I couldn't get over the flavorful stock that emerged from just soaking glutamate-rich kombu, Japan's favorite sea vegetable, in water. Normally, it's enhanced with bonito (dried tuna flakes) for that staple dashi broth, but not in Japanese culinary authority Elizabeth Andoh's new vegan/vegetarian Kansha ("appreciation") cookbook.
Andoh calls for cutting the soup's vegetables into paper-thin sen-giri ("one-thousand slices") strips. Unlike Western up-and-down chopping that flexes the wrist, this Japanese knife technique keeps the wrist steady as the forearm pushes forward, making thread-thin slices. Stack the slices and repeat, pushing away, not down. I failed to cut the ingredients with Andoh's precision and clouded the pure broth with more bamboo and snow peas than she indicated but still loved the umami-rich broth. Kelp stock requires advance preparation.
Makes 4 servings
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 30 minutes
1 sheet thin fried tofu*
Splash of sake
3 cups stock, preferably basic kelp stock but any bouillon is fine (recipe follows )
1 generous teaspoon light-colored soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 ounce boiled fresh bamboo shoots, cut into thread-thin strips, preferably from the bottom section
1 tablespoon shredded carrot, cut into thread-thin strips (see headnote)
2 or 3 snow peas, strings and stems removed, blanched for 1 minute, and cut into thread-thin strips on the diagonal (see headnote)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
*Available in refrigerated or freezer section of Asian market.
Basic Kelp Stock
1 piece kombu*, about 1 1/2 inches wide by 4 inches long
4 cups water, preferably soft tap or filtered
*Dried kelp seaweed available at Asian or natural foods stores.
Place the kombu in a large glass jar. Pour in the water, and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Covering the jar prevents surrounding odors from entering the stock and helps trap the good seashore aromas.
To extract the most flavor, allow the kombu to sit submerged in the water at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours before using the stock. If you prefer to refrigerate the stock from the start, allow the kombu to soak for at least 8 hours or up to 48 hours before using the stock.
Remove the softened kombu from the jar after the flavor has been extracted from it (within 2 days). The stock can be kept, refrigerated, for 4 to 5 days before using.
For The Soup
Drain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Trim off the stems, rinse the caps to remove any gritty material and squeeze out the excess liquid. Slice the caps into thread-thin strips (see headnote) and set aside.
Bring a small saucepan filled with water to a boil (this can be the same water that was used to blanch the snow peas). Add the tofu and blanch for 30 seconds to remove excess oil, or until beads of oil float on the water's surface. Drain the tofu, and when cool enough to handle, use paper towels to press out and blot away excess water and oil. Cut the tofu lengthwise into 3 or 4 strips, then cut crosswise into short, thin strips. Blot the strips again with paper towels.
Place a 3-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the fried tofu and saute with the oil that still clings to it (even after pressing and blotting, some oil will remain). When the tofu is slightly browned and aromatic, add the shiitake strips and saute for 1 minute. Add the sake and deglaze the pot, stirring to dislodge any browned bits.
Add the mushroom liquid and the kombu stock and bring to a boil. Skim away any clouds of froth with a fine-mesh skimmer, then adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Season the broth with the soy sauce and salt. Add the bamboo shoot strips and simmer for 1 minute. Add the carrot strips and simmer for 30 seconds more. Skim away any froth.
Remove the pot from the heat, add the snow peas and immediately ladle into bowls. If possible, use 4 deep, lidded Japanese-style soup bowls, which will ensure the soup is served piping hot and will trap the aromas. Grind the pepper over the soup, lid the bowls and serve immediately.