photographs by Marcus Nilsson food stylist alison attenborough prop stylist laurent laborie
To atone for months of indulgence, Jennifer Rubell
suggests a soba soup that is so hearty and flavorful,
you’ll barely notice you’re being healthy.
I’m not one to deprive myself. Still, with a season of holiday
excess that trails well into the new year, something must be
done. I can’t take another decadent hors d’oeuvre, another
roasted beast. I crave a simple, poetic meal, good for body
and soul, the kind of thing a monk with really good taste
might eat—a Japanese monk, that is: soba noodles, served
hot in a smoky shiitake-mushroom broth with a few add-ins.
The key is to use a few intensely flavored ingredients, cook
them with care and place them in a deep bowl with all the
minimalist flair of a Japanese flower arrangement.
how to build a bowl of soba
As with much Japanese cuisine, the aesthetic presentation
of soba is essential. For this version, I’ve used ingredients
that evoke late winter: bare earth (shiitake mushrooms),
snow (tofu), evergreens (seaweed) and the hope of an early
sign of spring (green onion). Serves 4
1. make the broth
Place 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon
each brown sugar, chopped ginger
and chopped garlic, plus 1 cup water,
in a pot over high heat. Next, divide
20 shiitake mushrooms into stems
and caps. When soy mixture is at a
boil, add caps, reduce heat and
simmer 10 minutes. Remove caps;
reserve. Add stems plus 5 cups water,
bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer
covered, 30 minutes. Discard stems.
2. cook the soba
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil (if
the soba noodles have salt as an
ingredient, omit it from the water), add
a 10- to 11-ounce package of soba,
reduce to a simmer, and cook until the
noodles are firm but with no crunch
(similar to al dente pasta), about 3 to 6
minutes. Drain and rinse well with
cold water, then divide soba into four
bowls. Use a twirling motion with
tongs to form soba into nest shapes.
3. spoon in tofu
The Japanese prefer silken tofu,
which has a custard-like texture. Drain
a 1-pound container of silken tofu,
place in bowl, heat in microwave on
high for 1 minute, then scoop out with
a tablespoon, dividing equally among
bowls. “Tile” reserved mushroom
caps off-center on top of tofu.
4. sprinkle seaweed
Nori, the dark-green pressed seaweed
in sushi rolls, gives this dish a hint of the
sea. Cut a half sheet of it into
matchstick-size strips with scissors.
Sprinkle over tofu. Slice two green
onions on an extreme bias; divide
evenly among bowls.
5. ladle in the broth
Make sure broth is extremely hot.
To avoid disturbing the other
ingredients, ladle soup slowly
down the side of each bowl, as you
would pour a glass of champagne.
A variation on the traditional
seven-spice powder is to put out
dainty dishes of the mixture’s key
ingredients: sesame seeds, chili
powder and tangerine zest. Add a
pinch of each to the broth and stir.
Harvested in China for centuries,
white tea is made with the fresh,
unfurled buds of the tea plant. With
major antiviral and antibacterial
properties, and a delicate but
distinct flavor that matches its clear
to pale yellow color, white tea
tastes like the willowy, ultrarefined
cousin of green tea.
FSC Teak Large Rectangular Cutting Board with Well