Umami-laden Uzbek udon is ideal for autumn

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Uzbek-style laghman udon

Udon is even more delectable now that the cool air of autumn has arrived, and cooking expert Asami Kuchio shares her recipe for an Uzbek version of the dish that is ripe for the season. With a tomato-red hue, the dish looks different from the typical bowls of udon found across Japan, but it has a taste familiar to the Japanese palate.

Kuchio learned from an Uzbek friend that it is called laghman, which is widely loved by people across Central Asia. Although laghman varies from region to region, the ingredients typically include wheat noodles in a tomato-based soup or starchy sauce that is packed with meat and vegetables.

“This noodle dish is said to be the roots of ramen and is suited to the Japanese palate,” Kuchio said. “I think [Japanese people] will like it.”

The dish is laden with vegetables — onions, carrots daikon, cabbage, bell peppers and potatoes — all in a tomato-based broth. Simmering the wide variety of vegetables together with lamb makes the dish flavorful.

“You don’t really need to prepare all those vegetables,” Kuchio said, “but adding root vegetables makes it even more delicious.”

If thin slices of lamb are not available, shave thick slices of the meat.

To start, stir-fry the onion and lamb in a pot, and then add the rest of the vegetables except for the potatoes, and cook thoroughly. Add water, cumin seeds and a chili pepper, and bring to a simmer. Then add the potatoes. Season with white wine vinegar and the seasonings.

“Give it a taste and, if it needs some zest, add more salt or soy sauce,” Kuchio said.

The thinner the noodles, the easier it is to mix the soup. Kuchio uses frozen inaniwa udon, thin udon noodles from Akita Prefecture, for this recipe.

Pour the soup over the udon, top with chopped coriander, dill and green spring onion shoots, and voila, it’s ready to eat.

The aroma of the mutton and cumin spreading in the sweetness and sourness of the tomato broth can be sensed when slurping the noodles.

This dish is neither Western nor Chinese cuisine, but it has a comforting taste with a Central Asian touch.

Laghman noodles

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  • 3 packages frozen udon
  • 300 grams thinly sliced lamb
  • ½ onion
  • 1 small carrot
  • 10-centimeter-long daikon
  • 100 grams cabbage
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 potato
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • Coriander leaves, dill and green spring onion shoots as desired
  • Directions:

1. Thinly slice the onion, and cut the carrot, daikon and potato into half-moons. Coarsely chop the cabbage and tomatoes. Slice the bell pepper into thin strips.

2. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pot and saute the onion until soft, then add the mutton. When the meat is cooked, add the carrot, daikon, cabbage, bell pepper and tomato in that order and stir-fry until the tomato softens and breaks down.

3. Add 1.5 liters of water to the pot. Lightly mash the chili pepper and cumin seeds with your fingers to release their aromas and then add. Bring to a boil, add the potatoes and simmer over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes.

4. Season with grated garlic and 2 tsp salt, then add white wine vinegar.

5. Place boiled udon noodles into a bowl and pour the soup over the udon. Top with chopped coriander, dill and green spring onion shoots.

Yogurt spread appetizer

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yogurt spread

Kuchio recommends nibbling on a yogurt spread as an appetizer before eating laghman.

Putting the dip on a piece of bread is refreshing and delicious. Drained yogurt is a ubiquitous ingredient in Central Asia. The spread can be made simply by mixing drained yogurt with grated garlic, salt and chopped dill.