Thursday, March 26, 2009

Soup is Good Food

A couple of weeks ago Trout Caviar took an imaginary journey, following the 45th parallel across the Atlantic until we arrived (with a little northward jog) in Alsace. The idea was to find ways to keep the northern table interesting through these last lingering weeks of winter. That was fun, if a little bit porky, by the end. While there's no disguising a certain francophilia in this endeavor, French food isn't the only cuisine that interests me, nor the only place to find inspiration for local, seasonal delights.

If you follow the 45th parallel the other way, across the Great Plains, over the Rockies, right out to sea and across the Pacific, you'll just catch the tip of northern Japan, cruise through Russia just a tad north of North Korea, and on into China.

I was thinking about Japanese and Korean cuisines in this Asian-inspired hot pot soup. I don't know a lot about those styles of cooking, but I'm intrigued by what I do know. The two share certain techniques and ingredients that are particularly useful to northern cooks: Lots of root vegetables (radishes, burdock, sweet potato); noodles, especially buckwheat noodles ("soba" in Japanese); lots of preserved foods, dried, pickled, fermented (chief among these, Korea's fabulously pungent kimchi, fermented cabbage and other vegetables).

This soup is not authentically anything but Trout Caviar cooking, but it's fresh, light and savory, and it makes excellent use of what local vegetables remain available. I think it's worthwhile to parse the provenance of the ingredients, because I impressed myself with how many local products, especially vegetables, went into this:

The broth from
Hill and Vale beef chuck; the beef in the soup, Hill and Vale top blade steak
Golden turnips, black radishes, Harmony Valley Farm, Wisconsin, purchased at Seward Co-op
Carrots and leeks, Our Garden
Butternut squash, Pflaum Farm, Midtown Farmers' Market
Gourmet's Delight in Eden, WI. I had completely overlooked mushrooms as local, seasonal produce, but in fact they are grown in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The kimchi, house-fermented, Midtown Farmers' Market napa cabbage, vintage 2007 (a very good year!)
The homemade buckwheat noodles used flours from Whole Grain Milling, Welcome, MN

(Ironically, this whole thing started out as a quest to find a use for burdock root; ironic because, well, there's no burdock in the dish. That's still sitting in the crisper, waiting its turn....)

I'm not going to give a recipe, just a method: Cut your vegetables, whatever you have and like, into pieces that will cook quickly. Slice the meat as thin as you can--putting it in the freezer for about 20 minutes will make it easier to slice.

For two servings, take about four cups of flavorful stock (mine was a five-spice* beef stock, but you could use chicken, or vegetable, or fish for a seafood hot pot), bring it up to a simmer, and season to taste. Then add the vegetables according to cooking time (I put in leek shreds, carrot ribbons, and mushrooms to start, then squash and turnip squares a few minutes later). The very thinly sliced beef will cook in literally seconds. Just turn the heat off as soon as you've added it, and serve.

If you have one of those
"Mongolian" hot pots , the ones with a chimney coming up through a moat holding the stock, kept hot with coals in the bottom, you can be very authentic and cook each piece of meat or veg as you want it. Otherwise, just serve it up in a big soup bowl, as at top. I drizzled a little sesame oil over it at the end, and a little chili oil on mine.

We accompanied the soup with a salad made from black radish (peel, cut into matchsticks, blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds, refresh; toss with a soy-sugar-chili oil-vinegar-sesame oil dressing) and some truly kickin' kimchi that has been aging in the back of the fridge for nearly two years.
Wild Fermentation and The Joy of Pickling are two good guides for making kimchi and other fermented vegetables.

I went a bit over the top with this one and made my own "soba," buckwheat noodles. My soba technique could use some work--these noodles, made with half buckwheat flour and half whole wheat bread flour held together (just) through rolling, cutting, and cooking, but they fell apart as we ate them. Amazingly, I was unable to find good instructions for homemade soba anywhere on the almighty Internet. Several videos of Japanese guys making them, but no useful instruction in English. You can buy dry soba noodles at any Asian market, of course; you could also use egg noodles, or rice sticks, or bean threads.

Finally, we made a dipping sauce to serve along side:

1/4 chicken stock
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tsp rice wine or apple cider vinegar

Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a small saucepan, stir in the sugar. Pour into a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Serve alongside the soup to dip meat, veg, and noodles, if you like.


* Chinese five-spice generally consists of cinnamon, star anise, fennel seed, cloves, and Sichuan pepper. Simmering the whole (not ground) spices in stock imparts a subtle background spice market flavor.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw


mdmnm said...

Very nice! You've really been on a roll with great recipes and essays about their ingredients.

Trout Caviar said...

Thanks, mdmnm. I've become so accustomed to making the most of winter's sparse pantry, it might be too much to handle when the market stalls start to fill up with fresh produce again!

Well, I'll deal with it....