Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Art of the Broth

Yesterday I made an udon soup for the first time. An Asian pear & roasted butternut squash udon, to be exact. I'm not a fan of noodle soupls in general. But udon noodles in particular strike me as over-the-top thick and awkward. So this was very adventurous for me!

The starting point was seasonal, locally grown ingredients that I wanted to use up in a fresh way. I was tired of resorting to my old ways of cooking: shiitake mushrooms (not a stir-fry again!), butternut squash, which I love roasted but wanted to see if they'll work with these particular mushrooms (they go smashingly well with portobello mushrooms). I also had a wackload of Asian pears which I was considering using in a salad again (a regular favourite on our table since last fall).

Short search in two recently found and very resourceful vegetarian cookbooks - Plenty and rebar - was a proof that the latter is the ideal choice when cooking seasonal is the guideline, and a further proof that sustainable nourishment can be exotic indeed. The particular recipe of choice included mostly ingredients that I found at the farmer's market that weekend (except for the scallions, condiments and the added deep fried tofu).

At this point, you might be asking yourself - why are there so many recipes on this blog? Isn't it a perfume blog? Or a perfumers' blog? Well, it is. I just happen to be very interested in cooking. And I also am very passionate about eating well, supporting local agriculture and sustainable business practices. All of the above have been and will continue to be core values of how I run my business and try to live my life. But aside from that, I'm finding more and more correlations between perfuming and creating in the culinary medium. Which means that everyone in my home or who comes through it is getting really spoiled with all my baking and cooking experiments...

This winter I've decided to make my own broth rather than contributing to landfills with cartons of emptied organic vegetable broth. Besides the earth-concious benefits, it also makes the house smell incredibly welcoming and cozy while undergoing an extended simmer.

Creating a broth, in particular, seems like constructing a perfume. There are layers upon layers of flavours that are essential for creating depth, character and a backbone or foundation for other delicious dishes - soups, stews and, of course - risotto! Since I only use vegetables, it's very important that the broth has certain materials in it. What most seem to miss in vegetarian cooking is that mysterious depth that so many find lacking in vegetarian dishes. The secret to that is using dried mushrooms. I find that give it that umami flavour and meaty depth. And paired with the right spices or herbs, it can border on perfection. You might just never look back at boiling bones if you try my recipe for the ultimate vegetable broth (I promise I will post it next week).

The challenge with this soup was not so much the broth, which I was making anyway for a number of other "projects". It was the seaweed. I found it to be way too fishy for me in this context and had to add the cinnamon to balance the flavours out. You might want to try it without seaweed and see how you like it. There is no shortage of depth without it, even if you're using plain water rather than pre-made vegetable broth.

So here's my recipe (adapted from rebar modern food cookbook's udon & ginger squash with miso-shiitake broth), page 178). This should be sufficient to feed 2 very hungry adults as a meal-in-a-bowl all on its own; or 4 with lesser appetite or as a starter dish:

Broth & Soup
handful of wakame seaweed
12gr dried sliced shiitake mushrooms
6 cups of water or vegetable stock
2 Tbs tamari or soy sauce
2 Tbs mirin (sweet rice vinegar - use apple cider vinegar in a pinch)
2 Tbs sake (use white wine in a pinch)
2 Tbs fresh ginger root, peeled and minced very finely (reserve 1 Tbs for the roasted squash - see below)
2 whole star anise
1 piece of sweet cassia bark
1 Asian pear, sliced
2 handful of greens of your choice (i.e.: collard greens, spinach, bok choy, gai-lan, watercress, etc.) rinsed and drained, cut or torn into large pieces if necessary. 
1 cup whole baby shiitake mushrooms (or 8 large ones, sliced)
- Cover the mushrooms, cassia bark, star anise and seaweed with the water or broth, and cook on low heat for an hour, keeping it just under simmering.

- Add the ginger, tamari, sake, mirin and miso. Stir well.
- Add the the fresh shiitake mushrooms and cook until thoroughly warmed
- Add the sliced Asian pears and greens, and cook just until the greens are wilted but are still a bright, vivid colour.
- Remove from heat without the lid.

Meanwhile, prepare the Roasted Ginger Squash:1 butternut squash, halved and sliced, with the seeds removed.
2 Tbs grapeseed oil (or other non-GMO vegetable oil)
1 Tbs minced fresh ginger root
1/4 tsp Maldon sea salt flakes
- Roast in the oven at 400F for 20-30 minutes, until golden-brown or crispy. This is a more healthful and easy to prepare alternative to tempura. The roasted minced ginger adds a nice crunch!

To assemble the soup:
2 packs of fresh or frozen udon noodles (cook according to the package).
1 package deep-fried tofu (rinse under hot water to release excess fats). 
2-4 scallions, very thinly sliced
dark sesame oil, to taste
- Place noodles and tofu at the bottom of each serving bowl. Pour broth over, and place vegetables neatly on top, making sure that each bowl gets an equal amounts of each vegetable (or fruit!).
- Place slices of roasted butternut squash on top.
- Garnish with sliced scallions and a drizzle of dark sesame oil.


Related links:
Cooking for one
Broke Bites

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