I was looking through my trade magazines last Saturday, checking out the new products and reading vitamin articles when I spied this recipe. Although it’s actually a beef noodle soup, I thought maybe I could try it with seitan (wheat meat). So Sunday morning I got up and made the broth, sauteed a few aromatics, added the seitan, and brought the rest of the ingredients to my cousin’s house to finish it.

The soup was a total success, even my cousin’s brother ate some, saying the noodles reminded him of Korean fare. His regular diet consists of burgers, chips, coffee and fig newtons, so he surprised me by saying he was craving something with complexity. If you eat beef, I bet this would have even more depth, although it is very good vegan fare as well!

Niu Rou Mian (Spicy Chinese Seitan or Beef Noodle Soup)

2 oz soy sauce
1T + 1 t hoisin sauce
1 star anise or 1/2 t whole anise seed
1/3 stick cinnamon
zest of 1 small orange, peeled in thin strips
4 C water

1/2 T vegetable oil
1 bunch scallions, chopped, 1/2 for soup, 1/2 for garnish
1 T ginger, minced
5-6 large cloves garlic, minced
1 t red pepper flakes, or less if you want less heat
1 lb cubed seitan or beef stew meat
2 carrots, sliced
2 small zucchini, sliced

2 oz bean thread (cellophane) noodle
1/2 lb baby spinach leaves
2 t toasted sesame oil
1 lime, in wedges

In a large pot combine ingredients from the first group, bring to a boil, lower heat and gently simmer 20 min. Strain.

In a large saute pan or soup pot heat the oil, add the scallions, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes, stir briefly, add 2 cups of the stock and bring to a boil. Add seitan or beef, simmering for 20 minutes for seitan, 1 1/2 – 2 hours for the beef. (If you’re using seitan, add the carrots at this point as well. If you’re using beef, add the carrots for the last 20 minutes.)

I discovered the seitan absorbs an astonishing amount of stock, and added water, 1 – 1 1/2 C. It didn’t seem to affect the flavor much, at the end I added a bit more soy sauce.

When the soup is almost done, add the zucchini and simmer 5 minutes. Put the bean thread noodles in a saucepan of cold water and bring to a boil. Cut the noodles with scissors in several places when they are soft, it makes it much easier to get the soup into the serving bowls. Drain the noodles, add them with the remaining stock and spinach to the soup. Stir briefly until spinach is wilted, ladle soup into bowls, top with remaining scallions and a little sesame oil. Serve with a lime wedge.