miso udon with tofu, spinach, and shiitake

20130921-223659.jpgIt rained most of the day yesterday. A little on the chilly side, but not cold enough to light the fireplace yet. I’m looking forward to those days — not the colder temperatures so much, but the coziness of sitting in front of my fire curled up in a blanket with a glass of wine. And my cat plastered to my side, no doubt.

It was still a miserable enough afternoon that some comfort food was in order. I had a lot of spinach to use up and a fresh batch of home-sprouted mung bean sprouts so I thought I would make a vegetarian version of miso chanko-nabe. Chanko-nabe is a one-pot meal that the sumo wrestlers in Japan eat. It’s a hearty meal that consists of broth, vegetables and meat or seafood. There are really no rules to making chanko-nabe. You can put in whatever you want, make the broth however you like.

When we lived in Japan, we would often eat this in the winter months. My mom would cook it on the stove in the kitchen and then transfer it to a pot over a gas burner placed in the middle of the dining room table. Then we could serve ourselves and refill our bowls as needed throughout the meal. There are a lot of Japanese meals that are served in this way, a method of keeping warm in the winter months since most houses are without central heating. Many families sit under a kotatsu together in the evenings for food, television, games, and conversation. A kotatsu is a table covered with a futon, or heavy blanket, with a heat source underneath or built into the table itself. I think this table played a big factor in the creation of much of Japan’s cold-weather cuisine.

For my version of chanko-nabe, I used individually packaged, pre-cooked udon noodles — the kind that cook in 3 minutes. I find mine in the Asian section of my grocery store. If you can only find the dried noodles, you will need to cook them separately before putting them in the pot. Also, if you have leftovers, I recommend storing the noodles separately from the broth, otherwise they will absorb all of the liquid and become very mushy.

I sprinkled some shichimi togarashi over my bowl when serving. Shichimi is a Japanese seasoning blend that literally means “seven flavor chili pepper”. The brand I use contains orange peel, black and white toasted sesame seeds, cayenne, ginger, Szechuan pepper and nori (seaweed). It can be found in most Asian food stores. If you can’t find it, you could probably make your own mix, or just sprinkle a bit of cayenne on top.

Update: I’ve shared this post on Pure Ella’s Comfort Food Potluck Party http://pureella.com/potluck-party-comfort-food-recipes/. Won’t you join in the fun, too?

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miso udon with tofu, spinach, and shiitake

ingredients

  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 packages instant udon noodles, seasoning packets discarded
  • 1 package firm tofu cut into 1/2-inch squares
  • 2 leeks, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 8-10 shiitake, sliced
  • handful of snow peas, trimmed
  • 3 green onions, the whites sliced into 1 1/-2-inch pieces, the green tops sliced thinly
  • 1 bunch spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 2-4 tbsp miso paste
  • dash of shichimi togarashi
  1. In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and add the ginger and garlic. Add the leeks, snow peas, tofu and shiitake and cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the green onions, spinach and bean sprouts.
  3. Place the miso in a medium bowl and add a ladleful of hot broth. Whisk until the miso is completely dissolved, then stir the mixture back into the soup. I like a strong miso flavor, so I used 4 tablespoons. Start with 2 and taste the broth after you pour the miso back into the pot, and adjust as desired.
  4. Cook for a few minutes and sprinkle with shichimi togarashi, if desired. Serve piping hot.

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