Shiitake Swiss Chard Soup with Hand-Cut Noodles

This is a vegetarian recipe from David Chang, the chef whose menu once proclaimed “We do not serve vegetarian-friendly items here.” It appears in the March 2011 issue of Food and Wine, in an article about Chang’s trip to a Korean monastery. I was inspired to try it because it looked good, it utilized a new technique, and, lastly, because it was a David Chang recipe.

During his recent lecture at Harvard, Chang described a new technique for making ramen broth. It began with the usual steeping of kombu in water, but then used ground dried shiitake mushrooms to extract the maximum amount of flavor. This recipe began the same way: I simmered a ounce of kombu in 14 cups of water for 30 minutes.

I assembled the rest of my ingredients: three ounces of dried shiitakes (finely ground in a food processor), two cups of flour, three quarters of a cup of water, a half cup of soy sauce, a quarter cup of mirin, six ounces of fresh shiitakes (caps thinly sliced, stems cleaned and reserved), and a pound of Swiss chard (stems finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped).

I mixed the flour and water together in a standing mixer with a dough hook, about ten minutes, until the dough was smooth.

I wrapped the dough in plastic and let it rest for 30 minutes. By this point the kombu had simmered for half an hour, so I discarded it. I added the ground mushrooms (and the reserved stems – not in the original recipe, but why throw out extra mushroom flavor?), brought the mixture to a boil, covered and removed it from the heat, and let it sit for 30 minutes.

I strained the broth and returned it to the pot. I briefly considered flattening and dehydrating the mushroom sludge, but I don’t (yet) own a dehydrator.

While the soup steeped, I rolled out the dough to about an eighth of an inch thick and cut it into uneven strips.

I added the soy sauce and mirin to the soup stock and brought it to a boil, then added the chard and shiitake slices and cooked for two minutes. I added the noodles to the soup and cooked for an additional five minutes before serving. Chang recommends garnishing with kimchi and honey, but I was out of kimchi, so I substituted a slash of kimchi consommé and a quick pickle I made of watermelon radish.

For a soup with so few ingredients, this had a remarkable depth of flavor. It came close to matching the smoky undertone of a full-blown ramen stock, yet took only a fraction of the time to make. The chard still had a bit of bite, the pickled radish added salty-seweet crunch, and the noodles were sort and chewy. There was enough soup for two meals, so for the second round I added some shredded pork shoulder (left over from ramen) which almost pushed the soup into overly rich territory.

I plan on making this again, but I also intend to keep the Belm Utility Research Kitchen stocked with a supply of ground dried mushrooms for making quick Asian stock. If I can whip it together in an hour, there’s no need to keep it in the freezer – a good thing, since the Deep Storage Facility is full to capacity.

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