(pic on its way)

The noodle craving is still on, and I’m contemplating the possibility of reproducing a household favorite of us: Yasai Soba.

It appears that noodle soup is something everybody likes; every culture has some version of it. Soba, a noodle made out of buckwheat and wheat, is a particularly delightful and healthy way of consuming noodles. Slimmer and browner than its big sister, the Udon noodle, Soba pleasantly slips through your throat and makes you feel warm and happy.

In our favorite vegan Japanese restaurant in Berkeley, Cha Ya, you can get two types of fabulous Soba soup: sansai soba, comprised of wild mountain vegetables and seaweed, and yasai soba, based on cooked vegetables which seem to be a tad more mundane in the Western world. Both versions are comprised of hot vegetable broth with soy sauce; the nonvegan versions use fish broth. The noodles, and delicately sliced and steamed vegetables, are decoratively placed in the bowl, and the soup is eaten with both a spoon and chopsticks.

As you’ll see from this recipe, the wheat-free, vegan adjustments are not difficult. As to the noodles, I’ve had good experience with soba from Eden Foods, but apparently other brands, like Clearspring carry it as well. Buckwheat, it turns out, is not a grain; it’s a fruit seed and a distant relative of sorrel and rhubarb. It offers a wealth of benefits, including anticancerous nutrients and fiber.

As to the broth, as you’ll see, this version of the soup uses shiitake mushrooms (which are anti-inflammatory and very good for your immune system), and the soaking water makes wonderful broth, particularly when mixed with Tamari soy sauce.

The vegetables, naturally, can change, depending on what’s out there in the market. This version sports carrots, turnips, potatoes, wild beet leaves, shiitake mushrooms, and extra-firm tofu.

A package of soba noodles
10-15 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 carrots
3 turnips
4 large manguld (wild beet) leaves (chards also ok).
A few pieces of wakame seaweed
2 small potatoes
1 package of extra-firm tofu
1 cup Tamari soy sauce
4 cups water

We start by boiling the water and soaking the shiitake mushrooms in it. This needs to stand for, say 15 minutes at least, and the more it stands, the fluffier and softer your mushrooms and the richer your broth.
While this is going on, two things need to happen: the tofu needs to spend some time in the soy sauce, and the vegetables need to be steamed. Slice the tofu and place it in the tamari sauce for a while (you can dilute it in water, or in some tablespoons of the mushroom liquid). Also, slice the carrots, turnips and potatoes, and tear large pieces out of the manguld leaves. Place all these folks (except the wakame) in a steaming basket, and steam for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft, but still have personality.
When the mushrooms have softened to your liking, strain, keep the liquid, and carefully slice them in pretty, thick slices. Save the mushrooms and steamed vegetables.
Pour the shiitake liquid into a large pot, and add the tamari sauce (without the tofu). Add soba noodles and cook for ten minutes or so, or until the soba is soft and slurpable. Then, using a straining spoon, place some noodles at the bottom of large, fun bowls. Arrange the vegetables and tofu prettily on top of the vegetables, then pour the hot soup to cover everything. Serve with chopsticks and a spoon. Enjoy!

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