Plum Soba, Prawns and Shiso Salad

  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Serves: 4
  • Level: easy

Mr WDC
This is inspired by a recipe in the book, 'Salad' by Amy Nathan (1985).

What you need

For the noodles:

200g plum soba noodles (pink)

1 tsp groundnut oil

16 shiso leaves

1 tsp dried hijiki seaweed

Scented geranium leaves

For the noodle dressing:

1 tbs groundnut oil

1 tbs sesame oil

2 tbs light soy sauce

2 tbs mirin

2 tbs lemon

For the prawns:

150g – 200g raw peeled king prawns

150ml chicken stock

2 tbs light soy sauce

Juice of half a lemon

Shishimi-togarashi

Black sesame seeds

 



Dad's Recipe Tales

In 1988, an artist friend, gave us a very ‘artistic’ cookbook. The book was Salad, by Amy Nathan and Kathryn Kleinman, (1985). According to the sleeve notes, it was full of ‘stunning salad dishes to delight the eye as well as the palate.’ At the time the book was published, the modern English restaurant scene – with its regalia of Michelin stars and Instagram galleries of beautifully crafted food images – was still waiting in the wings. It’s therefore remarkable that a cookbook, 32 years old, should include such arresting visuals of food – it was clearly well ahead of its time.

Each plate of food (and photographic ‘plate’), was immaculately composed into symmetrical or asymmetrical patterns. The food was shot on top of a light box using transparent dinner plates, a technique that emphasised not only the colour and shape of the food, but also the creativity of the authors. These days, the photographer’s light box has been replaced by burnished metal or distressed wood, the transparent plates with artisan crockery. Both styles could be accused of fetishising food, however, the intention of Salad is not to stimulate a ‘food porn’ reaction, but rather to show the food in a more elemental and refined light so that each ingredient might be appreciated for its own sake. Salad’s dishes are reminiscent of Nouvelle Cuisine, its characteristic lightness of touch, lightly cooked ingredients and the minimalist approach to arranging food could have been an inspiration for the book.

I’ve been critical of the new trend in scattering grains, seeds and whole foods on a plate. I imagined treating ingredients as an assortment of components brought together in a random manner will only create endless nondescript dishes. What is needed is a greater appreciation of the ingredient: why is it distinctive, what are its characteristics, what does it add to the plate, can it be complimented or contrasted by other ingredients? I sense our Salad authors considered this as much as the visual appeal.

My versions, are adapted to add further ideas, either in the visual impact or in the flavour combination. The tomato salad, is simplicity itself. But, it allows us to pause and acknowledge the different tomato varieties. I have also attempted to add, where possible, new ideas about taste and texture contrasts such as savoury, fresh and crunch. A baked goat’s cheese is turned into a poppy flower incorporating beetroot. A pear dish is less about leaves and flowers and more about a classic pairing of flavours.

Salad should be used by culinary colleges to help students with their presentation and appreciation of flavour combinations. It certainly made me re-think how I put food on a plate and provided new insights into combining food.

How Dad Cooked It

  1. Put the seaweed in a bowl and pour over half a cup of hot water. Leave for 15 minutes and then strain. Dry on a kitchen towel and place in the refrigerator.
  2. Cook the soba in a pan of boiling water (add half a teaspoon of salt per litre of water), they take about 5 minutes – continually check to make sure they are al dente and then take off the heat. Pour off half a mugful of the cooking water and retain, then strain the noodles – put them back into the pan and add several splashes of cold water and strain again. Return to the pan and add the cooking liquid and a teaspoon of groundnut oil and set aside somewhere until they have cooled, and then place in the refrigerator.
  3. Make the soba dressing by whisking together the noodle dressing ingredients. Place place in the refrigerator.
  4. Cook the prawns. Put the prawns with any juices into a pan with the stock, soy and lemon. Poach very gently until just cooked. Stain, retaining the liquid, and cool the prawns on a large plate. Put the prawns in a bowl with the cooking liquid and put in the refrigerator.
  5. NB: When assembling the salad there may be noodles left over. Keep these for another time or take to the table if guests would like more.
  6. To assemble the salad, wash and dry the shiso. Place 3 or four on each of four plates, creating a pattern with the leaves. Strain the soba and return to the bowl. Pour over the dressing and mix well. Twirl a portion of the soba on a two-pronged carving fork and place on four individual plates.  Garnish with prawns and shashimi-togarashi. Meanwhile, sprinkle the leaves and seaweed attractively around the plate.

Notes:

This recipe is created to reflect the style of recipes in the book mentioned in the story above. The shiso leaves provide a stunning artistic backdrop to the plum noodles. However, shiso is a a strong herb for some, so you could advise guests that it is eaten in moderation with the noodles.

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