One of the great things about Northern China are its noodle soups. Freshly-made loooong noodles immersed in a rich, tangy, sometimes spicy broth – topped with leafy greens, soybean sprouts, hard-boiled eggs, beef cubes, cilantro, whole garlic cloves, roasted peanuts or preserved vegetables, and sometimes all of those. In years past, I lived off these bowls full of flavour. So we needed to come up with a low carb beef noodle soup variety – and thanks to kelp or shirataki noodles, it turned out to not even be that hard! These noodles are an excellent replacement for the traditional wheat noodles, and the rich broth is all the same.
The recipe I use here is how a Chinese friend makes them. She loves cooking and improvising, and she is full of useful hints about how to make the most flavourful, healthy and good-looking soup.
If the ingredient list looks intimidating or exotic to you – don’t worry too much. You can replace hard-to-get spices with more regular alternatives suggested in the recipe. That is basically what local chefs, stall owners or home cooks do all the time. All of them have their own slightly different variation of this soup anyway. Home cooks may slightly vary the ingredient list each and any time they cook the soup, depending on which spices or pastes they have at hand. So you can do the same.
You will need 600g good quality beef. Best to buy it in one piece and then cut it yourself. It’s fresher that way and you have more control over the size of your beef cubes. Now to the choice of beef: This really depends on your tolerance of fats, and on how moist you’d like the meat to be. You can use chuck, short ribs, sirloin, steak or even fillet. Anything suitable for a good stew.
The low carb noodles I use here are green kelp noodles. kelp noodles are typically made from three ingredients: kelp (an edible brown seaweed), water, and sodium alginate (a brown-seaweed-derived substance used to improve the texture of many foods). Beware when buying them, as some products contain a bit of wheat as well which no longer makes them low carb and gluten-free. The green kelp pasta has a texture similar to Italian pasta and taste a little like seaweed. If you prefer a blander taste, go for translucent kelp pasta that is also available. Either way, kelp noodles are pretty healthy as they are a good source of minerals such as iodine, iron, and calcium.
For fresh produce, you will need bak choy – a leafy green vegetable that you can replace with fresh spinach if unavailable. And you need leek, ginger and four handfuls of fresh soybean sprouts – one for each serving bowl. You also need four hard-boiled eggs for serving.
One of the more exotic ingredients is the chili bean paste. This kind of paste may be hard to come by in the West, so if you can’t get it, replace it with regular red chili paste. If that’s unavailable too, use 2 tablespoons of unseasoned tomato puree and 1-2 dried, finely chopped chilies. You add these to your wok in the same way as you’d use the chili paste. Use less of either paste or chilies if you prefer a milder taste.
Then, we have quite a list of spices:
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 3pc of star anise
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 black cardamom capsules – alternatively use green ones, but the taste is slightly different
- 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
Try to get hold of as many of these as you can – Chinese food thrives on its spice load. But if you cannot get them all, remember: Any Chinese home chef may run out of star anise and still go ahead and make his or her soup. Sichuan peppercorns add a lot of aroma and, when biting on them, a tingling and slightly numbing sensation on your tongue. In my family, we all love those, and I would love to grow the plant, which is kind of an unsightly shrub, in my yard!
Soy sauce is a central ingredient in Chinese cooking to give it the distinct tangy flavour and a bit of colour. It is often used not as replacement of salt, but as additional ingredient. Soy sauce contains a bit of gluten, so use the Japanese soy sauce tamari as a gluten-free alternative. It is darker, less salty, and has a strong umami flavor.
The suggested 2 tablespoons of rice wine are entirely optional. Rice wine adds a little bit of sweetness and depth of flavor to Asian meals – but it does contain a little bit of alcohol as well. Use Chinese rice wine such as Shaoxing wine or Japanese Mirin. Do not substitute rice wine with rice vinegar (or rice wine vinegar) as that would result in a totally different, more acidic flavour.
