Monday, 26 May 2008

Monday Market Meal #5: Sopa De Fideos Vegetales (En Casa)

Recently I've been dividing my 'recipe' posts into two groups - professional food cooked in the restaurant kitchen (Through The Cooking-Glass) and home cooking outside of work (Monday Market Meal). I'm sure a lot of readers will have assumed that this is because the professional dishes are simply too difficult to make at home (especially those who have ever attempted to reproduce one of Heston Blumenthal's laboratory masterpieces). Not a bit of it. Last Monday I bought the requisite ingredients in La Boqueria and made myself a Sopa De Fideos Vegetales - as per the Comerç 24 Menú Grand Festival - back at my apartment. And if I can do it in my tiny little kitchen - I don't see why you can't...
Sopa de fideos vegetales - vegetable noodle soup
The first thing you need to do is to get hold of some dried shiitake mushrooms. You should be able to find these (amongst other types of dried mushrooms) in your local deli and these days I'll bet even your local supermarket. The kombu seaweed you'll need for this dish might be a little harder to find - I got mine from my local Chinese food store and you'll probably get some in yours if you ask nicely. You will also need a small quantity of white and green asparagus plus some asparagus shoots, a carrot, a daikon, a green mango, a courgette, a piece of ginger, a lime, some black sesame seeds and some dark soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar for a dressing. A sprigette of mint for garnish is totally optional. In many countries these ingredients can be found in a Chinese or Vietnamese food store or market or in a larger supermarket.

At work we make a batch of twenty litres of water to one kilo of shiitake, but I'm guessing that, like me, you won't have quite that much room in your home freezer. The shiitake I bought came in bags of two hundred grams, so using the ratio above you'd need four litres of water. For this smaller scale recipe, you'll need only eighty grams of kombu and about two thumb-sized pieces of ginger. When you're ready to start, pour the water into a large pan and add the dried shiitake mushrooms. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and heat slowly over a medium heat.Simmering dried shiitake mushrooms

Vegetables and fruit for the "noodles"While the infusion is heating, you'll have loads of time to get on with preparing the vegetable noodles. As you can see from the photo on the left, there are seven different ingredients, each with their own wonderfully individual texture and flavour - daikon at the top and, left to right, green asparagus, carrot, asparagus shoots, courgette, white asparagus and mango. The visual effect of the chosen ingredients is quite stunning, with a balance of green, yellow, orange and white noodles.

At this point in the proceedings you can prepare your ginger, kombu and lime. Shred the ginger on the course side of a cheese grater, skin and all. This breaks the fibres of the ginger's flesh and helps to maximise the release of its intoxicating perfume. You should also prepare your kombu by breaking it into rough pieces of a size that will fit into the pan. Zest, then segment the lime and cut each segment in half. These will be used in the garnish.

You don't want your infusion to reach a rolling boil, but just to arrive at a gentle simmer before removing it from the heat and adding the kombu and grated ginger. Now cling film her up and leave the whole thing outside of the fridge to infuse for as many hours as you can sensibly allow for.
Ginger, kombu, lime and sesame

The shiitake infusion is ready to sieve and chillAt work we put this on first thing in the morning, it hits a simmer at around midday and we don't strain it until 19:30 when we get back for the evening shift. As you can imagine, I don't exactly have seven hours to spare over the weekend and I try to avoid eating dinner at 2am if at all possible. So when I made this at home I managed about three hours of infusion time - resulting in a less powerful soup than I was used to tasting at work. Nevertheless I was happy with the taste at the end. When you're happy with the flavour of yours, strain the infusion through a fine sieve and chill immediately.

Now for the noodles. Before anything else, put a pan of water with a lid on and bring to a boil. At work I use a mandolin to cut the white and green asparagus and a slicing machine for the carrot, daikon, mango and courgette. Back home in the apartment, on the other hand, I have nothing but a set of knives, so I carefully went about peeling and slicing the vegetables (and fruit) by hand to prepare them for julienne. Once you've got your slices you can go about cutting them into julienne, taking care to discard the seedy centre parts of the courgette slices.

