There are times when I cannot face another rich, spicy, vegetable laden dish. Admittedly this happens rarely – who doesn’t love spice in all its guises? - but those moments do arise from time to time. Though my cooking is about as far flung from the thoughtful and gentle world of macrobiotics as you could imagine, I’m nonetheless drawn to its focus on eating and living well. The beauty of Japanese food, the artful presentation of dishes, appeals no end. Armed with some gorgeous exotic Asian mushrooms, a dish with a nod in that general geographical direction seemed seasonally right.
What I’m about to suggest is a pretty, cool weather broth. Flavoured with ginger, it has an earthiness that is echoed in the pure buckwheat soba noodles. It’s a meal in a bowl, just right for slurping noisily and with enough textural variety to keep almost anyone happy. Some ingredients used here live contentedly in my pantry, though possibly not in yours, but none are difficult to find. Besides, they have many uses beyond this delicious broth.
Kombu is a dried seaweed that is mineral-rich and the basis for many Japanese soups. Whenever I cook dried beans or long-cooking grains, I add a small piece of kombu to increase their digestibility, chopping it and adding it to the finished dish, regardless of cuisine.
Mirin is used in place of white wine in dishes that need a little alcohol-inspired lift. If left with the remains of a bottle of wine, I invariably drink it rather than sensibly freezing it in wine glassfuls. Mirin proves to be useful time and again. Good in salad dressings also.
Dried shiitakes are more useful than fresh. How often do you find sad, old shiitakes at the grocer, quietly sweating in their plastic wrap? The dried ones are cheaper, easily found on supermarket shelves, reconstitute incredibly well and have the same nutrients. Fresh is best, but the flavour of dried ones cannot be underestimated. Both are used here, but use reconstituted whole dried ones if good fresh ones allude you.
Soba noodles. Great in a stir-fry. I use traditional 100% buckwheat ones, but there are many varieties out there that are 50% or less buckwheat with the remainder made of wheat flour. If you’re cooking for someone with gluten sensitivity, make the effort to find the real ones. Spiral brand is my favourite.
Exotic mushrooms with soba noodles in a cool-weather broth – for 2-3
You could use the faster cooking udon noodles instead of the soba, but I like the chewy texture that soba provides. The broth makes more than you’ll probably need. Place it in the fridge in a covered container and it will keep for weeks. Add to stir-fried dishes in spoonfuls for a hit of extra flavour.
1 strip of kombu, roughly between 10 and 15cm long
1.25 litres of water
Large handful of fresh shiitake mushrooms
½ cup of dried shiitake mushrooms
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
100-150g, of dried soba noodles
2 tablespoons of tamari
2 tablespoons of mirin
½ tablespoon of brown rice vinegar
1 teaspoon of oil
A bundle of enoki mushrooms, bases trimmed
2 spring onions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
Roasted sesame oil to serve (optional)
Place the kombu in a saucepan, pour in 1 litre of the water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Retrieve the kombu and set it aside.
Remove the stalks from the fresh shiitake mushrooms. Add these stalks to the kombu stock along with the dried shiitakes and the sliced ginger. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Strain the broth into another saucepan, discarding the solids. Add the remaining water, tamari, mirin and rice vinegar and keep warm.
Cook the soba noodles according to the packet instructions. When they are cooked, drain them, rinse and place in a bowl of cold water. Set aside.
Slice the fresh shiitake mushroom caps thinly. Finely chop about one third of the kombu and discard the rest. Warm the oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat and add the sliced shiitakes. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes, and then add the enoki mushrooms and the spring onions. Toss about for 2 minutes and remove from the heat.
Drain the noodles, and divide them between 2 or 3 deep bowls. Ladle over some broth and add the reserved chopped kombu and the stir-fried mushrooms. Taste it and see if you need more tamari or mirin. A drop or two of roasted sesame oil at the end is very good.
A panacea for almost any kind of excess you can think of.