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Nabeyaki Udon

(Japanese noodle soup with egg and vegetable)

Fragrant, filling, and pretty to view, this is a Japanese version of the "one pot" meal. It's great on cold winter days when you want to heartiness of these white monster noodles and the refreshing brace of the sea at the same time. Serve hot in ovenproof bowls to 4 as a meal.

Garnish: sprinklings of shichimi (a 7-spice mixture with inactive marijuana seeds in it!) or crushed red pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the udon noodles as follows (sounds complicated, but it's not): bring a really big pot of water to boil. Add the noodles bit by bit, stirring, so they don't stick to each other. Bring to a rolling boil, then pour in 1 cup of cold water. Allow to return to a rolling boil, then pour in a second cup of cold water. Again, allow to return to a rolling boil, then pour in the third cup of cold water. Taste for the noodles to be firm but cooked through. Likely you'll want to repeat with a fourth cup of cold water. When the noodles are al dente, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for 10 minutes. (At the end of this time, drain them, rinse them in cold running water, and scrub them against each other by hand to remove all the surface starch. Drain, rinse, and let sit til you're ready to assemble the soup.)

Cut a deep cross into the tops of the hydrated mushroom caps (throw out the stems) and cook them uncovered in a small pot with the reserved mushroom liquid, the soy sauce, and the sugar on medium heat until tender and the liquid is absorbed--about 10-15 minutes.

Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer.

Bring water to a boil in a small pan, then blanch the spinach leaves for 30 seconds, remove, and let drain.

Cut the spinach into 2-inch pieces; the leeks into 1-inch diagonal slices; and the chicken breast into 4 equal slices, sprinkling with salt and sake.

To assemble the soup:

  1. Divide noodles into the 4 large bowls (preheated in the oven).
  2. Arrange the spinach, leeks, chicken, and mushrooms on top of the noodles, around the sides (leaving the center clear for the eggs).
  3. Pour the boiling stock equally into the bowls.
  4. Make a nest into the center of the noodles and break an egg in the middle of each bowl.
  5. Cover and put in the oven for 2-3 minutes.
Serve immediately. Pass the shichimi or red pepper separately.