As I mentioned in my recent buttercup soup post, I’ve been trying to sample all the squash varieties I can get my hands on this fall. I never thought of squash as an ethnic food, but I recently discovered the Japanese pumpkin, or kabocha: a nutty-sweet, smooth-fleshed variety that often sneaks its way onto tempura vegetable platters.
Squash is usually paired with heavy dishes like risotto or creamy pastas. This brothy soup however, showcases the richness of the kabocha against a much lighter backdrop.
Kabocha’s seaweed co-star enlivens the soup with minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron, and zinc) and is touted by some of the gurus as being essential to detoxifying and overall health.
If you don’t prepare a lot of Japanese food, this dish will require a special trip. I was short of only two ingredients, but thankfully there’s an Asian market half a mile down the road. Plus, I’ll take any excuse to shop somewhere where most of what I buy will be new taste sensations. I biked there for udon noodles and kelp, and was back in time to have the whole thing simmering away in under an hour.
Udon noodles are thick and chewy Japanese wheat flour noodles often found packaged fresh in the refrigerator section. If you can’t find them, you can substitute almost any type of Asian noodle. These give the stew a certain heft we’re all craving this time of year, and it’s worthy seeking them out.
As for the other obscure ingredients, I promise that you’ll enjoy having some of them on hand. Shoyu and mirin are great marinades, dressing ingredients, and deli-tofu staples. The original recipe called for kelp, which is a brownish color and comes in sheets you then remove. I used a thinner seaweed (hijiki? arame?) which I liked enough to leave in the soup.
Japanese food always leaves me with a clean, fresh feeling. This delicate yet chunky soup, thanks again to the geniuses at Veganomicon, is no exception.
Shiitake dashi broth:
2 quarts cold water
2 4-inch pieces of kombu (kelp)
1/3 cup shoyu (Japanese soy sauce, sweeter than Chinese, or just use your favorite mild soy sauce)
2 tsp sugar
½ ounce dried shiitake mushrooms (about 1.5 cups pre-sliced if you can find them, 4-5 if using whole)
3 (¼ inch thick) slices fresh ginger
½ pound fresh udon noodles
1 large leek, washed wll and sliced into ½-inch lengths
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced int ½-inch thick pieces
1½-2 pounds kabocha (1 small squash) or delicata (2 small squash) unpeeled but seeded and sliced into large bite-sized pieces
6-8 ounces fried tofu pouches, or firm tofu you’ve pressed and fried yourself, sliced
1/3 cup sake (I used a mixture of rice wine vinegar and vermouth)
2 T mirin
2 scallions, sliced very thin
- Make the broth by heating the water, kelp, shoyu, sugar, dried shiitakes, and ginger. Bring to a boil, and lower to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes
- Taste for saltiness and add more shoyu if desired.
- Remove the kelp and ginger. If you’ve used whole mushrooms, remove them, cool and slice. If you’ve used sliced, just leave them in the broth. Cover and keep broth warm over low heat.
- In a separate pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add the udon noodles and cook for 4 minutes, using chopsticks to gently pull them apart while cooking. Drain, rinse with cold water, and allow to drain. If they become gummy, rinse with warm water to separate.
- Meanwhile, add the leek, carrot, squash pieces and fried tofu to the broth. Simmer over medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes, until the squash is tender. Stir in the sake and mirin.
- Portion out the udon noodles in large, deep bowls. Using a slotted spoon, dish out vegetable chunks on top of each. Pour some broth over each bowl, and garnish with chopped scallions.
adapted from Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero