Thursday, November 3, 2011
Udon noodle and miso soup with avocado and peanut salad in ginger dressing
I've tried (in vain) to ignore the reports of crippling snowfall in other parts of the country but deep in the heart of Texas, the weather has finally turned as well... this displeases me. I'm one of those people that become miserable when temps dip below 80 degrees, so the threat of an overnight freeze is particularly shitty news. Winter. I hate it so. But I do like toasty fires and have a darling collection of cozy hats... so there's that.
The real silver lining on this looming prolonged torture cloud is a change in cuisine, a chance to bring back all those lovely hot soups and stews I couldn't imagine cooking a couple of months ago. This is another great staple from the Bible, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. There are a couple of potentially unfamiliar ingredients, but nothing you wouldn't be able to find at any Asian market (and probably at most upscale grocers).
I suspect most of us have had miso soup at some point, likely a steamy little bowl with soft cubes of tofu and some scallions at a sushi bar. Miso is most commonly prepared by fermenting soybean paste but the internets tell me you can make rice or barley miso as well. Any will work in this recipe. Dashi is a stock made of bonito flakes (dried tuna flakes) and kombu (dried kelp, which brings the umami. You want this. Umami is good). Udon are thick wheat Japanese noodles that are traditional to the dish, but if you couldn't find them you could certainly substitute any noodle you like. And of course, you can add any meat you like or none at all; here I've just used a few shrimp.
While these ingredients may not be common in the typical American kitchen, they can and certainly should be in yours. A bag of bonito flakes and kombu will last pretty much until the end of time (or you run out), and miso paste can stay stashed in the fridge for ages as well.
The first time I made this salad I was really surprised, I had no idea how wonderfully peanuts and avocados go together. It makes sense, they're both loaded with good fats and actually end up being a similar texture in the mouth when the the crunchiness from the peanuts subsides. The ginger dressing is just a bonus, particularly for ginger-philes like us, and really ties the flavors together. I did cut back the sugar a bit and would definitely recommend doing so.
First you have to make your dashi, the stock that gives the soup its flavor.
1 piece of kombu, ~ 3 inches long
4 cups water
heaping 1/3 cup bonito flakes
Combine the kombu and water in a small pot and bring almost to a boil, but do not allow to boil. Remove the kombu and discard, then stir in the bonito flakes and cover. Let steep for about 5 minutes, then strain and set aside. You can refrigerate the dashi for up to 2 days if you want to do this in advance.
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced or microplaned
1 large avocado, diced
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, dry toasted
handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
3 tbsp miso paste
4 oz udon noodles
~ 10 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 bunch scallions, white and pale green parts thinly sliced
In a small saucepan, combine the rice wine vinegar, sugar, and ginger. Reduce over medium heat until syrupy, about 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl and stash in the fridge to cool down.
Pour about half a cup of very hot water over your mushrooms and allow them to steep and rehydrate for about 20 minutes. Add the shrooms along with their liquid to the dashi, taking care to leave behind any grit that may have settled out of the mushroom liquid.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook your udon noodles for a minute or two shy of the package directions. Drain and run some cold water over them so they don't overcook, and set aside.
Once it's cool, toss the avocado and peanuts in your (very thick) ginger dressing to coat. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set on the table.
Whisk the miso paste with about a cup of still warm dashi in a bowl until dissolved, then pour it and the rest of your dashi and mushrooms into the same pot you cooked the noodles in and bring to a simmer. Add the shrimp and allow to poach for a minute or two, then add the noodles for the last minute of their cooking time. Plate in a large shallow bowl and top with a generous sprinkling of scallions. Eat with chopsticks! Getting all the peanuts is great practice.
Serves 2, takes under an hour.