Simple cooking is what I’ve always known and loved. It is the sort of food I grew up eating – thoughtful, considered and uncomplicated, in the best possible way. If we had good ingredients to begin with, little was needed to make a beautiful meal. This idea was reawakened by my time in the Italian countryside, a place which profoundly impacted the way I cook. I was reminded again years later, this time in Japan, where even the most basic ingredients are cherished, seasons are auspicious, and uncomplicated cooking is celebrated.
Food and family are so intertwined. While cooking for family is, of course, to satisfy hunger, it is so much more. ‘Family food’ is generous and unfussy and demonstrates love and care – it is perfectly imperfect. For me, it is also about making rituals and creating special moments together; even something as simple as eggs on toast can be a joyous occasion when you are all together around the dining table. That notion of being together and sharing food at a table is a practice that is often lost in the busyness of our lives. No matter what the day has brought us, the dependable act of setting the table and enjoying a simple meal is comforting and ever-reassuring.
SOBA SALAD (Serves 4)
While not a traditional way to eat soba noodles, soba salad is one of my lunchtime staples. I vary the ingredients depending on what I feel like or what is available. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat, or a combination of buckwheat and wheat, the latter being more common. Broad beans can be used instead of the edamame, and often I’ll add cherry tomatoes and avocado, too.
300 g frozen edamame beans
handful of greens, such as mizuna, mustard greens or rocket
400 g soba noodles
Ginger sesame dressing
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 cm piece of ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon caster sugar
toasted black and white sesame seeds
finely sliced spring onion
Blanch the edamame in a saucepan of boiling water over a high heat for 1–2 minutes, or cook according to the packet instructions. Remove with a slotted spoon (don’t drain the pan as you’ll use the water to cook the noodles) and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain, then place in a large bowl along with the greens.
Add the soba noodles to the pan of boiling water and cook until al dente, according to the packet instructions (it should be around 6 minutes). Drain and rinse under cold running water. Leave to drain for a minute or two, then add to the edamame and greens.
Meanwhile, place all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jug and whisk until combined. Season to taste and adjust to suit – feel free to add more of any of the dressing ingredients to your liking. Pour over the noodle mixture and toss until well coated.
Divide among bowls and top with the nori, sesame seeds, shichimi togarashi and spring onion.
Julia with her husband Nori and their son Haruki, around their dinner table at home. Photo – Armelle Habib.
The cover of Julia’s second cookbook, A Year Of Simple Family Food. Photo – Armelle Habib.
Pork and cabbage gyozas from A Year Of Simple Family Food. Photo – Armelle Habib.
Julia and Haruki at home. Photo – Armelle Habib.