September 27, 2010

Discovering Japan: Creamy Edamame Soup with Shichimi-Togarashi

Tokyo is a weird and wonderful place. On the surface, it shouldn't work as well as it does.  Millions of people crowded into a very tiny space.  Incomprehensive street addresses (every taxi driver struggles to find your destination, GPS working overtime, map scrutinized at every light).  A subway system that spiders all over the city in a confusing web of intersecting lines.  No English signs in sight, and barely more "English spoke here" places.  What pulls it all together is the Japanese themselves.  Unfailingly courteous and interested, the Japanese make strangers feel welcome and cared for.  Even if you're not 'xactly sure what you're eating. 

Barbecued eel for lunch, in a restaurant that served nothing but

There are so many things to love about Tokyo, but what I love most is the reverence with which food is held. The Japanese worship at the altar of seasonality, each piece of fruit, each specialty food item sacred. Food is not merely sustenance; it’s something to be savoured, appreciated, each meal a leisurely exploration of every taste.

Wasabi grating in action at Seamon

Nowhere is this reverence more apparent than in the hundreds of tiny food shops that dot the city. Many have been in business for decades, honing their expertise in either crafting or choosing the very best. Many sell just one thing – a certain type of pickled plum, say, or Japanese omelettes (come early – the shop closes when the omelettes are gone).  On a recent trip to Tokyo, and with Food Sake Tokyo* as our bible, we set out on the trail to find culinary treats to take home. Musk melons at $250.00 were out of the question (and, yes, that’s not an incorrect decimal point!), as was fresh wasabi, seen grated a la minute at sushi counters throughout the city.

About $250USD for two - and perfect in every way

Fresh wasabi - slightly more reasonable at about $16USD

Spices seemed like a good bet, and how could we not visit Yagenbori, in business since 1625, and the proud originators and purveyors of Shichimi-Togarashi? This wonderfully complex seven spice blend gives dishes deeply subtle nuances of flavour.  It's a medium-spicy blend of seven ingredients: black sesame seeds; the dried peel of the unshu mikan (Satsuma orange); Japanese sansho pepper; dried capsicum; roasted dry capsicum; hemp seeds and poppy seeds.

The delicious mixture for Shichimi-Togarashi

While your spices are being packaged you can choose a traditional wooden shaker

I knew exactly what I wanted to try it on when I got home – my attempt to recreate a cold and creamy edamame soup I had in Tokyo that was so so good. The soup turned out to be incredibly easy, and with fresh edamame still available at the farmers’ market (and frozen a grocery store away), edamame soup is as easy as one-two-three.

Creamy Edamame Soup
serves 4-6

Edamame beans, fresh or frozen, enough to yield two cups shelled
1 shallot, sliced
2 c chicken soup stock
½ tbsp vegetable oil
1½ c fresh buttermilk or skim milk
1 tbsp fresh butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Shichimi-togarashi for garnish (optional - you can order it here)

1. Boil edamame beans. Shell edamame and also remove the fine skin on the beans. While this may seems like an additional step, it will yield an ultra smooth soup.

2. Heat oil in a saucepan and sauté shallots. Add chicken soup stock and edamame, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes on low heat.

3. Puree the edamame beans, and put back into the saucepan. Add the buttermilk and butter. Simmer for 5 minutes on low heat. Add butter, salt, and pepper to season.

Fresh edamame beans - beautiful variations of colour

The buttermilk yield from homemade butter

Final step to soup...

This rich, delicious and nutritious soup is fabulous served either warm or cold. Serve it in small cups as a starter, or in shot glasses for a wonderfully different appetiser.

A taste of Japan

*If you visit Tokyo, you need a personal guide to help you navigate. The newly published Food Sake Tokyo is all you will need. A carefully edited and lovingly assembled collection of all things food, chef and former depachica sommelier Yukari Sakamoto turns even the shortest trip to Tokyo into a culinary adventure. Check out her blog for up to the minute tips and tastes.