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SOUP MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER

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In times of almost any sort of trouble, cooking can make things better.

Sometimes I turn to the stove not because I need to prepare a meal but for

the sensual pleasure that cooking imparts. In a swirling halo of aromas,

worries fade away, however briefly, and the world is reduced to a pleasurable

rhythm of chopping, stirring and pouring that results in something good.

Add good music and chances are you'll rise above whatever gloom had you in

its grip. Next thing you know, you may be calling a friend with an invitation.

In the end, it doesn't matter how bad things get: Everyone needs dinner. We

might as well enjoy it -- the process of making it, the pleasure of eating it

-- as much as we can. Throughout human history, we have taken breaks from

almost everything to have a meal.

The other day a friend mentioned that she was intrigued by noodle soups,

which got me to thinking about some of my favorites, included here for her and

for you.

You can find yam noodles in the refrigerated section of most Asian markets;

they are absolutely delicious. Although this soup is good any time of day, I

enjoy it most at breakfast; it is also good with sauteed or braised greens,

with or without the noodles.

Simple Miso Soup with Yam Noodles

Makes 2 servings

2 cups Dashi (see Note below) or water

1 fresh ginger slice

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons red miso

2 tablespoons mirin (sweetened sake, for cooking)

1 8-ounce package yam noodles, drained

2 scallions, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 tablespoon cilantro leaves

Heat the dashi or water in a small saucepan, add the ginger and garlic,

cover and remove from the heat. Let steep 15 minutes. Remove and discard the

ginger and garlic.

Whisk in the miso and the mirin, return to a medium flame and heat through.

Add the noodles, cover and remove from the heat. Let sit 2 to 3 minutes.

Divide between 2 soup bowls, garnish with scallions and cilantro and serve

immediately.

Note: Dashi is a simple seaweed stock used in countless Japanese dishes.

You can make it by steeping 1 1/2 ounces konbu (giant kelp) in 8 cups of

water for 1 to 2 hours, until the konbu is very tender. Remove and discard the

konbu, add 1 ounce of dried bonito flakes, bring to a boil over high heat,

steep for 1 minute, skim off all foam and strain through 4 layers of cheese

cloth. Refrigerate and use within 4 days.

There have been great clams at farmers markets these days, perfect for

making this simple noodle soup.

Thai Clam Noodle Soup

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, plus more to taste

6 to 8 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

6 green onions, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths, white parts crushed

with the flat side of a wide knife

1 small shallot, minced

1 serrano pepper, minced

3/4 cup dry sake

3 pounds small clams or cockles, scrubbed, rinsed and sorted

8 ounces Japanese somen or other thin noodles of choice

2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste

3/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Heat the sesame oil in a wok or medium sauce pan set over high heat. Add

the garlic, onions, shallot and serrano and cook, stirring constantly, for 15

seconds. Do not let burn.

Working quickly, add 2 cups of water and the sake and bring to a boil.

Add the clams or cockles, cover and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, until all the

clams have opened.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to package suggestions and when they

are done divide among individual soup bowls.

Stir the fish sauce and cilantro leaves into the soup and ladle it over the

noodles, dividing the clams evenly among the portions.

Drizzle a few drops of sesame oil over each portion and serve immediately.

For a decade I have been making one version or another of this soup in the

hopes of creating the exact flavors I so enjoyed when I first tasted it at the

riverfront park in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, one of two Malaysian

states on the island of Borneo. I have come quite close and understand, in a

visceral way, that the missing elements cannot be found in a store or market.

It is Borneo itself -- the fragrant air, the unique sounds, a particular

quality of light -- that would complete the experience. In the meantime, this

is a really good soup. If you allow yourself two days, it is not much work.

Beef Noodle Soup with Ginger, Cilantro & Mint

Makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons clarified butter

1 large yellow onion, diced

6 to 8 large garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 fresh serrano pepper, minced

Kosher salt

2 beef shanks

10 cups Fragrant Beef Stock (recipe follows), hot

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more to taste

10 ounces 1/4-inch wide rice noodles

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

2 limes, cut in wedges

Melt the butter in a large stock pot set over medium-low heat, add the

diced onion and saute until nearly caramelized, about 20 to 25 minutes. Do not

let burn.

Add the garlic, ginger and serrano and cook 2 minutes more. Season with

salt.

Push the ingredients to the side of the pan, add the beef shanks and brown

on both sides.

Add the hot stock and red pepper flakes, bring to a boil, reduce the heat

and simmer very gently until the beef shanks are tender, about 2 hours.

Remove the shanks from the pot, pull the meat off the bone, chop it

coarsely and return it to the pot. Taste the soup and correct for salt, pepper

and red pepper flakes.

Cook the rice noodles according to package directions and divide them among

individual soup bowls. Ladle the soup on top, garnish with cilantro and mint

and serve immediately, with the limes alongside for squeezing on top of the

soup.

The best gift you can give a soup is a great stock. This one, with its

aromatic fragrance, is excellent for Asian soups. If you always have homemade

stocks in your freezer -- currently, I have chicken, turkey, pork and beef,

packed in two-cup portions -- making outstanding soups from scratch is easy.

Given the economy, a great way to do this is to watch for sales at your local

markets and make stocks when you can get a good deal on the ingredients.

Fragrant Beef Stock

Makes 10 cups

4 pounds beef shanks, 2 inches thick, cut through the bone

1 carrot, cut into 3 or 4 pieces

1 yellow onion, cut in quarters

Kosher salt

1/2 cup whole canned tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen

4 lemongrass stalks, crushed

6 ginger slices

3 kaffir lime leaves

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

2 star anise

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Set the beef shanks, carrot and onion in a large roasting pan and season

all over with salt. Add a little water to the pan, just enough to cover the

surface.

Set the pan on the middle rack of the oven and cook for 45 minutes.

Transfer all the ingredients to a stock pot, add the tomatoes, lemongrass,

ginger, kaffir lime leaves, peppercorns, star anise and just enough water to

cover the ingredients, about 14 cups.

Bring to a boil over high heat, skim off any foam that forms on top, reduce

the heat and simmer very gently for about 5 hours, until the meat completely

falls off the bone and the liquid is reduced by about a third.

Do not stir the stock as it cooks.

Remove the stock from the heat, cool and gently pour the stock through a

strainer into a large container. Refrigerate until fully chilled; remove and

discard the fat that congeals on top.

Use within 3 days or freeze and use within 3 months.

.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts ``Mouthful'' each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 91.1

FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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