Unusually for this blog there's nothing sneaky or hidden about the vegetables in this miso udon noodle soup. The very fact that I was brave enough to serve this up shows how far we've come since I started this blog in 2013. Back then this dish would have caused all hell to break loose. Today R, 6, gobbled this up (much to my shock). Baby S wasn't keen on the noodles but ate the veg. Sadly Miss R, 4, wasn't keen - but she'd pretty much made her mind up she didn't like it before she'd even seen it. She did agree to try it if I let her have ketchup with it. But even when she'd turned it into a horrible red mess she still didn't like it (perhaps unsurprisingly - I doubt the ketchup did anything for the flavour!).
I am always up for the challenge of trying to feed my little picky eaters something new even if I often feel nervous before I serve it up and I can never predict what the result is going to be. While I was making this miso udon noodle soup - which my kids had never had before - I started to wonder about what Japanese children eat. A friend of mine has a Japanese friend (Hisako - who incidentally is an awesome illustrator and designer so take a look at her site to be wowed) so I got in touch with her to ask her what Japanese kids like to eat, and what they are fed as babies. I wondered if Japanese people have special baby food - an equivalent to our purées - or whether they practice something more similar to baby led weaning.
I would have guessed the latter, but I was wrong. It turns out that most Japanese babies are weaned on rice broth. It's nothing like the baby rice that we get over here from a packet - this broth is made with extra water so that each grain breaks down during the cooking process making it easier to digest. It's then common for them to move onto puréed food and as they get older the food gets lumpier and more flavours are used until eventually the whole family eats the same meal - perhaps with less strong flavours and salt. Well, isn't that what we all want - to cook one meal for our family? I'm sure I'm not alone though in achieving this very rarely.
So what else did Hisako say? Well, I asked her what food Japanese kids love. What's their equivalent to fish fingers, chips and ice cream? Her answer, perhaps unsurprisingly was rice. Hisako's favourite foods as a child were Japanese curry, ramen noodles, soba noodles and nattou with rice (fermented soya beans). Her toddler loves most of these things too - and miso soup - but hasn't come around to the fermented soya beans yet. I'm sure he will in time.
She went on to tell me about the amazing lunch boxes that Japanese kids have - most Japanese mums try their hardest to get a balanced meal into a portable bento box - which might include something like rice balls, egg rolls, fish/meat items and green veg. I honestly don't know what R would do if I sent him to school with a lunch box like that! Maybe I should try it... Bento boxes are like lunchboxes but with little compartments, making them easy to fill with different foods. For inspiration, and lots of non-Japanese ideas for filling a bento box check out Eats Amazing.
So without further ado here is my probably not very authentic, but hopefully kid friendly, recipe for miso udon noodle soup. I picked the vegetables based on what my kids like - carrots and green beans are usually considered acceptable, and R really likes tofu (another surprise from Mr Picky), which is why I've included this. You can use whatever veg you and your family prefer.
I made this soup with some Clearspring brown miso paste. Clearspring sell high quality Japanese and European vegan food as well as lots of organic and free from products.
2 medium carrots, finely sliced
A handful of green beans
1 pak choi, thinly sliced
1.5 litres vegetable stock
2 tsp Clearspring brown rice miso paste
A few spring onions, sliced
400g fresh udon noodles
400g tofu (optional)
Soy sauce and sesame oil
First prepare the tofu if using. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Drain and pat dry with kitchen towel. Slice into 2 inch pieces. Place in a roasting dish and cover with 2 tbsp sesame oil and 2 tbsp soy sauce. Stir well. Ideally leave this to marinate for at least 30 minutes but if you don't have time then stick it straight in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway until crispy on the outside.
For the soup bring the vegetable stock to the boil in a medium saucepan. Add the carrots and beans and cook for 10 minutes or until soft. Bring a separate pan of water to the boil and cook the udon noodles for two minutes. Drain. The reason for doing this in a separate pan is to get rid of the starch. Put the noodles and the pak choi in the stock pan. Remove a ladleful of the broth and place in a bowl with 2 tsp miso paste. Whisk together with a fork until blended. Add to the stock pan, stir and turn the heat to low. Allow it to gently simmer until you're ready to eat it but don't let it come back to the boil. When the tofu is ready, if using, add to the soup and serve.
Disclaimer: I was sent a jar of Clearspring Brown Miso Paste to try out. I didn't receive any other payment for this post.
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