Mentsuyu: a multipurpose base

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If you’ve ever had Japanese tempura, udon noodle soup or zaru soba, you’ve had mentsuyu. It’s a multipurpose soup base that is used in two ways: either cool as a “dipping soup” (tsuketsuyu) for chilled noodles such as zaru soba, or warm as a soup base (kaketsuyu) for hot noodles like udon. If you are using mentsuyu as kaketsuyu, the hot form, you will need to dilute it even further than the cool tsuketsuyu type.

Mentsuyu is flavourful and can either be purchased ready made from your local Japanese grocery store, or can be easily homemade as well. It gets its flavour from bonito flakes, kelp, soy sauce, mirin, and sake, and as with any sauce or soup base, you can adjust the proportions of the ingredients to your liking, depending on what you’re making. You may want it a touch sweeter with a stronger sake flavour for your zaru soba, but saltier, with more emphasis on the kelp for your udon soup.

The recipe here is one I like as a base, and you can adjust from there.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup of bonito flakes, packed
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup of mirin
  • 1/3 cup of sake
  • kelp (a small cut piece, approximately 2 inches wide)

Preparation

1. Place your sake into a medium-sized saucepan and bring it to a boil, let it reduce slightly and add your other ingredients. Give everything a quick stir.

2. Reduce the heat to a medium low heat and let the mixture simmer for a few minutes. Leave the cover off.

3. Remove your pot from the heat and let everything cool to room temperature.

4. Strain your mixture through a sieve. (You can keep your kelp and bonito flakes to use for onigiri or as a rice or noodle seasoning by dry roasting it in a pan with some sesame seeds. Yum!)

5. You can now use your mentsuyu right away or bottle it. It should last in the fridge for about a month.

Queso: A great side dip or topping for your chips or main

cheeseWhile visiting friends in Austin, Texas last week, I was introduced to queso. If you’re not familiar with queso, it’s a delicious cheesy sauce that often comes with your chips or that you can top up your tacos or other dishes with. I have to admit, it was a new discovery for me, and the verdict: delicious! The good news – it’s very easy to make. This recipe is one that is based on what was described to me by my friend’s hubby who is Mexican and grew up on his momma’s made-from-scratch Mexican meals. The great thing about queso is there are many variations – you can put what you want in it.

I made a vegan variation.

Ingredients:

  • 250g of cheddar cheese, sliced or grated. Other kinds of cheese can be used. Cheddar is what was recommended to me. Many recipes call for “Velveeta cheese”, which is a processed cheese that’s softer in nature. I try to avoid processed foods, so didn’t use it. For the vegan variation, I used Okanagan’s Soya Co. cheddar.
  • 1/4 cup of cold water (for a non-vegan version, you can use 1/4 cup of half and half cream)
  • 1 Jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you prefer mild heat)
  • 1/2 sprig of green onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/4 of a medium sized white onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt

Start your queso by melting the cheese. You can do this directly in a saucepan or pot. I didn’t want to have to transfer the gooey cheese from pot to serving bowl, so I placed my sliced up cheese in the serving bowl directly and placed the bowl in a larger pot that had 2 inches of water in it. The heat from the pot and water melted the cheese directly in my serving bowl.

Once the cheese is melted, add the water (or cream for the non-vegan version of this recipe) and mix until smooth.

Add the peppers, onions, tomato, and salt.

If you prefer a runnier dip, you can add a little more water and mix until it’s at the consistency you like.