The asparagus shoots need no further preparation. By now your blanching water should have reached a boil, so add a generous amount of salt to it. You'll also need to prepare a bath of ice water, which you should also salt. Now, one by one, blanch the different vegetables in the boiling water and refresh in the ice bath. Each vegetable has a different cooking time, ranging from five or so seconds for the courgette to a full minute for the asparagus shoots. The key is to test a julienne every few seconds as you go along, as it is very important that you keep the vegetables al dente.The full set of julienne

Blanched julienne ready for plating upYou only want to take the harsh rawness away from the vegetables, not cook them soft. The thing to remember is that the noodles are the key element of this dish - not the infusion. The whole reason for the dish is to show off a variation of textural crunches based on the perfect preparation of the vegetables, from the cutting to the blanching.

When blanching, it's also important to start with the white juliennes - the daikon and white asparagus, then the green - courgette and green asparaus, then the asparagus shoots and finally the carrot. By blanching them in this order, you'll keep your water clearer and help to prevent discolouration of the vegetables. You don't need to cook the mango.

When your noodles are ready, lay them out in neat bunches at the bottom of a small bowl. The best order as far as colour coordination is concerned is: mango, green asparagus, daikon, carrot, courgette, white asparaus, asparagus shoots. Now sprinkle over a few black sesame seeds, the lime zest and two pieces of the lime segment. Now season the noodles with a light dressing of soy, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. Pour over the chilled shiitake infusion and finish with a sprigette of mint.Vegetable noodle soup in the serving bowl

I'm proud to call this dish mine, whether on a daily work basis or a special occasion like this at home. And you see, modern cooking isn't always about crazy combinations of flavours, with 'foam' this and 'gel' that. This dish is truly modern because it reflects an incredibly intricate thought process and focuses entirely on the demonstration of top quality ingredients and the perfect execution of cooking technique.


nicisme said...

This looks amazing, so colourful! Maybe a bit of work, but so worth it when you see the end result.

The Boston Foodie said...

My god that is beautiful! I can almost taste it on the screen.

toad said...

Haven't posted for a while but now i've got a week off (half term-yay!) i'll be trying it-what happened to the scezuan bombs?

Su-Lin said...

Hi Trig,

Nice post - I was drawn to your final remark about how modern food isn't just about foams and gels. I was wondering - what do you think of Santamaria's remarks against this style of cooking? What has the reaction been in your kitchen?

Trig said...

Nicisme, William - come to Barcelona and you can try it for youselves.

Toad - I just couldn't manage to get hold of the Szechuan buttons the day I made it.

Su-Lin - Funny you should ask that. The post I just finished drafting for publishing in a day or two is called "The Knives Are Out" and it is entirely about the row between Santi Santamaría and Ferran Adriá.

Having looked carefully at the circumstances in which certain comments were made, I'm now pretty sure I understand just what lies behind them.

So... for an answer to your question, watch this space!

Helen said...

I love the simplicity of this dish. I really want to make it actually. Could I use a different kind of seaweed or does it have a specific flavour? I have a box of wakame you see.

stormywhether said...

Awesome work fella - really inspirational to us amateur cooks who want to push the envelope a little bit further.

Shame you're a bit late on the scene in terms of slebrity chefs - would much prefer to have seen you work your magic on screen than that mockney tit Oliver.

Keep up the great work fella!

Trig said...

Stormywhether - thanks. I must say that I've never personally been a great Jamie fan, despite the fact that we both studied for our diplomas at the same catering college, but his recent TV series Jamie At Home has been very good. In any case, I'm not really interested in becoming a TV chef - I want to become a real one.

Helen - sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you really do need to use kombu as this delivers the flavour. Wakame is not really for infusion - more just for eating. Good luck with your efforts and let me know how you get on.

Jeanne said...

Wow - that looks beautiful and sounds like a delicious and delicate combination. Thanks for showing us that it's doable!

Johnna Knows Good Food said...

This looks delicious..I think I'll try it;-)

ros said...

Looks like something I should try in the summer break. Would it be ok to leave the infusion to develop overnight?

I notice that you haven't put edible flowers into the soup like you did in the restaurant. Were they just too hard to find?

Trig said...

Jeanne, Johnna - give it a go, it's not hard.
Ros - yes, definitely leave it overnight. A trip to Borough market should get you what you need, or are you now moved down with the Wholefoods set in West London? The flowers are more for artistic purposes (quite funny in the context of comments on my most recent post) so optional. Easy to acquire if you have a garden, or a branch of B&Q nearby. Just remember to wash them carefully before use.

Helen said...

Trig - My local Sainsburys sells Kombu!

Trig said...

There you go - I told you it wouldn't be hard to find the ingredients. Let me know how it goes. And make sure you don't overcook those noodles!

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