Japanese Yaki Udon {vegan option}

When I started this blog about 9 years ago, I was not a very evolved foodie. My diet was crap. And, by diet, I mean my food choices.

Even though I have always loved fruit I tended to gravitate toward apples (with peanut butter) and bananas (with peanut butter) adding in some strawberries and watermelon during the summer months. I didn’t get a ton of variety.

I didn’t really eat vegetables at all besides corn, potatoes and mushrooms. At a restaurant I would ask to omit most if not all veggies or I’d pick them out if omitting wasn’t possible or seemed weird or rude. To this day I rarely eat lettuce on burgers or sandwiches but love sliced tomato.

Back when I started this blog, if I could have eaten cake and ice cream for every meal, I would have. Or maybe I would have alternated cake and ice cream with burgers and fries and pizza. Oddly, even though my cholesterol levels typically went up and down, sometimes going higher than the acceptable range, I never really had a weight issue. So I figured I was doing OK with eating what I was eating.

In the past decade my tastes have evolved and I’ve learned a thing or two about the importance of health. In the last year I’ve really expanded my tastebuds when it comes to vegetables and, to my surprise, learned I like a lot of vegetarian and vegan foods. Most of the time these days, I mainly gravitate toward vegetarian or vegan. Don’t get me wrong. I love meat. It’s just that I’ve also realized I love foods that don’t contain meat.

Amongst the most surprising of my food revolutions is the expansion of my tastebuds concerning Asian foods. You see, I love Asian foods. But they are mainly vegetable-filled. I never really ate vegetables consistently until my mid to late 30s. In my teens I tended to eat the same (not-too-vegetable-y) standbys like lo-mein or fried rice eventually graduating to cashew or sesame chicken. These were about the least vegetable-y dishes I could find; pushing the vegetables out of the way to get to the best part (meat and carbs) was simple.

I first tried sushi in my late 20s and began eating it regularly in my early to mid 30s. I was introduced to Korean BBQ in my late 30s. Now I’m obsessed. I believe my taste bud expansion is due in large part to moving to the West Coast in 2008, though I was introduced to sushi by my friend Jen in Milwaukee, Wis.

In the last year of my 30s I spent a lot of time with my sister at her home in Portland, Ore. She happens to live very close to an Asian grocery store (H-MART) and has filled her kitchen with all sorts of yummy Asian staples. I’ve always been one to copy my sister I guess. Once we began cooking with her Asian ingredients, I was hooked. I went out and bought myself a bunch of Asian pantry staples, some of which I carted home to LA with me! And some of which I left behind with my sister. Incidentally, within the last year my sister also got me into bouldering and nearly got me into camping (our planned camping trip didn’t work out.)

It’s taken me a while to settle back into my routine since I’m no longer traveling back and forth to quiet, beautiful, green Portland. While I can’t physically go to Portland right now, I can mentally go back there by creating some delicious Asian inspired foods in my LA kitchen. So I rounded up some traditional Asian stir fry vegetables (cabbage, carrots, green onions and bean sprouts) and used a recipe I found at The Tasty Bite blog as my inspiration to make a noodle stir fry. 

While I may eat vegetarian Asian appetizers from time-to-time, I traditionally eat meat in my Asian meals. Usually shrimp or chicken. Sometimes pork. Almost never beef. But Yaki udon is typically made with meat–pork, apparently–and Karen’s recipe for Udon Noodle Stir fry used beef and I happened to have some frozen chuck roast in the freezer. So I decided to give beef a try instead of subbing another meat. You can easily sub thinly sliced chicken or pork or shrimp as your meat or leave it out altogether for a tasty vegan meal.

Here’s what I learned while making this recipe:

  • Low-sodium soy sauce is a must. I never buy low-sodium anything so I didn’t have any low-sodium soy sauce on hand. Udon noodles are very salty. There’s also salt in mirin. To avoid salt overload, use low-sodium soy sauce and thoroughly rinse your noodles after cooking. I love salt and found my first attempt at this recipe a tad too salty. That’s a rarity!
  • Udon noodles are a cinch to make! They are also sticky and can become over-cooked quite easily. Try to get your noodles al dente. They will soak up sauce when you’re frying.
  • If you have all your vegetables prepped, the dish can come together in about 15 to 20 minutes.

A year ago you couldn’t have paid me to eat cabbage, carrots or bean sprouts in an Asian stir fry — the green onions would have been fine. I didn’t really notice the vegetables in this dish though it’s chock full of vegetables. All I tasted was an amazing flavor made amazing because of the vegetables. This is an awesome and amazing dish to sneak in veggies.


  • 24 oz dried udon noodles
  • vegetable, olive or avocado oil for frying
  • 20 oz beef chuck, thinly sliced (omit for vegan)
  • 2 c. napa cabbage, shredded, thick parts discarded
  • 2 c. bean sprouts
  • 1 c. matchstick carrots
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts separated; white cut thinly and green cut into about ¼ to ½ inch pieces
  • ½ c. low-sodium soy sauce, more to taste
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 T. mirin
  • 1 T. sesame oil (I used “hot”)
  • 1 T. sriracha sauce (optional)
  • additional soy sauce, or fish sauce!, to taste (omit fish sauce for vegan; I ran out of soy sauce making this dish and needed a substitute)


  1. Prep you’re veggies. Chop your cabbage and julienne your carrots if you didn’t buy matchstick carrots at the store. Separate the green and white parts of the scallions and slice. Add the cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts and the white parts of the scallion to a large bowl.
  2. Prep your sauce by adding the soy sauce, sugar, mirin, sesame oil and sriracha sauce (if using) in a small bowl. Mix with small whisk.
  3. Boil water in a large soup pot and start cooking your meat. Heat oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat, add beef and stir fry until the meat is no longer pink. Transfer to a plate.
  4. Add udon noodles to the boiling water. Turn the burner off and allow to stand 3 to 5 minutes or until desired doneness is achieved. Three minutes will give you a slightly al dente noodle. Drain using a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold water.
  5. Add cabbage, carrots, white parts of the scallions and bean sprouts to the wok, adding more oil if necessary. Cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender.
  6. Add udon noodles, green parts of the scallions, and sauce; mix well.
  7. Return cooked beef, if using, to the pan to heat through before serving.

Recipe rating: 


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