We have arrived at soup season, which is a very good thing. I don’t much care for winter but I do love soup. And I particularly enjoy soup when my cheeks are stinging from the cold and my feet are outfitted in loud, chunky socks. Perhaps there is hope for winter after all…probably not. Today’s Braised Mushroom Soba Soup is the perfect companion to obnoxious winter socks. It’s loaded with umami and equipped with hearty, slurp-able noodles. It’s a brothy, meat-free number, so it also happens to be very January-friendly without being bland. This is definitely the type of soup you could dive right into, so let’s do just that.
Over Christmas, I fell down a soba rabbit hole. I spent most of my lockdown holiday curled up on the couch with a cookbook I forgot I owned. I found it in a bin of stuff in the basement, along with a few odds and ends I never got around to unpacking when I moved almost six years ago. Yes, I am guilty of extreme levels of procrastination. The book I found is called Japanese Soul Cooking and it is fabulous. It chronicles the Japanese dishes that are favored by street vendors and home cooks. It has an entire chapter dedicated to soba and after I read it, the noodle invaded my brain.
Before unearthing this treasure of a book, I liked soba well enough. I will admit to being more of an udon fan because I am shameless when it comes to carb consumption. But this book made me take a second and longing look at the buckwheat noodle. I started to value it for its ability to walk that noodle-fine line between sophistication and pretension. Soba makers are celebrated for their craft, but the noodle is also a small luxury enjoyed by every stratum of society. It truly is a noodle of the people.
In the aftermath of Christmas, I’ve been trying to clean up my eating act. And yes, I do realize the hypocrisy of writing that sentence three days after posting a batch of impossibly cheesy enchiladas. But I wouldn’t call what I’m doing a diet per se. I’m bidding adieu to chips but not popcorn. Saying a temporary goodbye to fried foods and hello to braises. And more than anything, I’m trying to eat more complex carbs and more greens. I’m more or less tweaking my habits without deprivation. My end goal is not to lose weight but to have more energy to train and run on. So when it comes to noodles, I’m in more of a soba state of mind than udon.
I love soba noodles for their chew and their ability to fill me up. They have an earthy quality that I find increasingly appealing as my tastebuds mature along with me. I also love the broth hot soba noodles are typically served with. It’s a heady mixture of dashi, mirin, and kaeshi – a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Kaeshi is used to flavor the broth and it can also be served alongside cold soba as a dipping sauce. And the best part about Kaeshi is its simple preparation and its longevity. You can whip up a big batch of it in 10 minutes flat and make soba on demand for the next 3 months.
In my Braised Mushroom Soba Soup, I use the kaeshi to flavor my broth as well as the liquid to braise my mushrooms with. Kaeshi is a flavor concentrate, so when using it for braising be sure to thin it out with a little water or light dashi. I also like to add a kiss more sugar to encourage a glossy, almost syrupy finish.
And speaking of dashi, I used instant dashi here because as I mentioned in my last post, I am limited in my grocery store options at the moment. I am carless and with my city’s COVID numbers being what they are, I am not keen to get on the subway. None of my local stores carry katsuobushi. I did have some instant dashi in my pantry so I went with that instead. If you do want to make your own dashi from scratch, I recommend checking out Just One Cookbook’s recipe. I’ve used it several times to great success.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Mushroom Braised Soba Soup. It’s cozy, it’s slurpable and it’s surprisingly rich. And it’s just what your January needs.
Braised Mushroom Soba Soup
- 1 cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup mirin
- 1 tbsp +2 tsp granulated sugar
Braised Mushroom Soba Soup
- 8½ cups dashi instant or homemade, divided
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 yellow onion cut into thin wedges
- 150g (5oz) maitake mushrooms trimmed and separated into smaller clusters
- 150g (5oz) shimeji mushrooms trimmed and separated into smaller clusters
- ¾ cup kaeshi divided
- 1 tsp sugar
- 6 tbsp mirin
- 350g (12oz) dried soba noodles
- 1 sheet nori cut into quarters
- 2 scallions thinly sliced
- sesame oil drizzling
- furikake for sprinkling
For the Kaeshi
- Pour the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar into a small skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 5 minutes before removing from the heat. Let cool to room temperature before transferring to a resealable container.
- Kaeshi can be made several days ahead and can be store in the fridge for up to 3 months. The flavor will deepen over time but you can also use kaeshi the same day it's made.
For the Soba Soup
- Make the dashi according to the package's directions.** Once done, turn the heat down as low as it can go and leave to gently simmer.
- In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté until just softened. Stir in the mushrooms and cook until lightly browned. Pour in a ¼ cup of the kaeshi, ½ a cup of the dashi, and the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let cook for 15-20 minutes or until most of the moisture has been absorbed. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
- Pour ½ a cup of the kaeshi, and the mirin into the simmering dashi and stir. Let simmer until ready to serve.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soba noodles and cook for 4 1/2 minutes or until tender. Keep some cold water on hand, and add a splash whenever the pot begins to boil over. This will improve the texture of the noodles and lower your risk of overcooking them.
- Drain the noodles and rinse in cold water. Divide the noodles into four bowls and pour the broth over top. Top with a couple of spoonfuls the mushroom mixture and add a quarter of a sheet of nori to each bowl. Garnish with scallions and furikake and serve immediately.