It’s autumn, so obviously we want to cook pumpkin soup. A nice and warm combination of pumpkin, ginger, chilli and orange lentils for instance. Or with Jus de Truffe for a bit of extra umami and exclusivity. Both are excellent vegetarian dishes, perfect for lunch with some crusted bread or as a starter. Having recently prepared kabocha with shrimps, we decided to prepare a vegetarian soup with it. The basis of the soup is Kombu Dashi (made with dried Kelp). The dashi and the soy sauce bring saltiness and umami to the soup, which combines very well with the exceptional sweetness of the pumpkin and the mirin.
You could prepare the soup with the skin of the kabocha, but we love the intense orange colour of the inside.
What You Need
20 grams of Kelp
1 litre Water
Light Soy Sauce
What You Do
Add the kelp to one litre of cold water. Put on low heat and wait until it has reached 80 °C or 175 °F. Overheating it will make the dashi bitter. In the meantime, wash and peel the kabocha, remove the seeds and dice. Remove the kelp from the pan, discard and add the kabocha. Allow to simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes until the kabocha is soft. Remove some of the liquid and blender the kabocha. Add liquid until you have the right consistency. In our experience you will need one litre of water to cook the kabocha but it might be too much liquid for a nice, velvety consistency of your soup. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of mirin and 1 or 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce. It’s a matter of your preference, ripeness of the kabocha and the kelp. Best to decorate with some purple shiso, or with sprouts (as we did), provided they’re not too spicy.
If we say ‘Japanese food’, you will probably think ‘sushi’, ‘sashimi’, ‘yakitori’, perhaps ‘udon’. But Oden? Probably not. Such a shame because Oden is a really wonderful dish. Oden for lunch or as a course in a typical Japanese menu: tasty, light and full of surprises. Oden is a stew that requires a bit more work than you would expect and of course time. It also requires some shopping, given some of the ingredients are not easy to find. We are not from Japan so we humbly present our version of this (wintery) classic. We hope it inspires you to cook Oden and enjoy it as much as we did.
Wine and Sake pairing
We preferred a glass of Chardonnay with the Oden during our dinner; others preferred a glass of cold sake. The stew is rich in flavours, umami of course, but not spicy, so we would not suggest a Gewurztraminer of a Sauvignon Blanc. A Chardonnay (with a touch of oak perhaps) will be a good choice.
What You Need
For the Dashi
20 grams of Dashi Kombu (Rishiri Kombu)
25 grams of Katsuobushi (Bonito Flakes)
For the Stew
Chikuwa Fish Cakes
One Pack Konnyaku
One Pack of Gobo Maki Burdockroot Fish Cakes
1 sheet of Hayani Kombu
2 boiled eggs
Abura Age Fried Tofu
Mochi (Sticky Rice Cake)
Soy Sauce (preferably one with less salt)
What You Do
Start by making one litre of dashi. This seems simple but requires precision. Clean the kombu with a wet cloth and put into one litre of cold water. Gently raise the temperature to 80° Celsius or 176° Fahrenheit. Remove and discard the kombu. Bring the liquid to a boil, add the katsuobushi, bring to a boil and immediately set heat to zero. Wait 5 minutes or so. The katsuobushi will sink to the bottom of the pan. Now very gently pass the liquid through a wet towel. Do not squeeze, just give it time. The result will be a great, clean dashi. Cool and set aside. Next step is to peel the daikon and slice it (2 centimeters is best). Now use a sharp knife to plane of the edge of the daikon. This improves the presentation and it is supposed to stop the daikon from falling apart. Cook the daikon for one hour in water. Drain and set aside. Step three is to cut the konnyaku in triangles and cook these in water for 15 minutes. Konnyaku is made from the konjac plant and is specific for the Japanese cuisine. Step four is to cook the sheet of Hayani Kombu for 5 minutes. This is young kombu and edible, different for the one you used when preparing dashi. Let cool a bit, slice and knot ribbons. Not sure why, but is looks great when you serve it. Now it’s time to add the dashi to the pan (should be a clay pot, but we stick to our Le Creuset), add one tablespoon of mirin, one (or two, depending on your taste) of soy sauce, add the daikon, the konnyaku and the fish cakes. We served our oden as a course during dinner, so we limited the number of ingredients. If served for lunch add boiled eggs, fried tofu and mochi. The last two ingredients have to be combined by putting the mochi into the tofu. Allow to simmer for at least 2 hours. Best is, as always, to serve it the next day. Serve with some karashi (Japanese mustard, which is different from wasabi by the way).