“There is not city
But the city within.
No door, but the door
To simple wisdom.
We walk, dumb
Into the tremendous and endless
– from ‘The Hinge’ by Cynthia Cruz
When we were kids and our home was being renovated, we moved for a while into what became known in our family as ‘the small house’. My younger brother Dion had a crib in my parents bedroom, but my older brother, Tal, and I shared a room. The room was barely big enough to fit both of our beds, and my only real memory of ‘the small house’ is hiding under the covers at night with Tal when we were supposed to be asleep, giggling with our teddies and telling one another ghost stories.
Most of my childhood memories can be slotted into two distinct categories – summer, and the rest of the year. Like summer itself, my memories are hazy at the corners, punctuated by a few stand outs. Playing backyard cricket with my two brothers, an old wicker basket leaning up against the garage door served as the stumps, the ball continually flying into the cranky next-door-neighbour’s back garden (and occasionally the bright smash of our back windows). Climbing onto the garage roof with my brothers and our friend Melika from up the road. First was the journey up the old wooden ladder which fell a few feet short of the top of the garage, so balancing precariously on the top we’d haul ourselves over. Then we’d have the run of the roof, views back over to the mysterious property of our infamously bad-tempered neighbourhood recluse. We would make grand plans up there, kings and queens of our own little domain.
As we got older and became wrapped up in school and social circles, my brothers remained part of the thread of my life. I’d hang out with Tal and his friends at their parties, in my early teens, and later Dion joined us too, smoking and drinking and sharing the early markers of adulthood. Later on, after Tal had moved to China and then Hong Kong, Dion would often drive me home from Friday night family dinners, and we’d duet Total Eclipse of the Heart in the car together, speeding through darkened streets.
These days when we hang out, it’s accompanied by our assortment of kids, the house a mixture of toys and shrieks and tears and insanity. But just last week Tal and his family headed back to Taiwan – where they live – after a prolonged three-month stay in Australia. And Dion and his family are yet to return from their six-month stay in Israel. So here I am in Melbourne, for the first time that I can remember the only sibling in our home town, missing the presence of my brothers.
I have no neat segue from brothers to soup, so let’s not pretend that one has anything to do with the other. Besides which, you need no excuse to make this Japanese-Style Mushroom Broth other than the fact it’s really fucking delicious. Often meatless broths lack the full flavour punch of their carnivorous counterparts, but in this case the mushrooms are the heart. It’s the best kind of rich umami goodness, one that I’ve been craving a lot lately, and is so simple to cook. It’s also a multi-weather dish, light enough for a summer soup, but warming enough for a winter’s night. Don’t skip the toppings, but feel free to throw in some greens – a little steamed bok choy, would be a lovely addition.
Japanese-style Mushroom Broth
The noodles in the photos are sweet potato glass noodles, but I generally use soba or udon. And while the salad booster isn’t 100% necessary, it really elevates the bowl to a whole new level of delicious.
2 cups sliced or 10 whole dried shitake mushrooms
10 mushroom caps
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 large knob of ginger, sliced
1 – 10 grams kombu or any dried seaweed
3 litres water
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp mirin
2 Japanese eggplant
2 tsps sesame oil
100 grams noodles (soba or udon)
4 small/medium mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 spring onion, finely sliced
Salad booster, to taste
In a large pot combine the 2 litres of water with the shitake mushrooms and bring to the boil. Turn off and let sit for approx. 30 minutes.
Bring the pot back to a boil, turn down to a simmer, then add the quartered onion, the sliced ginger, the kombu, and the mushrooms. Cover, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Strain out the vegetables, then stir in the tablespoon of tamari and the teaspoon of mirin.
While the broth is cooking, preheat oven to 200° celsius/400° fahrenheit. Top and tail the eggplants and cut into rounds approx. 2 cm thick, then toss them in a bowl together with a generous amount of salt, pepper, and the sesame oil. Lay in a single layer on a baking tray and roast for 25 minutes or until nicely browned, turning halfway through (if you prefer not to turn the oven on for this, you can cook them under the grill instead, turning after approx. 10 minutes, or when nicely golden).
About 10 minutes before your broth is ready, cook the noodles al dente, according to the instructions on the packet.
Divide the cooked noodles between two bowls, add the sliced mushrooms, then pour over a cup or two of broth. Top with roasted eggplant, spring onion, and salad booster, to taste. Serve immediately.
Leftover broth will keep for 3 – 4 days in a sealed container in the fridge.