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Vegetarian uses Asian flavors to add zing, pop to noodle dishes

  • COURTESY JAMES CHO

    Soba with Tomato, Onion and Rakkyo.

  • 20160831_f11_Thai inspired Yakisoba with tofu and taro1.jpg

  • COURTESY JAMES CHO

  • COURTESY JAMES CHO

    Hijiki Soba with Miso Tahini Dressing.

  • COURTESY JAMES CHO

    Instructor Ryan Murakami, right, and assistant Tony Loen show students how to make healthy noodle dishes at a recent class at Lyon Arboretum.

In any group of friends or relatives there’s always someone with a truck, the go-to person for moving house or picking up furniture. There’s also the go-to mechanic, go-to nurse, go-to lawyer, and on and on.

In Ryan Murakami’s circle, he’s the go-to cooking expert.

“All my friends ask me to figure out what’s in dishes,” he said. “I’m pretty good at replicating flavors and figuring out spices.”

In fact, Murakami regularly tries to replicate dishes he enjoys in restaurants, saying if he has the choice, he always prefers to cook something himself.

His favorite food to prepare?

“I love noodles,” he said. “I experiment a lot with cooking (them).”

Murakami, 40, a reggae artist and producer who goes by the name Jah Gumby, has been a vegetarian since his youth, when he caught the cooking bug from a neighbor who taught him how to make vegetarian south Indian recipes.

Today, he enjoys creating Asian fusion recipes using noodles as a base. Occasionally, he shares his recipes in community cooking classes.

“With any noodle, the possibilities are pretty limitless,” he said. “You can make salad, soup it up or cook it yakisoba style. It’s a medium you can use any way you want.”

Because of his familiarity with Indian cooking, Murakami often starts with Indian-based seasonings and staples, such as fried lentils, cumin seeds, curry leaves, cashews, and turmeric and chili powders. Those items, served with a dollop of yogurt, and perhaps some fried cashews “for extra profile,” make a tasty topping for almost any noodle.

“But anything could change — the spices, the noodles,” he said. “You could use Madras curry powder for seasoning, add red onions and saute, add rice noodles or yakisoba noodles, then throw in some veggies, add salt to taste.”

Soba, ramen and udon are all good for making stir-fries, broth-based dishes and cold dishes with dipping sauces.

Depending on the preparation, consider different vegetables. Hardy veggies that hold their texture well go best with stir-fried noodles, while dark leafy greens are best used as toppings for noodles in broth. Murakami suggests blanching them first and then adding them to the bowl as a topping.

For any of these dishes, he tries to include sweet, salty, spicy and sour flavors to “create a balance of different elements.”

Many of his recipes call for vinegar, but that doesn’t mean it’s always in the sauce, he said. “I might soak a red onion in red wine vinegar and use it as a topping.”

His go-to dipping sauce is based on Japanese flavors, starting with a broth of konbu (dried seaweed) boiled in water and seasoned with ginger, garlic and Hawaiian salt. Or the konbu could be substituted with soy sauce, dashi or bonito flakes. To the broth, he adds flavored oil, toasted sesame or garlic-infused.

Whatever the recipe, Murakami tries to create an array of flavors and textures. Take his cold dish of soba with tomato, onion and rakkyo (pickled scallions). Murakami combines the sweet crunch of rakkyo with the contrasting texture and ocean flavor of wakame (seaweed), plus the bite of fresh onion. Grape tomatoes, he says, “are sweet but intense, and they have an almost mustardy taste.” The vegetables are tossed in a sweet vinegar sauce.

But he says it’s just one way to create a soba salad.

“People can sub in whatever they want,” he said. “The number of noodle dishes you can make is limited only by the cook’s imagination.”

Soba with Tomato, Onion and Rakkyo

  • 3 to 4 bunches dried soba
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup rakkyo, drained and sliced
  • 1/2 cup hydrated wakame, drained
  • >> Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • Pinch black pepper
  • Pinch white pepper
  • Salt, to taste

Cook soba, following package directions. Drain and set aside to cool.

Combine sauce ingredients, then gently mix in tomatoes, red onion, rakkyo and wakame. Set aside at least 10 minutes for flavors to blend.

Spoon veggies and sauce over soba noodles. Serves 6.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving (based on 400 grams soba): 330 calories, 3 g fat, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, 700 mg sodium, 70 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 16 g sugar, 11 g protein

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