Monday, February 21, 2011

Slurp your Soba

Soba noodles are made from whole buckwheat (a seed, rather than the grain status it is often afforded). Slurping your soba has been the authentic way of consuming this cuisine for centuries, the slurping apparently making it easier to activate all the senses when eating. They are served cold in the summer and warm in the winter, most commonly with a tsuyu dressing, which is made from a combination of dashi, soy sauce and mirin. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, buckwheat is considered sweet and cool, supplements the spleen, strengthens the liver and kidneys and treats food stagnation. Basically it's good for digestion, for those with a gluten intolerance or if you've been overindulging and need some simplicity to soothe your stomach.

When buying soba, be sure to check the ingredients, as there are many cheaper varieties out there which bulk up their noodles with wheat flour (look for 100% buckwheat which will be greyish in colour). You can also find green tea (cha), mugwort (mugi) and seaweed (hegi) soba. Until we can buy this tasty treat fresh from the train station (matsumoto style), look in your local health food store for authentic soba; you will pay more, but you will definitely taste the difference.

The best way to start with soba is simple. Here's a recipe for a cold soba and tsuyu.

Ingredients and method

1 packet of buckwheat soba
1 handful of chopped nori

Bring a pot of water to the boil, then add the noodles, cook for about 5 minutes, add about a cup of cold water to the pot and bring to the boil again, then taste. The soba should be firm but not chewy. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Top with chopped nori.

1 large piece of dried kombu
5 dried shitake mushrooms
3 cups of water
2 tbs Bonito flakes (optional)

Firstly soak your kombu in the water for about 30 mins. Add the shitake to this mixture and put in a pot. Bring this mixture to medium heat and simmer for 10 mins, then turn off the heat. If you wish to add bonito flakes stir them in now until dissolved.

1/2 cup dashi (recipe above)
1/4 cup mirin
3 tablespoons of tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
1 tablespoon of honey or sugar

Place all tsuyu ingredients in a pot and bring slowly to a medium, not to the boil. Warm and dissolve honey, then take off the heat. Place in a dipping bowl.

Hashi o kudasai?
This is one dish where chopsticks are absolutely essential. Pick up your dipping bowl, dip in a chopstick full of soba and slurp away!

*Adapted from Wang & Ono, 2010, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mmmmm Matcha

Matcha enthusiasts can be likened to connoisseurs of fine wine, where the search for the finest grade becomes an addiction..

Matcha - powdered Japanese green tea - with its pleasurable bitterness and brilliant shade of green, has long been heralded for its health benefits. It has been used in Zen Buddhism for increased focus during meditation, and in Japanese tea ceremonies for centuries. Becoming proficient in the art of making traditional matcha tea takes years of practice. It is available from food grade to the highest ceremonial grades, with higher grades costing around $100 for 30 grams.

Matcha Bombs! Little balls of green tea energy
I used cheaper green tea powder in the mixture, with a teaspoon of wheatgrass powder. I find wheatgrass to have a similar flavour to green tea, it complements it well and enhances the deep green colour due to the higher chlorophyll content. I then dusted the treats with a higher grade matcha powder I keep hidden for special occasions. Its colour is unmatched, a bright green, with a smooth bitterness and slightly sweet flavour.

300g of pitted medjool dates
1 cup of raw macadamia nuts
1/2 cup of LSA or Hemp meal
1/2 cup of coconut flakes
1 heaped teaspoon of wheatgrass powder
2 teaspoons of green tea powder

Place all ingredients in a food processor until blended into a consistency that can be moulded into truffle-like balls. Chill for one hour. Dust with green tea or wheatgrass powder just before serving.

Enjoy the Zen-like focus!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

New Season Ginger - Get Pickling!

I recently got really excited at the sight of all the new season ginger popping up at organic markets out and about. This fresh, delicate rhizome, with a pinkish hue is perfect for making japanese pickled ginger, so it's best to stock up now. Making your own pickled ginger means you'll be avoiding the preservatives and artificial colours that normally come with the cheaper mass produced variety. There are no measurements here, just use as much ginger as you like!

Step one - Sterilise your glass jar
First, make sure your jars are free of any cracks or chips then wash with warm soapy water. Rinse them well and place on a tray without touching with the open lid facing up. Place in a preheated oven at 80 degrees celsius for 20 mins. Alternatively you can place them in a saucepan of boiling water with the lids for 15mins. Be sure to use tongs when removing and let them cool at room temperature slowly.

Step two - Peel your ginger into thin slices with a fruit peeler or mandolin. Try to get it as fine as possible. Peel as much as you like. Place in a bowl and cover lightly with a good quality salt, finely ground. I use celtic, macrobiotic or himalayan. Let sit for half an hour.

Step three - At a ratio of 3:1, Apple cider vinegar : Mirin, place in a pot on the stove. You will need to make enough to cover the ginger completely. Add a couple of tablespoons of sugar, honey or agave to sweeten. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer to dissolve the sugars. Once your sweetner has dissolved, turn off the heat. Place your salted ginger into a glass jar and pour the vinegar mixture over the ginger until completely covered. Let cool and then place lid on top. I then keep mine in the fridge.

Step four - Use as you desire! A simple salad of greens, firm tofu, avocado and a squeeze of lemon with pickled ginger on top is perfect for spring and summer, with the heat of the ginger balancing the cooling aspects of your green leafies and tofu, and the lemon and vinegar to help move a stagnant liver.

Optional extra.. I often place a small amount of wakame, dulse or other seaweed in with the vinegar once it has boiled. You can also add some beetroot juice if you desire a pink colour. YUM!