My older daughter started attending Japanese school this past Saturday. We headed from the barren desert of ethnic food to the exciting cultural melting pot (and in proximity to) of Queens County, NY.
When I was growing up, there was a significant Japanese population in the Queens area during the late ’70’s through the mid ’80’s. There were several Japanese weekend schools in the area, and a good Japanese meal was easily accessible without having to traverse into Manhattan.
These days, there are gems of authentic Japanese restaurants scattered across the area, especially around areas that still have local Japanese residents; however, I don’t get to frequent them as often as I wish due to scheduling and bedtimes. Plus, I have to travel far for certain specialties – such as savory egg custard, or chawanmushi which I would have to pre-order at Takumi, whereas at Yamaguchi Restaurant, they have it on the regular menu.
After an activity-packed first day, we met up with my brother, his wife, and a dear friend of mine in a Korean restaurant specializing in sul long tang. My daughter excitedly ran to her uncle and auntie, and chattered away. I studied the menu, decided on a sampler of savory pancakes, or jeon, followed by a comforting bowl of the milky white sul long tang. My brother ordered a fiery bowl of yook hwe jang, my sister-in-law a hot bowl of dolsot bibimbap, and my buddy, a squid bowl, or pieces of cooked squid in sauce over rice. I can’t remember the official Korean menu name for that dish….
Once we enjoyed the various jeon that arrived, our entrees arrived, and I was excited. My soup, a fragrant, mild, white, beef marrow soup is served with a bowl filled with chopped scallions, and a clay pot filled with grayish salt. Yes – you flavor the soup yourself! I loved adding a bit of scallion and salt, and adjusting the flavor. The soup had thinly sliced brisket, noodles, and rice, which I ladled into a smaller bowl for my daughter. The wait staff came by with a pot full of cabbage and radish kimchi, which they efficiently cut into manageable slices with scissors. Iced barley tea, or boricha was served with the meal.
We then tucked into our meal.
A content silence descended – mainly, from me, and I savored each drop of my soup. I coaxed my daughter to finish her bowl of soup – but I could tell she was fading quickly. She had quite the busy morning, and was starting to unravel.
We kissed friends and family good-bye, and we headed back home.
Sunday, I started my usual preparation for the week, and realized, I could continue my soup kick. So I made another lentil and vegetable soup, and added vegetable alphabet pasta.
Here’s what went into it:
2 cups lentils, washed, picked over and drained
6 cups water
3 chopped carrots
3 chopped celery stalks
2 chopped medium onions
1/2 box of Trader Joe’s hearty vegetable stock
1 bag of baby spinach – added at the very end, rinsed and drained
2 bunches of beet greens, washed carefully, and chopped into 1/4 inch
1/2 cup alphabet pasta
I brought the water and stock to a boil, and added the lentils, carrots, celery and onion. I lowered the heat to medium after 5 minutes, and skimmed off the foam that rose to the top. I further lowered the temperature to a low simmer for 30 minutes, checking on occasion, and stirring. I added the pasta into the soup, and stirred well. Although the box calls for boiling the pasta for 5 – 10 minutes at high, I prefered to cook it over lower heat, simply because I tend to find the pasta stuck and burnt on the bottom of the pot.
Once the pasta was cooked, and the lentils softened, I added the beet greens, and let it cook for about 5 minutes. I then added the spinach at the very end, folding the leaves into the soup. I adjusted the flavor with salt and pepper at the end.
This was my daughter’s lunch for Monday. I did a trial run with a small amount on Sunday night, and she happily picked out the letters, and said, “Mama, I like this soup. Can I have this tomorrow?”
Monday night, I received an email text from my husband telling me he was feeling ill, and that he had a high temperature. I had put the girls down to bed, so I figured I would put together a quick chicken soup in case he was hungry. Into a pot went:
1 box TJ’s Organic free-range chicken stock
2 carrots cut into quarters, and then chopped
2 chopped celery stalks
1 chopped medium onion
A cup of defrosted, cooked, chicken – shredded
1/2 cup star-shaped pasta
I brought the stock to a boil, and added all the vegetables, and cooked on a low simmer until softened. I then added the pasta, and let it cook for about 10 minutes, or until softened. I then added the shredded chicken, and at the very end, adjusted the taste with salt and white pepper.
My husband came home looking very pale, and not hungry. I sent him to bed, and set the soup pot aside to cool. I was excited – my daughter now had two options for lunch on Tuesday… not to mention, I, myself, had soup options for lunch!
**Recommended thermos for lunchtime soup transport – the Thermos Nissan vacuum insulated food jar, which keeps food hot for 5+ hours.