The last Friday of the month at Kirigayaji in Tokyo, Hojosan holds a zazen-kai evening (meditation gathering). After sitting zazen and chanting the Sandokai all the members come together to slurp down soba noodles with great abandon. It’s a very simple dish to make if you can get hold of the ingredients (check your Asian market for good deals!). They served it sprinkled with just green onions and spicy togarashi or shichimi togarashi – the first being a blend of ground hot chillies, and the latter with added sesame seeds, nori seaweed and other aromas – but I also like to add lightly cooked veggies that can be sprinkled on top with lots of silken tofu to make it a complete meal.
200 g (7 ounces) soba noodles, or thin spaghetti
300 g (1 block) silken tofu
20 g fresh ginger
3 stems green onions
1 medium carrot
100 g snow peas
100 g mushrooms, preferably enoki
1 litre (4 cups) water
8 cm (3″) square of good quality dried konbu (kelp) seaweed*
6-8 dried shitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sake
4 tablespoons soy sauce
Ground red chillies to serve (Togarashi)
- In a large pot, bring about 2 litres (2 quarts) of water to a boil on a medium flame. Sprinkle in the soba noodles and stir well. Return to a boil and simmer until al dente, usually about five minutes (or follow package directions). Add a little cold water if it starts to boil over. Drain and rinse well with cold running water, rubbing the strands together to clean off any excess starch and stickiness. Set aside.
- Carefully unpack the silken tofu without breaking it. Medium-dice and slide on a serving plate.
- Peel and grate the fresh ginger.
- Slice the green onions as fine as possible.
- Peel and fine Julienne the carrots and snow peas.
- Separate the enoki mushrooms into small clusters or use regular mushrooms thinly sliced.
- Make the dashi by combining the water, mirin, and sake. Bring to a boil on a medium flame. Wipe the surface of the kombu. Add the kombu and dried mushrooms to the pot. Return to a boil and simmer for about eight minutes, or until the shitake have softened. (If using fresh shitake simmer for 3 minutes.) Remove and thinly slice when cool.
- Next, drop in the carrots, snow peas and mushrooms, and return to a boil. Scoop out and set aside in a colander. Cover to keep warm.
- Remove the dashi from the heat and add the soy sauce. Season to taste.
- To serve, re-heat the soba noodles by covering them with boiling water.
- Carefully re-heat the dashi without boiling it.
- Scoop out a spoonful of soba noodles from the hot water with a slotted spaghetti spoon and drop them into soup or noodle bowls. Pour a ladle of dashi over the top. Top with mixed vegetables, tofu, a little grated ginger and green onions.
- Sprinkle with ground red chillies and enjoy slurping the noodles down with chopsticks then finish by enjoying the dashi like a soup.
Tip: In summer months, serve everything chilled. Pour ice-cold water over the noodles and let the dashi and vegetables cool in the fridge before serving.
*Good quality kombu (kelp) seaweed is thick, flat, very dark in colour, and with a fine dusting of white powder. If possible avoid thin wrinkled kombu. You’ll know if it’s of good quality if it “expands greatly and develops large blisters.”
Tip: if you are not vegetarian per se, one of the signature flavours in Japanese stocks is the use of bonito (dried tuna flakes). If you want to try them out, add 5 g (½ cup) after the stock has boiled and before the soy sauce goes in. Wait for them to sink to the bottom then strain.