Most Asian meals do contain a small amount of sugar, mostly brown sugar. So use either brown keto sweetener such as Sukrin Gold, or coconut sugar – which contains a few carbs. You will only need two teaspoons which is 1/2 a teaspoon per serving.
So while this soup takes some time to be ready and boasts all these fanciful ingredients, it is actually not difficult to make. The simmering time is 2 hours but that doesn’t mean you have to stand by your pot all the time and stir. You can use the time preparing the veggies and eggs that are cooked separately, cleaning up the kitchen tools you’ve used thus far and then sit down nearby and relax.
To begin with, chop your beef into cubes of some 1.5 centimeters sidelength. Set aside. Cut half a leek sprig into 2cm-long chunks and slice a 10g piece of fresh ginger.
Now, the real cooking starts! Ready?
Put a wok or non-stick pan to medium heat and add one tablespoon of coconut or rapeseed oil. Stir-fry half your leek chunks and half your ginger slices, as well as star anise, cardamom capsules, bay leaves, cinnamon, fennel seeds and Sichuan pepper for a few minutes until fragrant.
Meanwhile, bring 2 litres of water to the boil in a large pot. Once it is boiling, toss all the wok’s content (including the oil) into the boiling water and bring it back to the boil if needed. Add the beef cubes once the water is boiling again. Turn heat down a bit and simmer your soup for one hour, the pot covered with a lid.
After about one hour, heat your wok again with another tablespoon of oil. Add to it the second half of the ginger slices and leek chunks. Stir-fry for a minute. Mix in the chili bean paste and keep stirring. When the paste changes color, which will happen after about a minute or so, add soy sauce. rice wine and coconut sugar/sukrin gold. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, and then pour this mix into the soup as well. This will give the soup extra spice and colour.
Keep simmering for another hour or so. The soup will be done whenever your meat is tender. This can vary a bit, depending on which kind of meat you’re using. The leaner beef varieties are cooked faster than the fattier ones. So the secret is to taste your beef regularly towards the end of your cooking time. Beef not cooked long enough or overcooked both results in your chunks becoming a little hard to chew.
While your soup pot is on the stove, cook the other ingredients separately. They are added directly to the serving bowls. First hard-boil the eggs. Then cook the kelp noodles in salted water for about 4-5 minutes. Drain and keep warm. Then bring some salted water and a drop of oil to the boil and blanch first the bak choy and then the soybean sprouts – no more than 2 minutes each.
Before serving, taste the soup one last time and add more seasoning if needed.
When you are ready to serve your soup, prepare four large soup bowls for each serving. Pour the broth and meat equally into the bowls. Distribute noodles and veggies between the bowls. Lastly, arrange the eggs on top of the soup, open sides up.
A word on storage: In a sealed container, the stock can be stored inside the fridge for a few days and also frozen. The meat can be stored inside the stock when refrigerated or frozen. But don’t add any noodles or vegetables when storing them as they’ll change texture and become mushy. When you pull out the stock, prepare fresh veggies or noodles.
Alternative low carb noodle varieties
As mentioned above, you can use other low carb noodles for this soup as well. The best alternatives to kelp pasta are shirataki noodles made from the Japanese konjac yam or tofu skin pasta. The latter may be a bit harder to get hold of in the West. Here in China, it’s an everyday item and I love them for a change (see photo below).
If you happen to see tofu skins in an Asia store, grab them and give them a try! If you cannot get ready-to-eat tofu skin noodles, you may still be able to buy sheets of tofu skin. They will work as well, just need a little bit of extra chopping work. Just cut the sheets into fine stripes with a large knife.
When you prepare the soup, quickly cook the shirataki noodles separately according to the package – same as you would for kelp pasta. This step is not necessary for tofu skins, as they do not change texture inside the soup. So you can toss tofu skin noodles into the broth right before serving to warm them up a little. They can also remain in the broth for storing.
