The recipe calls for some ingredients that I didn't have in my pantry:
-mirin (which I wasn’t familiar with)
...not your typical Middle Eastern fare. So a grocery adventure (yay!!) was overdue. I passionately despise major grocery chains, which is why I’ll make it a point to purchase from farmers’ markets, or dusty, cheap fruiteries in Parc Extension. Major chains give me this chilling sense of fakeness, because they put on gaudy façade of freshness, goodness, and trust. But how do you build trust without establishing a dialogue, or like...having a face? What is Metro? Who is Metro?
So I cruised over to two places this week: Eden, an Asian specialty store, owned by an Asian (I'm tempted to say Chinese?) family, headed by a kindly Grandpapa whom I absolutely adore, in the same complex as Cinema du Parc. I also visited the super-tiny, super-ghetto Thai Hour, located right in the hub of the Jean-Talon market.
Going to Eden is kind of like walking into this organic, wholesome, vegetarian heaven. It's beautifully designed, rocking an endless array of imported chocolates and biscuits (Amy, I know how you feel about imported stuff, but I must admit it’s my weakness); displays glittering with rows of organic apples, persimons, and peaches; noodles; teas; gluten-free foods; eco-friendly cleaning products (I'm sure you get my enthusiasm). They also have a cheap deli counter where you can get THE best tuna sandwiches in town. Seriously addictive, healthy, and generously portioned. Mirin is sweet fermented rice wine, but when I looked at the ingredient list of the cheapest brand, every other ingredient was some form of refined or derived sugar. So, no thanks. I picked up the rice vinegar (2.99) and a package of rice noodles, which boasted of ginger, pumpkin, and organic rice (3.99), and was immediately sold on the spot.
But they didn't end up tasting like anything at all, so I checked the packet later in simmering betrayal and disbelief. Only 5% pumpkin was present in the noodles. I mean how much does that come out to? A thimble? I thought I was shrewd about these things--shame on you Sam!! my brain screamed.
Goining Thai Hour, however, is like scoring a free trip to Bangkok, minus the jetlag. The store is a tight 20 x 20 space full of shelves and freezers crammed with Thai essentials such as fish paste, squid sauce, 5 zillion types of rice noodles with no English or French ingredients on the packaging, and dried mushrooms (ditto on the packaging), frozen chopped lemongrass. My mother, who introduced me to the place, loves it so much because you can get a bulging pack of fresh chinese chives, bok shoy, or whatever your pretty heart desires, for next to nothing. They also have a ludicrously cheap (but cleanliness optional...) seafood counter, where you can get a whole tilapia for about $5, and generous slices of salmon steak for about $3 each, and shrimp for the best price on the market. I've had all, which in all fairness are quite fresh, and am still alive and well. The recipe uses bok shoy as the principal veggie, but I find bok shoy a tad rubbery and chewy, just awkward to eat as a whole. I opted for a bright vegetable I'd never tried before, yu choy, a greener, stalky alternative. I also got some fish sauce. I cringed at the ingredients--mostly composed of sodium, so I fished around (haha) for the brand with the lowerst sodium content.
What You'll Need:
-1/2 cup-1 cup dried mushrooms. The book recommends Chinese wood ear, but any will do, really. (if you use a lot of mushrooms, your soup will be a bitter mess.)
-1 packet dried, thin rice or egg noodles
-vegetable stock + 4-5 cups of water (I use Harvest Sun's organic, low-sodium cubes. They are excellent. I use 1-1.5 cubes).
- 2 inch thumb of fresh minced ginger, or to taste
-2-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 cup chopped leek
-3 tbsp dark soy sauce, or to taste
-3 tbsp real mirin (I'm sure it exists), honey, or apple juice
-3 tbsp fish sauce (if you can make your own, even better.)
-2-3 cups yu choy (or green veggie of your choice), washed and coarsely chopped into bite-size peices
-green spring onions (chopped, for garnish)
-sprigs cilantro (chopped, for garnish)
What To Do:
1) Try to do this step an hour before you start cooking. RINSE your dried mushrooms well under running water. I always forget this step and end up with crunchy, sand-filled mushrooms. Soak your dried mushrooms for at least 50 minutes in cold water OR, 30 min in boiling water. Cold water allows the mushrooms to reconstitute themselves, without sucking out the flavour. However, if you use hot water, most of the flavour will end up in the soaking water, so add it to the soup itself if you want a more robust, bitter flavour to your soup. If you'd rather the mushrooms retain more of their flavour, use cold water.
2) While your mushrooms are chilling out (or whooping it up in a jacuzzi), put the garlic, ginger (while reserving some for later), and leek in a large pot and cook for about a minute on medium heat, or until fragrant. Add the veggie stock/cube, and keep mixing for another minute. When the cube has dissolved, add 4-6 cups water and bring to a boil.
3) Depending on how you like your noodles, you can opt to skip this step. If you like your noodles al dente, then fill a medium-sized pot with water and bring to a boil. Boil noodles for 3-4 minutes, then drain and run cold water over them to halt the cooking proccess. If you like them mushy and comforting, then just add the noodles to step 2.
3) Fill a large pan with 1/2 cup water. Bring it to a boil, and toss in the yu choy. Let it cook for about 30 seconds to a minute, or until it turns a bright bright green, then drain in a colander. Run ice cold water over the veggies to preserve their bright colour. Marvel at the green.
4) Are your mushrooms done soaking yet? If not, fold your laundry while your wait. Or tend to your baby. Or just creep someone on Facebook, like I would.
5) Add the mirin/honey, soy sauce, fish sauce, and swirl around with a spoon. Then add your soaked mushrooms, yu choy, and noodles. Ladle the soup into colourful bowls and sprinkle the cilantro, spring onions, and minced leek into the individual bowls.
6) Breathe in the aroma. And smile. You've got comfort and love in a bowl, right here, right now.