burning prematurely. When the onions are just starting to brown, stir in the sugar and add the garlic. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, you will have to stir and scrape often to ensure the onions don’t burn. (If it’s proving difficult to scrape up the stuck bits, add a splash of water, which should help them release nicely.)
Add the sake and the port or wine. Add the dashi, bay leaves, thyme and black pepper and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, then stir in the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, mirin and Marmite. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you like it – it should be fairly salty and slightly sweet. Remove the bay leaves and thyme stems and discard. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the broth into a small dish and leave to cool. Stir the cornflour into the cooled broth to make a thin slurry, then stir it back into the soup and bring to the boil to thicken the broth slightly.
Bring a large saucepan full of water to the boil and blanch the spinach for 15 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and rinse under cold water. Drain well, pressing out any excess water. In the same pan, boil the cabbage for 3–4 minutes until just tender, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Let the water return to a rolling boil, then cook the ramen until al dente, according to the packet instructions. Drain well.
Divide the ramen among 4 deep bowls and ladle over the soup. Gently stir the noodles through the soup to ensure they aren’t sticking together.
Top each ramen with the spinach, cabbage, spring onions, bamboo shoots, sesame or truffle oil and vegan cheese. Serve with the toast on the side to soak up the broth once the noodles have all been slurped away.
Tim says: “Mushroom dashi has a gorgeously rich flavour and, as an added bonus, you can eat the mushrooms after they’re rehydrated. The porcini are not traditional, and you don’t have to use them, but I love the deep, earthy note they add.”
Makes about 350ml, plus the rehydrated mushrooms
- 10g kombu (a piece about 10cm square)
- 15g dried shiitake mushrooms, or 10g dried shiitake plus 5g dried porcini mushrooms
- 500ml cold water
Place the kombu and dried mushrooms in a saucepan with the water and set over a low heat. Slowly bring the water to a very low simmer – you should just see a few little bubbles breaking the surface. Remove from the heat, then leave to infuse for at least 1 hour – it will take a while for the shiitake to fully hydrate and release their flavour into the dashi.
Remove the mushrooms and squeeze them out like a sponge, then pass through a sieve and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. The mushrooms will keep in the refrigerator for about 4 days.
From Vegan Japaneasy: Classic & Modern Vegan Japanese Recipes To Cook At Home by Tim Anderson (£22, Hardie Grant), out now
Pippa Middlehurst’s Hong Kong wonton noodle soup
Pippa says: “In Hong Kong, there are high standards for cooking this comforting staple, where a meticulous process is followed when preparing the steaming bowls. The recipe perfectly encapsulates the ethos of Chinese cooking. This recipe is made up of three main components: the stock, wontons and noodles. For this reason, if one of the components is substandard, it will completely change the whole dish. The different elements take time to prepare but the end result is beautiful and well worth the effort. The broth is comforting beyond measure.”
Makes 20 wontons
Prep: 25 minutes, plus chilling
Cooking: 30-25 minutes
- 1 packet of wonton wrappers (fresh, or frozen and defrosted)
- 2 litres chicken stock
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp light (soft) brown sugar
- about 400g fresh very thin egg noodles or 250g dried thin egg noodles
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced, to serve
For the filling:
- 400g raw king prawns, with heads on and in the shell (or 200g without the shells)
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp dried shrimps
- 200g fatty minced pork (>20% fat)
- 1 tsp light (soft) brown sugar
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine
- ½ tsp cornflour
- 1 spring onion, finely diced
To make the filling, peel and devein the prawns, reserving all the shells and heads to use later, and chop into 1cm chunks. Place in a bowl and combine with ½ teaspoon of the salt and the baking powder, then leave in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the filling. This will firm up the prawns: don’t skip this step – it gives the prawns a lovely texture.
Heat the dried shrimps in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until they are a little toasty and very dry. Roughly chop before transferring to a mortar and grinding to a powder with the pestle.
Place all the rest of the filling ingredients except the spring onions in a mixing bowl and add 1 tablespoon of water and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon in a clockwise direction for 5 minutes. Really bash the mixture around – you are aiming for a paste-like consistency. Add the spring onions and dried shrimp powder and combine well with the pork mixture.
Rinse the chilled prawns in cold water and pat dry with paper towels, then fold into the pork mixture. Transfer this mixture to the fridge to firm up for 10–15 minutes while you get your wonton-making station ready!
Take your wonton wrappers and a small cup of water. Begin by adding a teaspoon of filling to the centre of a wonton wrapper. Dip your finger into the water and run this around the edge of the wrapper. Fold the wonton, then arrange the filled wontons on a tray lined with baking paper.
Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan, add the reserved prawn heads and shells and gently simmer for 10–15 minutes. Strain the stock through a piece of muslin, pushing on the solid ingredients with the back of a spoon to squeeze out all the juices. Season with the salt and sugar and keep the broth warm over a low heat while you cook the wontons and noodles.
Bring a saucepan of water to a rolling boil and add the wontons. When the wontons float to the surface, they are ready – this should take 4–5 minutes. Scoop out the wontons using a slotted spoon and set aside, then add the noodles to the boiling water and cook for 1 ½ minutes or according to the packet instructions. Drain the noodles and rinse in cold water.
Divide the noodles between individual bowls and place four or five wontons on top of each, depending on people’s appetite. Top each bowl with the spring onions and spoon over the hot broth to serve.
The extremely fine egg noodles (wonton noodles) used for this dish can be found in the fridge section of an Asian supermarket.
From Dumplings And Noodles: Bao, Gyoza, Biang Biang, Ramen – And Everything In Between by Pippa Middlehurst (£16.99, Quadrille), out now
Louise Pickford’s beef pho
Louise says: “It’s the large baskets of colourful herbs and condiments that give this classic soup its freshness and that unique flavour and texture I love so much. To allow the flavours to develop, you need to prepare this dish a day in advance.”
- 1kg beef short ribs
- 5cm fresh ginger, peeled, sliced and pounded
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 3 whole star anise, pounded
- 2 cinnamon sticks, pounded
- 400g dried rice stick noodles
- 350g thinly sliced beef fillet
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
- 125g bean sprouts, trimmed
For the garnishes:
- 2 red bird’s eye chillies, chopped
- a handful each of fresh Thai basil, Vietnamese mint and coriander
- 6 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
Put the ribs in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes then drain and wash the ribs. Return them to the pan and add 2 litres more cold water along with the ginger, onion, garlic, star anise and cinnamon. Return to the boil and simmer gently for 1 1⁄2 hours, or until the meat is tender.
Carefully remove the ribs from the stock and set aside to cool. Thinly shred the meat, discarding bones. Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve and set aside to cool. Refrigerate both the meat and the stock overnight.
The next day, soak the noodles in a bowlful of hot water for 20–30 minutes, until softened. Drain well, shake dry and divide the noodles between large bowls.
Meanwhile, skim and discard the layer of fat from the cold stock and return the pan to a medium heat until just boiling. Stir in the shredded meat, beef fillet, fish sauce, salt, sugar and lime juice. Place the beef fillet on the noodles, spoon over the stock and top with the beansprouts.
Serve with a plate of the garnishes in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves.
From The Noodle Bowl: Over 70 Recipes for Asian-Inspired Noodle Dishes by Louise Pickford (£9.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Photography: © Sam Folan; Philippa Langley; © Nassima Rothacker; © India Hobson & Magnus Edmondsen; Ian Wallace © Ryland Peters & Small
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.