For the traditional high carb version, use Chinese flat wheat noodles. Yet again, they need to be boiled separately to prevent their starch mixing with your broth. Boil them according to package – usually they need no more than a few minutes. This may be a good option if you serve a group that includes people – such as my kids – who won’t eat kelp pasta. I know it’s another extra pot 😬 but at least low carb and high carb fare can be served simultaneously.
If you like this soup and Chinese food in general, check out my other yummy low carb Chinese recipes. It’s great to have you here!
Goodness from the North of China: Beef noodle soup with low carb kelp pasta! Add to it eggs, green leaves and soybean sprouts, and lots of spice.
For more details about how to make this recipe, check my blog post above.
for 4 servings
600g good quality beef. The choice is yours and depends on your tolerance of fats, and on how moist you’d like the meat to be. You can use chuck, short ribs, sirloin, steak or even fillet. Anything suitable for a good stew.
2 tbsp coconut or rapeseed oil
1/2 sprig leek, white or green parts, cut into 2cm chunks
10g fresh ginger, cut into a few thick slices
3 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp of rice wine such as Shaoxing wine or Mirin (optional) – do NOT substitute with rice vinegar.
2 or more tbsp chili paste or chili bean paste (if unavailable, use tomato puree plus 1–2 dried chilies, finely chopped)
1 tbsp fennel seeds
3pc of star anise
6 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 black cardamom capsules – alternatively use green ones, but the taste is slightly different
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
2 tsp coconut sugar or brown keto sweetener such as Sukrin Gold
4 eggs, hard boiled
350g kelp noodles (actually you can use a bit more or a bit less, according to how hungry you are. It doesn’t affect the intensity of the soup’s flavour as they’re cooked separately)
250g bak choy
four handfuls soybean sprouts – one for each serving bowl
- Chop your beef into cubes of some 1.5 centimeters sidelength. Set aside.
- Put a wok or non-stick pan to medium heat and add 1 tbsp of coconut or rapeseed oil. Stir-fry half the leek and half the ginger, as well as star anise, cardamom capsules, bay leaves, cinnamon, fennel seeds and Sichuan pepper for a few minutes until fragrant.
- Meanwhile, bring 2 litres of water to the boil in a large pot. Once it is boiling, toss all the wok’s content into the boiling water and bring it back to the boil if needed. Add the beef cubes once the water is boiling again. Turn heat down a bit and simmer your soup for one hour, covered with a lid.
- After about one hour, heat your wok again with another tbsp of oil. Add to it the second half of the ginger and leek and stir-fry for a minute. Mix in the chili paste and keep stirring. When the paste changes color, after about a minute or so, add soy sauce. rice wine and coconut sugar/sukrin gold. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, and then pour mix into the soup. Keep simmering for another hour or so. It’s done when the meat is tender. Taste the soup and add any seasoning to taste if needed.
- While your soup is simmering away, cook the other ingredients separately. They are added directly to the serving bowls. First hard-boil the eggs. You will want both the yolks and egg whites to be firm, so cook them for at least 10 minutes. Then cook the kelp noodles in salted water for about 4-5 minutes. Drain and keep warm. Then bring some salted water and a drop of oil to the boil and blanch first the bak choy and then the soybean sprouts – no more than 2 minutes each.
- For serving, cut the eggs in half. Pour the broth and meat into large bowls for each serving, and add noodles, vegetable and eggs on top, directly to the bowl. Enjoy!
You can also use shirataki noodles or tofu skin noodles. Make shirataki pasta in the same way as the kelp pasta. The tofu skin noodles are thin stripes cut out from tofu skin sheets. They can be thrown into the large pot directly, together with other ingredients.
In a sealed container, the stock can be frozen or stored inside the fridge for a few days. The meat can be stored inside the stock when refrigerated or frozen. But don’t add any noodles or the vegetables when storing them as they’ll change texture.
- Category: soups
- Method: chop and simmer
- Cuisine: Chinese
- Serving Size: 1 bowl
- Calories: 379
- Fat: 17.7g
- Carbohydrates: 8.5g net carbs
- Protein: 44g