Meals

Udon Swamp Lady

Udon noodles with veggies and pork strips as "hair"; bread circle with blueberry "eyes" and red pepper "smile"
A quick, healthy, silly dinner: Udon swamp lady!
Wednesday afternoons are a bit of a fire drill around here. After preschool pick up, lunch, nap/quiet time and Tae Kwon Do, it’s 5:15 p.m., which means I have an hour and 15 minutes before the sitter arrives so that I can meet my student at the tutoring center. My boys go to bed between 7 and 7:30 p.m. (yes, I know it’s early, but any later and they get cranky, and no matter when they go to sleep, they rise at 6:30 a.m., so I might as well enjoy a long evening while I can!), so I like to have them fed, bathed and in their jammies, with teeth flossed and brushed, by the time the sitter arrives. In other words, on Wednesdays, I need to fix really quick, healthy and popular dinners. Last night, I relied on an old favorite: Udon Swamp Lady! The dish consists of udon — a thick, white Japanese noodle (by far my favorite pasta) — with stir-fried pork strips and veggies. I arranged the udon like hair around a bread circle “face” adorned with blueberries and a red pepper strip. The boys pretended that the meat and veggies were detritus from the swamp inhabited by the Udon Lady, and they took great pleasure in gobbling her up.
This dinner met all of my Wednesday requirements: quick to prepare (I made it in half an hour during the boys’ nap/quiet time, then heated it up at dinner time), healthy and delicious. As I’ll discuss later, there are lots of ways to customize this dish, but if you’re interested in making the noodle dish pictured above, here are the ingredients you’ll need (serves two adults and two toddlers/preschoolers, with enough left for one adult lunch portion):

My favorite brand of udon, sold in the frozen foods section at most Asian markets

  • Four 8-oz packages of refrigerated or frozen udon noodles, found at Asian markets or in the refrigerated pasta section at many mainstream grocery stores. Costco also sells it, six individual packages in one bag. I’m partial to Shirakiku brand, sold in the frozen foods section at Asian markets — I think this brand of udon has the best texture (chewy and al dente, difficult to overcook).
  • Kikkoman stir-fry sauce or any other bottled Asian-style marinade you have on hand (e.g., teriyaki sauce, Soy-Vay). Of course, you could make your own, with some corn starch, soy sauce, minced garlic, rice wine and a pinch of sugar, but I was going for convenience.
  • Six or seven button mushrooms, sliced
  • A couple of handfuls of snow peas, with ends snapped off, chopped into 3-4 sections per pea
  • One boneless pork loin chop, cut into thin strips. I get the giant package of them at Costco, put them into sandwich Ziploc bags (two per bag), then put all of the little bags into one giant freezer Ziploc bag. That way, I can defrost just one or two bags at a time for meals. For this recipe, I sliced the chop into thin slices, then cut each slice into strips.
  • Udon sauce, found near the udon or in the condiments aisle at Asian markets, or sometimes in the “international” aisle at grocery stores. If you can’t find it, you can mix up 3-4 tablespoons of soy sauce, a splash of rice wine, 1 tablespoon of sugar, a minced garlic clove, and a few drops of sesame oil. Experiment until you find a taste you like!
  • For the face: A slice of bread, two blueberries (I used frozen) and a strip of red pepper

Here’s what I did:

1. Combine meat strips and a few tablespoons of the marinade; stir. Use enough marinade so that all of the strips have a little sauce on them, but not so much that the meat is swimming in the marinade. Set aside for 15 minutes. While the meat is marinating, you can prep the veggies.

2. Heat a little oil in a pan over medium heat, then put in the marinated meat. Stir it around the pan a couple of times. Wait a minute or two (the meat will still be a bit pink), then add in the sliced mushrooms and stir to combine. You may need to add a couple teaspoons of hot water if the meat and mushrooms seem dry. (When stir-frying, I like to keep a small amount of boiled water on standby in my electric kettle, so I always have hot water if whatever I’m cooking in the pan is dry.) Let the mushrooms and meat cook for two or three minutes.

3. Once the mushrooms and meat seem almost done (it won’t take long if you sliced the mushrooms and meat thin!), drop in the snow peas and stir to combine. You’ll only need to cook those for a minute. Take the pan off the heat.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (you can do this while you’re cooking the meat and veggies). Cook the udon according to package directions. For the Shirakiku frozen udon, I put the frozen noodles into the boiling water and cook for 3-5 minutes. Udon is supposed to be al dente. If it gets too soggy, it tastes a little slimy and loses all of its appeal.

5. Drain the udon in a colander, then return to the pot. Dump the meat and veggies that you cooked and set aside into the pot, on top of the noodles, then pour in just a little of the udon sauce (or your homemade sauce, as described in the ingredients section). Depending on how much marinade (from the meat) made it into the meat and veggies, you might not need much udon sauce to moisten the noodles. Use two spoons to gently toss and combine everything. If the noodles need more sauce, add a little more of the udon sauce to taste.

6. If you’re making Udon Lady, use a round glass to cut a circle out of one slice of bread. Place the bread on the plate, somewhere in the lower half. Press the blueberries into the bread, then put on the red pepper “smile.” Arrange the noodles, meat and veggies around the face, and voila! There she is in all her glory.

By the way, after I made the dish, I realized I had some steamed broccoli in the fridge from a couple of nights ago, so I stuck some florets in the udon. Because I didn’t start out with them, I didn’t put them in the ingredients list.

One last note: There are lots of ways to customize this dish — you can use just about any pasta, meat (or no meat), veggies and sauce. For example, this would be a fun variation for spaghetti night — spread garlic butter on the bread, toast it, and use spaghetti with marinara sauce as the hair (you could use sliced olives for the eyes, since blueberries probably wouldn’t taste good with garlic butter!). In general, stir-fry dishes are a great way to use up leftovers in the fridge, so play around with what you already have in the kitchen. You might come up with a new family favorite.
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About Saucy Mommy

I'm Beverly, a mom of two who loves to cook and write. Check out my blog at www.saucymommy.com for family-friendly (but tasty) meal ideas and pictures of bento box lunches.

Discussion

One thought on “Udon Swamp Lady

  1. Hi Beverly, I love this! Your blog inspires me and I will be checking here daily for your innovative ideas! The udon lady is one of my favorites, makes me think of Medusa from the Little Mermaid:)

    Posted by redapple333 | October 16, 2011, 8:24 am

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