Vegetable Noodle Soup

Sopa de Fideos Vegetales as this dish is known in Catalunya is Catalan for vegetable noodle soup - which might make you think of a dish from Bangkok, Guangzhou or maybe even Haifa. But the dish, created by Carles Abellan of Comerç 24 in Barcelona, is certainly not your average vegetable noodle soup. For starters, the soup doesn't actually contain any noodles. The 'noodle' element of the dish is instead represented by fine juliennes of seven different ingredients - green mango, white asparagus, carrot, daikon, green asparagus, courgette and young asparagus shoots. When I first made this soup at home, I thought the original restaurant recipe would be too difficult to recreate in the domestic kitchen, but I was wrong. It takes time and concentration, but this is a recipe that can be followed by anyone and lead to a stunning result that would certainly impress dinner party guests.

Sopa de fideos vegetales - vegetable noodle soup

Ingredients (2-3 servings)

50g shiitake mushroom
20g kombu seaweed
¼ courgette
¼ carrot
¼ daikon radish
½ bunch green asparagus
½ bunch white asparagus
¼ green (unripe) mango
½ packet asparagus shoots
½ lime
½ thumb-sized piece of ginger
black sesame seeds
rice wine vinegar
dark soy sauce
sesame oil
1 sprig fresh mint (optional)
a few petals of pansy, Szechuan pepper and other edible flowers (optional)

You should be able to find dried shiitake mushrooms in your local deli (and these days probably your local supermarket). The kombu seaweed you'll need for this dish might be a little harder to find - try a local Asian store. Failing that, it can be purchased online from Japanese food specialists. Szechuan pepper flowers can be bought from a Chinese food store and also from internet retailers. Be careful with other edible petals - if you are not absolutely sure about the flowers you are using you could easily poison yourself accidentally!

When you're ready to start, submerge the shiitake in half a litre of water for a period of two hours. During this time, bring it to the boil as if it were a tea, grate the ginger and add this along with the kombu seaweed. Then tightly cover the pan with cling film and leave it to naturally cool over a period of at least six hours.
Simmering dried shiitake mushrooms

Vegetables and fruit for the "noodles"While the infusion is heating, you'll have loads of time to get on with preparing the vegetable noodles. As you can see from the photo on the left, there are seven different ingredients, each with their own wonderfully individual texture and flavour - daikon at the top and, left to right, green asparagus, carrot, asparagus shoots, courgette, white asparagus and mango. The visual effect of the chosen ingredients is quite stunning, with a balance of green, yellow, orange and white noodles.

At this point in the proceedings you can prepare your ginger, kombu and lime. Shred the ginger on the course side of a cheese grater, skin and all. This breaks the fibres of the ginger's flesh and helps to maximise the release of its intoxicating perfume. You should also prepare your kombu by breaking it into rough pieces of a size that will fit into the pan. Zest, then segment the lime and cut a few segments in half. These will be used in the garnish.

You don't want your infusion to reach a rolling boil, but just to arrive at a gentle simmer before removing it from the heat and adding the kombu and grated ginger. Now cling film her up and leave the whole thing outside of the fridge to infuse for as many hours as you can sensibly allow for.

When you're happy with the flavour of your infusion, strain it through a fine sieve and chill immediately.
Ginger, kombu, lime and sesame

The full set of julienneNow to prepare the vegetables (and fruit) for the 'noodles'. First of all, put on a pan of water with a lid and bring to the boil. Then carefully peel the asparagus, carrot, daikon, mango and courgette. If you possess a mandolin, use this to cut the white and green asparagus, otherwise slice everything carefully with a sharp knife. Once everything is sliced, cut the slices into julienne as shown in the picture left, taking care to discard the seedy centre parts of the courgette slices. The asparagus shoots need no preparation other than washing.

By now your blanching water should have reached a boil, so add a generous amount of salt to it. You'll also need to prepare a bath of ice water, which you should also salt. Now, one by one, blanch the different vegetables in the boiling water and refresh in the ice bath. Each vegetable has a different cooking time, ranging from five or so seconds for the courgette to a full minute for the asparagus shoots. The key is to test a julienne every few seconds as you go along, as it is very important that you keep the vegetables al dente.

You only want to take the harsh rawness away from the vegetables, not cook them until soft. The noodles are the key element of this dish - not the infusion. The point of the dish is to show off a variation of textural crunches based on the perfect preparation of the vegetables, from the cutting to the blanching.

When blanching, it's also important to start with the white juliennes - the daikon and white asparagus, then the green - courgette and green asparaus, then the asparagus shoots and finally the carrot. By blanching them in this order, you'll keep your water clearer and help to prevent discolouration of the vegetables. You don't need to cook the mango.

When your noodles are ready, lay them out in neat bunches at the bottom of a small bowl. The best order as far as colour coordination is concerned is: mango, green asparagus, daikon, carrot, courgette, white asparaus, asparagus shoots.
Vegetable noodle soup in the serving bowl

Now sprinkle over a few black sesame seeds, the lime zest, two pieces of the lime segment, a pinch of Szechuan pepper flower and the edible petals if you have included these. Season the noodles with a light dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. Pour over the chilled shiitake infusion and finish with a sprigette of mint. Leave for one minute before consuming as if it were a cold tea.