New year is my new! Who else is tired of this new year trope? Since I’m someone who’s in a constant cycle of self-improvement, I really don’t need an extra stick to beat myself up with… With that in mind, I’m not planning on focusing on diet food this January, but bringing you Comforting, comforting and nutritious meals that will make this dreary winter a little less oppressive.
Today’s recipe – my first this year – is a fairly simple but delicious ramen-inspired soup It’s by no means authentic – it’s a bit of a concoction and a bit of a cheat but I find it delicious, nutritious and perfect for this time of year so I thought I’d share. My goal was to use some butternut squash I had lying around in a new way and get it as hands off as possible.
The bulk of this soup is made in an oven so that ticks the ‘hands-off’ part to a large degree. I mix the sweet pumpkin flesh and a bunch of aromatics in a hot oven and then mix in some soy milk and flavor enhancer until thick and creamy.
The toppings are also fairly simple. I tend to use store-bought tofu which I either pop in the oven alongside veggies or pan-fry in a small amount of oil when I’m feeling fancy. If you want to make your own tofu, you can do that too. For the photos I thoroughly marinated the pressed tofu for several hours in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin and sake, then pan-fried it with a thin layer of potato starch. It’s delicious, but it requires some forward planning so I skip this whole process when I want to quickly get a bowl of nutritious soup in front of me!
However, this easy ramen-inspired pumpkin soup has been a big hit in my house and I hope you fall in love with it too. Happy January!
More about ingredients
Garlic: If it seems like this recipe is over the top with garlic, don’t worry. The head of garlic is roasted and nicely caramelized in the oven and all the harshness is taken out of it. If you are still a bit unsure, use half of the roasted cloves and add more if needed. The raw garlic cloves add some zing and freshness to this soup at the end, but I soften it by soaking it in vinegar at the beginning so there’s no garlic flavor here either, I promise.
Rice Wine Vinegar: I used a small amount of rice wine vinegar (Mizcan is the brand I’m currently using) to contrast the sweetness of the pumpkin nicely. Add more if your palate craves it!
Pumpkin: Sweet roasted pumpkin gives this simple soup body and creaminess without weighing it down. I used butternut squash (or butternut pumpkin as it is known in many countries around the world), but any sweet firm pumpkin will work just as well.
Ginger: I like a little ginger kick here but not too much so I only used a small piece, use more if you like.
Chilli: I used a medium red pepper that I roasted in the oven with all the other vegetables to soften it up a bit. If you are not keen on spicy heat, skip it and add a small drizzle of chilli oil at the end if preferred. Otherwise, use only half of this pepper (save the other half for another dish) or scoop out the seeds (that’s where most of the heat resides) and use just the flesh for a milder kick.
Shallot: I burnt half a banana shallot to deepen and mellow its flavor. You can use any shallot or even half a small onion if you have them.
Vegetable Oil: Any neutral vegetable oil will work here such as peanut oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil or rice bran oil.
I milk: I used creamy soy milk (made with just soy and water, no additives) to add creaminess to this simple soup. Instead you can use any neutral flavored plant milk or water and a tablespoon or two of nut butter (peanut butter works well) or seed butter (hulled tahini).
Umami Stock Cubes: Since this is a cheat recipe and all the action happens in the oven, I added an umami stock cube to this soup to give it a deeper flavor. If you already have kombu (seaweed that’s a traditional ramen ingredient) in your cupboard, you may want to boil a large chunk of it in the water you’ll add to this soup for 20 minutes or so in step 9. To infuse it with more flavor. Once done, strain your kombu and add seaweed water to thin the soup, increasing its nutritional profile and flavor at the same time.
Miso Paste: Pumpkin and miso are a match made in heaven and I’m a big fan of both of them so adding lots of miso paste to this soup is a no brainer. I chose white miso paste, which is quite mild, but a more assertive red miso would work just as well – although you may want to reduce the amount to taste.
I willow: A small amount of soy sauce is great for adding more flavor and adjusting seasonings. If you are gluten-free or making this dish for someone who is, be sure to use gluten-free tamari instead. Or if none of these are available, use a small amount of salt to finish this dish.
Meereen: A touch of mirin, the sweet Japanese wine, complements the flavor of this soup really well. It reinforces the sweetness of the pumpkin and contrasts nicely with the touch of vinegar. If you don’t have mirin in your cupboard, use maple syrup or even a small amount of sugar (since it’s sweeter).
Noodles: Use whatever noodles you enjoy. Since this soup is on the thicker side, I went for thicker ramen noodles rather than the wavy instant type that probably comes to mind when you hear ‘ramen’. I used pre-cooked ramen noodles from a company called Seven Moon. They take 2 minutes to cook and I really enjoy them. Depending on appetite, I recommend approximately 400-600 g / 14-21 oz of pre-cooked ramen noodles for 4 servings. If you’re using dry ramen noodles, you’ll want something between 250-300 grams / 8.8-10.5 oz.
