I love Murakami's books and in them he pays such attention to cooking, his characters always go grocery shopping and cook to then slowly and purposefully enjoy their meals, usually with some beer.
This is how I first heard of Udon noodles, via Murakami's books. I bought a pack when I was last in London and visited Japancentre. I haven't looked now, but I'm hoping that maybe it's already possible to get them here as well, the selection of 'world cuisine' ingredients has remarkably improved recently. And they really are lovely, so I'll want to be buying more of them.
The recipe is a random result of my imagination and not really Japanese - Murakami does not pay THAT much attention to detail as for me to be get a recipe out of it.
But it was a lovely bowl of noodles and S's new favorite.
Udon noodles with chicken and vegetables in a spicy broth (Udon nuudlid, kana ja aedviljadega, vürtsikas puljongis):
1/2 pack of Udon noodles (they're usually bound together into per person bunches)
2 chicken breasts
250 gr sliced vegetables (thinly sliced carrots, mangetouts, mushrooms, scallions) - can be a frozen 'wok' mix (but not spiced)
1 red onion
1 clove of garlic
1 cm slice of chilli (no pips)
2 - 3 tbsp mirin (rice wine)
2 star anise pods
a big knob of tamarind (2x3 cm)
750 ml chicken stock, or 1 cube of organic vegetable broth and 750 ml water
fresh tomatoes for serving
Bring stock to a boil (or prepare stock from the cube). Add star anise, cloves, chilli and tamarind. Bring to a boil. Taste and either simmer some more or remove the spices (esp. the chilli) from the broth. Turn off the heat. Thinly slice half of the onion and add the slices into the broth.
Boil the udon noodles according to instructions on the package (should be 7-8 minutes). Season with some salt. Rinse them off with cold water after boiling. If you serve them quickly they'll still be hot. If they'll cool down too much you can re-heat them by rinsing them once with boiling water.
Chop the other half of the onion. Heat some oil on a pan and lightly fry the onion, then add chicken that's been cut into 1.5 x 3 cm chunks. Fry quickly on maximum heat until golden on both sides. Reduce the heat a little and add the mirin. Fry for 2-3 minutes then cover and leave on medium to low heat for 5-6 minutes (check that pieces are not pink in the middle, before serving). The chicken should be moist and tender. The mirin will turn into a syrup.
In another pan (preferably a deeper and wider one, a wok-pan if you have one) heat some more olive oil and add the vegetables. Season with some salt and quickly stir-fry (max 5 minutes).
Heat the bowls if you can, put half of the vegetables in a bowl, add in half of the noodles (use a fork and a ladle so you'll have a nice rolled 'nest'). Top with chicken pieces and a spoonsful of the mirin syrup and finally pour in some of the stock. Serve with fresh tomatoes if you wish.
It's really quick and easy, the only hassle is that you'll need 2 pans and a small pot / sauce pan to make it. And the Udon noodles have a really lovely, clean taste of their own.