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When we think of comfort food we might imagine biscuits and gravy, bags of chips, or bowls of ice cream, but comfort food need not be lacking in nutrition. Healthy comfort food, like spicy Tan Tan Noodles, is entirely possible!
The key to the deliciousness that is a bowl of Tan Tan Noodles is umami – a Japanese word that roughly translates to “pleasant savoury taste”.
Umami is now recognized as a distinct taste as it is reliant on its own receptors specific to glutamate, an amino acid key to cellular metabolism.
Glutamate is found in abundance in fermented products such as miso, tempeh, other fermented soy products and kimchi, which also tend to be a rich source of friendly bacteria.
The following recipe for Tan Tan Noodles (spicy peanut noodle soup) includes plenty of ingredients that provide some serious umami, as well as protein, beta-carotene, bioflavonoids like quercetin, and many more phytonutrients, making for a delicious and nutritious healthy comfort food. This recipe makes 4 servings.
Soba noodles (enough for 4, cooked and drained)
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 small-medium carrot, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Thai red chilli, finely chopped
4 cups of vegetable broth
¾ cup of peanut butter, chunky and unsweetened (or use tahini)
2 tbsps of soy sauce or liquid amino acids
1 tbsp of chili garlic sauce
Half a block of medium firm tofu, cut into small cubes
(Optional) finely sliced green onion, crushed peanuts, and/or red pepper flakes to garnish
Heat the oil in a large pot and sauté the carrots, chopped shallots, garlic, and chilli until the shallots are translucent and tender (about 4 minutes).
While the vegetables are cooking, mix up the vegetable broth, soy sauce, and chilli garlic sauce. Add the liquids to the pan, then add the tofu cubes and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 5–10 minutes.
Gently stir in the peanut butter (or tahini or other nut butter) and keep warm over a low heat while cooking and draining the noodles according to the packet instructions.
Place a quarter of the noodles into each of four bowls and pour a quarter of the soup over the noodles. Add your desired garnishes and serve.
The soup mixture will thicken as it cools, so reheat slowly and add a little extra broth if necessary. Store leftover noodles and garnishes separately.
Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT
Leigh Matthews is a health and wellness writer specializing in plant-based nutrition and environmental health.