It’s something wholly appropriate for winter, for soothing the soul and senses and for nourishing the body and boosting one’s resolve to face the chill of the day, the brisk wind at your back and whipping through your hair.
Within the bowl of steaming soup, of soothing soft noodles to slurp and crunchy sprouts, there’s a sense of calm that begins to spread over you with the very first mouthful. Outside lays the endless expanse of snow, as far as you can see and the memory of dragging a cartful of groceries through the parking lot, turning your back to the wind that cut through you with the precision of a laser…. it sticks in you like a bad dream almost. My coat gets stiff in the cold, and even though I may be warm inside, the crackle I hear when I move my arm sounds like the material could shatter at the slightest touch.
Winter just means soup, and this soup was a perfect tonic for that trip to the grocers, and really, for any nagging sense of imbalance that might cross your day.
The Iron Foodie Challenge was to utilize at least three ingredients from the Mystery Box sent to the contestants from Marx Foods. Everyone’s box contained Fennel Pollen, Smoked Sea Salt, Tellicherry Black Peppercorns, Bourbon Vanilla Beans, Maple Sugar, Dried Aji Panca Peppers, Dulse Seaweed, and Dried Wild Porcini Mushrooms. Our products were sample sizes only, so basically we had a pretty small window to work with. I knew I had to really think over my recipe before taking it to the kitchen because I couldn’t screw up. I had no back-ups.
Right away, I knew it would be a noodle soup. With the seaweed and porcini mushrooms, a big steaming bowl of noodle soup was a given. I love having one set down in front of me in a restaurant, the scent of rich broth reaching my nose, golden noodles, green herbs and lots of wonderful vegetables. I contemplated adding chicken to mine, but settled on tofu to use up a container in my refrigerator. The result was wonderful, and Mike and I sat down next to each other, forks in hand and happily slurped from the bowl, exclaiming over the subtle bursts of flavor.
Warming Winter Soup
From my kitchen:
One block extra firm tofu
4-oz soba noodles
1/2 c. fresh bean sprouts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
From Marx Foods:
Dried Porcini Mushrooms
Dried Aji Panca Chilies
Smoked Sea Salt
Take the block of extra-firm tofu and slice through it the wide way into three equal portions. Place on several layers of paper towel and cover with several more paper towels. Place something heavy over the three portions and weigh it down to press the liquid out.
In a small bowl, measure 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fennel pollen and 1/2 teaspoon of smoked sea salt. Whisk to incorporate and set aside to blend the flavors. Whisk occasionally to combine.
Bring a kettle of water to a rolling boil. Place dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Place dried peppers in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set both aside to soften.
In a medium saucepan, bring 1-1/2 quarts of good chicken stock to a boil. Add in 4 oz. of soba noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving the broth, and rinse noodles to stop cooking. Set aside. Place broth back in pan over a low flame. Place a length of paper towel or cheesecloth in a wire strainer and place over a measuring cup. Drain the porcini mushrooms through the paper lined strainer to remove and dirt or grit, reserving the mushroom broth in the cup. Add the mushrooms to the simmering broth. Check the mushroom stock for clarity, and add to pan with mushrooms.
When the chilies are soft and pliable, snip them with a scissors into the bowl of a food processor, and add several tablespoons of their soaking liquid. Process the peppers until they are well chopped, adding more soaking liquid if necessary. Strain the pepper mixture through a wire strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much chili puree as you can. Whisk 1-2 tablespoons of olive or sesame oil into the pepper puree.
Remove the tofu from the paper towels and brush with the fennel pollen/oil mixture, then heat a saute pan to nearly smoking. Carefully place tofu steaks in pan and sear for about 5-7 minutes or until nicely browned, then carefully turn over steaks and sear the other side for about 5 minutes. Place on fresh paper towel to drain and cool enough to cut into bite size pieces.
Place dulse seaweed in bottom of a deep soup bowl. Ladle the hot broth with mushrooms over the seaweed. Add the cooked soba noodles, cubed tofu, bean sprouts, cilantro and basil. Drizzle the soup with the chili puree and serve immediately. Season with more smoked sea salt, and pepper if desired.