G Daniela Galarza
THE WASHINGTON POST – I studied food history and anthropology in college, and I remember that in one of my first classes, the professor asked everyone to write a short essay on a food that was “pure flavour”. I can’t remember what I picked, but it got me only a passing grade. The student who wrote an essay on tea received the highest score.
There are thousands of varieties of tea. It’s the second-most popular drink in the world, after water, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Tea is also a social drink, and it’s how I met my friend Robert Wemischner. We met, if I remember correctly, at a tea tasting class in Los Angeles. Wemischner is a culinary school instructor, tea expert and the author, with Diana Rosen, of Cooking With Tea: Techniques and Recipes for Appetizers, Entrees, Desserts, and More.
Today’s recipe, for Cold Tea Noodles, is from their book, and it’s an astonishingly flavourful and remarkably simple summer meal.
It starts with green tea, which you’ll brew and then use to cook udon noodles.
Wemischner said genmaicha, a grassy green tea with bits of toasted sticky rice, is his favourite tea to use here. (But he offered some suggested substitutions).
“Forward, grassy, verdant and fresh, it even has a bit of a marine or saline thing going on”, is how he described genmaicha.
“I like that because I think there’s umami there, and that flavour makes us want the next bite. You’re not going to be bored with a full serving of this flavour. There’s nothing mononote or monotone about it.”
After you brew the tea and cook the noodles – they take just a few minutes to become tender – your cooking work is done.
Wemischner recommends doing this the night before, so the noodles are ready for lunch or dinner the next day, when you’ll top them with tender enoki mushrooms, scallions and perky sprigs of cilantro.
Season each bowl with light soy sauce, sesame oil, and togarashi (preferably shichimi, though ichimi also works) or other pepper flakes before serving.
“You can use lots of different types of tea here,” Wemischner said, “but I love the haunting, memorable flavour of green teas with udon and tofu.”
COLD TEA NOODLES
Udon noodles cooked in freshly brewed genmaicha tea, and then chilled, are the base of this hot-weather meal. As the noodles steep in the tea while they cool, they pick up its grassy flavour, which goes especially well with tofu, mushrooms, scallions and cilantro.
If you don’t have green tea, you can use English breakfast, Assam, or a Chinese or Indian black tea. You can also use broth (mushroom or spring onion might be nice) or water, though the flavour of the noodles will not be the same. No udon? Linguine works in a pinch.
Not a tofu eater? Consider bits of chicken or dark turkey meat, roasted mushrooms, or fresh soybeans or lima beans.
– One quart water
– Eight grammes green tea leaves, preferably genmaicha
– Eight ounces dried udon noodles
– Six ounces firm tofu, well drained
– Two ounces fresh enoki mushrooms (may substitute fresh shiitakes, sliced)
– Four scallions, very thinly sliced
– Light soy sauce, for serving
– Sesame oil, for serving
– Fresh cilantro leaves and tender sprigs, for serving
– Shichimi togarashi or freshly ground black pepper, for serving
In a small pot over medium-high heat, bring the water to a low simmer (about 180 degrees). Remove from the heat, add the tea and steep for three minutes. Strain the tea through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium pot. Discard the tea leaves.
Set the pot over high heat and bring the tea to a boil.
Add the noodles and cook until still somewhat firm, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and let the noodles completely cool in the tea. Strain the noodles, place in a lidded bowl, and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.
Press the tofu or wrap it in a clean tea towel and microwave in 30-second intervals until it releases most of its moisture. Carefully slice it into one-inch cubes.
To serve, divide the noodles between two bowls. Scatter the tofu cubes, mushrooms and scallions over each bowl. Dress, to taste, with soy sauce, sesame oil, cilantro leaves, and shichimi togarashi or freshly ground black pepper before serving.