Japanese dinner bowls with otsu sauce

I’ve been wanting to make this Otsu recipe from 101cookbooks for ages, but something about the recipe has never quite felt right to me as I’m choosing what to make for dinner. I think that’s because it’s a bit heavy on the soba noodles and tofu, and light on the veggies. While the sauce sounds incredible, soba noodles are delicious, and I quite enjoy the occasional tofu, it’s not the sort of thing I’d feel nourished and energised after eating a good serving. And it’s nice to feel nourished and energised, just as it’s nice to enjoy a hearty meal without guilt.

Somehow it took me this long to figure out the solution – take those delicious otsu flavours and use them to make my own recipe, something I know I will love.

Here we have it. A small serving of soba noodles, a stack of lightly steamed greens and shallots, finely sliced tomato and a few slices of soft ripe avocado, drenched in that sweet and salty otsu sauce.

This is partially inspired by the sushi bowl idea. There have been a few of this type of recipe floating around the blogosphere lately. This one from 101cookbooks is again not veggie-ful enough for me, but I like the idea. A deconstructed sushi roll – components separated and placed alongside each other rather than all mixed in as one, making an interesting and satisfying meal. Sort of like a bento box without the box. Another example, Krista and Jess’ jar lunch ‘deconstructed sushi‘. Might I just mention this is also a blog worth reading – jar lunch – what an adorable and practical idea!

The otsu sauce recipe makes an entire 250ml, well more than you’ll need to serve two people. My god, I’m glad it made so much, this stuff is liquid gold. It’s so good I’m wondering if I’ll ever be able to use another sauce in my life. I had it to dress a salad for lunch yesterday. This week I plan to make kimchi pancakes – a recipe given to me by a lovely work friend, who shares my passion for cooking. The sauce is going with that. I’m about to eat some lentils for breakfast, I think I’ll stir it through. Next time I serve ice-cream to children, they’re getting the sauce instead of chocolate topping. Ok, that’s taking it a bit far – I don’t regularly go around serving ice-cream to children, let alone sharing my beloved otsu sauce with deceptively cute rugrats.

Japanese dinner bowls with otsu sauce (serves 2)

The otsu sauce is closely adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Otsu. It makes about a cup of dressing, but don’t be scared, you’ll find plenty of use for the leftovers.

Any leafy green vegetable would work well here – pak choy, bok choy, choy sum, Chinese broccoli or even kale. Go wild.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of English spinach, chopped into 4″ lengths
  • 4 shallots, 3 halved longways and cut into 4″ lengths, 1 sliced thinly and set aside
  • 30g soba noodles
  • 1/2 of a ripe avocado, sliced
  • 2 small tomatoes, halved and sliced finely
  • pickled ginger (optional)
  • 1/4 cup otsu sauce (see below)
Method:
  1. Boil a saucepan of water and place a steamer on top (I bought a bamboo steamer to fit atop my larger saucepan for a few dollars from the local Asian supermarket).
  2. Add the soba noodles to the boiling water. Place the spinach and the three long shallots in a neat stack in the steamer and cover.
  3. After 3 minutes, lift the steamer off and try a soba noodle to see if they’re done. If they are, drain the noodles. If not, cover with a lid and boil for another minute or so.
  4. Divide the steamed spinach and shallots between two bowls, then divide the soba noodles and tuck them in next to the spinach stacks. Divide the avocado between the bowls and add a tomato each. Add pickled ginger if you’re into that sort of thing (I’d eat it straight from the jar, Ash wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole).
  5. Drizzle bowls with otsu sauce and top with the sliced shallot.
Otsu sauce:
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 tbsp honey or agave
  • 3/4 tsp cayenne
  • 3/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil

Shake ingredients in jar until it’s all well combined. Check that the honey and salt have mixed in with the other ingredients.

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