Tofu: When I make this or any other soup for myself at home, I often go with store-bought pre-marinated tofu to cut down on my workload and prep time, and that’s what I recommend for this recipe. If you prefer to prepare your own tofu from scratch, this is also an option. For these photos, I marinated well-pressed tofu in a simple marinade (2 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp mirin, 2 tbsp cooking) for a few hours, then coated it with potato starch and fried it in oil.
Broccoli: You can enjoy any greens. I chose purple tenderstem broccoli as it grows in the UK at this time of year and is widely available in local supermarkets. Pak choi, choi sum, Chinese spinach, napa cabbage will all be suitable.
Pepper Oil: I like to top my ramen with chili oil – it’s a fairly ubiquitous ramen condiment that any ramen or Asian food lover is bound to have in their cupboard or fridge. I make an all-purpose (just chili flakes and salt) chili oil that I drizzle on everything all the time, but you can find more exciting chili oils at well-stocked Asian grocers. Besides chili flakes, it contains garlic, onion, star anise, fennel, pepper. If you don’t like spicy heat, use a drizzle of flavored toasted sesame oil instead.
- 1 head of garlic + 1 extra clove
- 10 ml / 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
- 500 g / 17.5 oz sweet firm pumpkin or butternut squash
- 2.5 cm / 1″ piece of ginger
- 1 medium red chili
- 1 large banana shallot
- 15 ml / 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 480 ml / 2 cups soy milk*
- 1 vegan umami stock cube (I used mushroom cubes)
- 60g/4 tbsp white miso paste (if needed)
- 15 ml / 1 tbsp soy sauce or (if GF) tamari
- 20 ml / 4 teaspoons mirin or 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- 600 g / 21 oz pre-cooked ramen noodles or GF noodles of choice
- 200 g / 7 oz tenderstem broccoli*
- 4 radishes, thinly sliced
- 300 g / 10.5 oz of your favorite tofu
- Green part of spring onion/scallion, thinly sliced
- Sesame seeds, for garnishing
- Chilli oil, for dressing
- Place rice vinegar in a small bowl and finely mince a clove of garlic in it, set aside until needed.
- Preheat the oven to 220° C / 425° F (or 20° C / 70° F lower if using the fan function) and take a large baking tray.
- Cut off the top of the garlic head to expose the cloves, drizzle with ½ tsp oil, wrap in kitchen foil and pop on a baking tray.
- Peel your pumpkin (unless the skin is tender and edible), and cut into 2.5 cm / 1 inch cubes. Place in a mixing bowl (keep it for the next step) and stir in 2 teaspoons of oil. Spread on a baking tray and pop into the oven for 15 minutes.
- Add a whole pepper and 2 pieces of peeled ginger to the bowl with the remaining oil, tossing to coat. Cut the shallots in half (keep the skin on) and brush the undersides with a little oil.
- After 15 minutes, flip the pumpkin slices to the other side. Add the chilli, ginger slices and shallots (cut sideways) to the baking tray. Bake for a further 15 minutes – until the undersides of the pumpkin, chilli and shallots look charred and the ginger is soft. If some ingredients are ready before others, remove them from the baking tray.
- As soon as the chili is ready, place it under a small pot for 5 minutes – the steam will help lift the skin. If you don’t want too much heat, peel it and remove the seeds. Peel the ginger and shallots. Place in blender with charred pumpkin and garlic cloves.
- Add soy milk, a stock cube, miso paste and vinegar-soaked garlic to the blender. Blend until smooth then transfer to a large bowl.
- Add about 2.5 cups (600 ml) of water to the pot to give the soup the right consistency – you want the soup to be thick and nutritious but not like cream of soup. Taste and season with soy sauce (or salt) and mirin (or maple syrup).
- Heat the soup just before you are ready to plate it.
- Prepare your favorite tofu. For convenience, I use store-bought premarinated tofu that I just toss in the oven (along with the pumpkin), but you can also make a simple tofu yourself. I marinate well-pressed tofu as long as I can in a simple marinade (2 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp mirin, 2 tbsp cooking), then coat it with potato starch and pan-fry it in oil.
- Boil a pot of water and grab a bamboo steamer. Prepare the broccoli by cutting it into bite-sized pieces and cutting the stalks in half vertically.
- Once the water boils, place the steamed broccoli on top of the pot. Cook until knife-tender, about 7 minutes.
- Boil the noodles in water under the steamer. My pre-cooked Seven Moon Ramen Noodles require 2 minutes, following your packet instructions.
- Divide between noodles and hot soup bowls, top with tofu slices, steamed broccoli, thinly sliced radishes and spring onions. Scatter some sesame seeds on top and drizzle with chili oil (or toasted sesame oil if you don’t like heat).
*Soy Milk: I like to use soy milk (soy and water, no additives) because it’s creamy, full of plant-based protein, and the flavor works well here, but if you don’t have soy, substitute another neutral-flavored plant milk. use You can also use water and add 1-2 tbsp of your favorite nut butter to make this soup creamy – peanut butter or tahini would work well here.
*Tenderstem Broccoli: Any green you enjoy. I chose purple tenderstem broccoli as it grows in the UK at this time of year and is widely available in local supermarkets. Pak choi, choi sum, Chinese spinach, Napa cabbage will all be suitable.