Sunday, February 7, 2010

Udon Noodles with Shitake Mushrooms and Baby Bok Choy

Since Chinese New Year is a week away (it falls on February 14 this year), I have decided that we will cook Asian-inspired meals this entire week.  If I were fully Chinese, instead of just being half, I would try to prepare authentic Chinese meals all week, but I think that I can mix it up a little.  Alex claims that even if I were 100% Chinese that I would still cook other cuisines for Chinese New Year, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.  So this evening's meal was a true mix of Chinese and Japanese flavors.  I took my inspiration from a recipe for "Noodles with Shiitake Mushrooms and Baby Greens" from Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province.  Alex and I went through our selection of Chinese and Vietnamese cookbooks and picked out some meals for us to try this week, including homemade pork dumplings (a traditional New Year dish), noodles (another thing traditionally served for Chinese New Year), banh mi (not at all traditional and Vietnamese instead of Chinese, but delicious nonetheless), and a few other surprises.  This soup recipe was one of my picks, but we were missing a few ingredients and I wanted to jazz it up.  Instead of using rice noodles (which we were out of anyway), I wanted to use some udon noodles for a chewier, heartier soup.  I love udon noodles in soup.  And then, since I had already decided to use udon I decided to serve the soups topped with shichimi togarashi ("seven flavor chili pepper") to add another Japanese touch. 

I was a little worried that this soup would be a little boring flavor-wise, but it wasn't at all.  The flavors were both delicate and deeply savory (if I were more pretentious or Japanese I would say umami) at the same time.  Most of the savoriness I attribute to the dried shitake mushrooms, which imparted some serious flavor to the soup.  Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite "vegetarian" soup recipes I have ever made.  I say "vegetarian" because I did use chicken bouillion to make my broth, but you could easily use mushroom or vegetable broth instead.

Recipe after the jump!
Udon Noodles with Shitake Mushrooms and Baby Bok Choy
Adapted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province
By Fuchsia Dunlop

5 cups water
5 chicken bouillon cubes
10 medium to large dried shitake mushrooms
10 baby bok choy, rinsed and trimmed
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks
1 scallion, greens and whites thinly sliced, separated
1 tsp tamari
white pepper
1 tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 1/4 cup reserved mushroom soaking liquid (aka slurry)
1 tsp sesame oil
4 tbsp peanut oil
2 packets frozen udon noodles
shichimi togarashi

Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water until soft, about 20 minutes.  Strain mushrooms, reserving 2 cups soaking liquid.  Squeeze mushrooms dry, remove stems, and cut into bite size pieces.

Heat wok over high heat, then add 2 tbsp peanut oil.  Swirl oil around.  Once oil is hot, but not smoking, add bok choy.  Stir-fry briskly until barely cooked.  Remove from wok and set aside. 

Add 1 tbsp peanut oil to wok and return to high heat.  Add ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Add shitake mushrooms and scallion whites.  Stir-fry until you can smell the mushrooms, about 2-3 minutes.  Add approximately 3/4 cup of mushroom soaking liquid and bring to boil.  Season to taste with soy sauce and salt.  Add bok choy and large pinch ground white pepper, stir to combine.  Add cornstarch slurry.  Stir-fry over high heat until sauce is thick and glassy.  Remove from heat and stir in 1 tsp sesame oil.

Meanwhile, bring water to boil in a large pot.  Once water is boiling add bouillon cubes. Once bouillon cubes have dissolved, add frozen udon one packet at a time.  Prepare soup bowls with prepared with a dash of soy, a dash of peanut oil and ground white pepper.  Cook udon noodles for one minute, then remove to prepared bowl.  Bring broth back up to a boil before adding second packet of udon noodles.  Lower to simmer.  Add 1/2 cup reserved mushroom soaking liquid.

Divide mushrooms and bok choy between prepared soup noodle bowls.  Bring broth to boil before ladling into bowls.  Top with sliced scallion greens and shichimi togarashi to taste.  

Serve immediately.

Serves 2

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