Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Seaweed: Taste of the Ocean

Recipe: Udon Noodles in a Mushroom Broth

When I was in college, I spent a year abroad in Japan. I've always been a fan of Japanese food, but the food I experienced in Japan was entirely different than the American versions I was used to. For the most part Americans jumped on the sushi and teryiaki train and ignored all other aspects of Japanese cuisine. But my trip to Japan changed everything and I had a sort of culinary awakening. I discovered so many new flavors, ingredients, dishes, cuisines and I found myself inspired every day by the new foods I was cooking and eating. One of those ingredients was seaweed.

This month's issue of Saveur has a great article on nori, one of my favorite kinds of seaweed, and reading it made my mouth water. Yes I know that something a little bit more delectable like a cupcake or a barbecue would be a more appropriate thought to make my mouth water, but nori is a key ingredient in many of my favorite Japanese dishes. Onigiri, a ball of rice with a filling and wrapped in nori (kind of like a Japanese sandwich), sembe, a flavor of these rice crackers contains nori, and of course sushi.

There are also many other kinds of seaweed used in Japanese cuisine. Kombu is a dried kelp that is the basis for dashi, or Japanese stock. Wakame, is rehydrated and used as a garnish in soba and udon soups. Hijiki is a scrawny black seaweed that is best eaten in salads. All of these seaweeds bring a wonderfully salty and umami quality to the dishes they are part of, that it's almost as it you can taste the ocean. I'm not the biggest fan of fish, but seaweed brings me the flavor of the sea without the fishiness. The first time I ate seaweed, I was brought to an entirely new world (like a reverse Little Mermaid experience!)

And all this talk about seaweed got me thinking about a good Japanese noodle soup. Soba and udon soups use a flavorful dashi as their base and wakame or nori as a garnish. Many traditional ramens have some form of seaweed as a garnish too. And thinking about these noodle soups got my mouth to water once more and I had to make a delicious udon soup and broth.

Recipe: Udon Noodles in a Mushroom Broth

For the Broth:
1 piece Kombu
4 quarts water
1/2 pound mushrooms and stems, sliced
2 oz dried shittake mushrooms or other variety of dried mushrooms
1 onion, medium diced
3-4 stalks celery, medium diced
4 cloves garlic, whole, in husk
1/2 c soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 TBS chili oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 TBS ginger, minced
Salt and Pepper, To Taste

1 pound Udon (or soba) noodles, cooked al dente
1 head bok choy, large pieces - greens steamed, whites sauteed
2 pounds shittake mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
1 pound broccolini, steamed
3-4 carrots, cut into obliques, sauteed and seasoned with 1/4 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup mirin
Soft Boiled Eggs - 1 for every bowl of soup (Boil in Salted water for 5 minutes)
1 sheet nori (can use sushi nori), julienned

For the Soup:
1. Place kombu in water and slowly bring to a boil, about 30 - 45 minutes. Remove kombu once water has just come to a boil and discard. While kombu is coming to a boil, do vegetable and garnish prep work.
2.Add mushrooms, onion, celery, and garlic and simmer for 45 more minutes. Strain and flavor with soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar, chili oil, ginger, garlic, and salt and pepper. Adjust flavors as needed.
3. Place about a quarter to a half pound of noodles in a bowl. Arrange garnishes on top and pour hot broth over the soup. Slurp happily.


  1. Really digging these.
    Perhaps a suggestion to post beginner's recipes in addition to these?
    Keep posting!

  2. I'll keep that in mind! Though even though this recipe looks long, its really pretty easy, and you can use what ever garnishes you want, the broth is the real star.