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 tofu to make it a complete meal.
250 g (8 ounces) soba noodles,
or thin spaghetti
250 g (1 block) tofu
20 g fresh ginger
3 stems green onions
1 medium carrot
¼ Chinese cabbage
100 g snow peas
100 g mushrooms
3 cloves garlic (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
1¼ litres (5 cups) water
8 cm (3”) square of good quality dried konbu (kelp) seaweed*
6-8 dried shitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sake
3–4 tablespoons soy sauce
Ground red chillies (Togarashi)
- In a large pot, bring about 2 litres (2 quarts) of water bring to a boil on medium flame. Sprinkle in the soba noodles, return to a boil, and stir to separate the strands. Simmer according to package directions, about five minutes or until al dente. Drain and rinse well with cold running water, rubbing the strands together to clean off any excess starch and stickiness. Set aside.
- Peel and fine julienne the carrots and julienne the snow peas.
Medium dice the tofu.
- Large-dice the cabbage.
Thin slice the mushrooms.
- Peel and grate the fresh ginger and put into a small serving bowl.
Slice the green onions as fine as possible and put into a small serving bowl.
- (Optional.) Peel and mince the garlic; on a medium flame, heat up the olive oil in a small frying pan. Add the garlic and fry until golden. Set aside.
- To make the dashi: Put the kombu and shitake in a pot with the water. Leave it to soak for half an hour or longer. Place the pot on a low flame and allow it to slowly come to a boil. When boiling, add the mirin and sake. Remove the kombu and shitake and large-dice.
- Next, drop the carrots into the dashi and return to the boil. Then drop in the snow peas, cabbage, and mushrooms, and return to the boil again. Scoop out and set aside in a colander with the shitake and kombu. Cover to keep warm.
- Remove the dashi from the heat and add the soy sauce. Season to taste.
- Re-heat the the soba noodles by covering them with fresh boiling water.
- Toss the vegetables, including the fried garlic in oil, if using.
- To serve; scoop out some hot soba noodles with a spaghetti spoon and drop into a soup or noodle bowl, top with the vegetables and tofu, and sprinkle with fresh ginger and green onions. Pour a ladle of hot dashi over the top.
- Sprinkle with ground red chillies and enjoy slurping the noodles down with chopsticks then finish by enjoying the dashi.
- 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.
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.