Japanese Soba and Vegetable Soup from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cookbook is a favorite at our house, a hit with four out of five family members, so that’s saying something. (At least around here it is.) It’s vegetarian. No, wait, even better, it’s vegan, and it’s absolutely delicious, especially on a cold winter’s night.
This is a two-step process. First you need to make a shitake mushroom “dashi,” a Japanese stock. It’s super easy to make, but if you’re going to be rushed at dinner time, make it a little ahead, or even a day ahead, and have it ready to go when it’s time to start the main part of the meal.
8 dried shitake mushrooms
4 cups cold water
4 quarter-sized slices fresh ginger root
2 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs sake or dry sherry (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the mushrooms to soak for an additional 15 minutes. Remove ginger pieces and discard them. Store shitakes and dashi separately if you’re not going to use it immediately. Makes 3 cups.
Japanese Soba and Vegetable Soup
1 batch of Shitake Dashi
8 shitake mushrooms, reserved from dashi and thinly sliced
1 cup finely chopped leeks, white parts only
2 tsp grated fresh ginger root (See Note #1 below)
2 tsp rice vinegar or cider vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 Tbs mirin (optional)
3 ounces soba noodles (which are buckwheat noodles)
2 cups washed, stemmed spinach (chopped if leaves are too big)
4 ounces tofu, cubed (You don’t have to use tofu, but I always do.)
1 to 2 Tbs light miso (optional, although I’ve done it both ways and I think it’s worth getting the miso)
thinly sliced scallions
toasted sesame seeds (See Note #2)
In a soup pot, bring dashi to a boil. Add the shitake, leeks, ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, and mirin, if using. Cover and simmer until leeks are tender, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a separate pot, cook the soba noodles in boiling water to cover for about 5 minutes, until al dente.
When the leeks are tender, add the spinach and tofu and simmer for another minute, until spinach has wilted but is still bright green. In a small bowl, combine the miso with a few tablespoons of the hot broth to make a smooth sauce, then stir it back into the soup. (Don’t let the soup reach a boil once the miso has been added.)
Drain the soba noodles and evenly divide them among four individual serving bowls. Ladle on the soup and top with sliced scallions and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Serves 4.
Note #1: Two comments on ginger. Try peeling — scraping it, really — with the tip of a teaspoon. I used to use a paring knife, and I’d lose so much ginger. Using a teaspoon is easier, and it leaves all the precious ginger where it should be. For the grating, use a microplane. If you don’t have a microplane, go get one. Now.
Note #2: To toast sesame seeds, spread them on a baking sheet and pop them in a preheated 350-degree oven for 2 to 3 minutes. Stay close by. At our house, I usually like to burn at least one batch of seeds or nuts every time I attempt toasting of any kind. Sore point around here. What can I say, I like the sound of the smoke alarm. Set a timer and, whatever you do, don’t walk away. In fact, don’t look away.
When I serve this to our family of five, I triple this recipe. (Yeah, big eaters here.) If you wanted to turn this into a bigger meal, you could add spring rolls and maybe some steamed edamame pods on the side.