Dashi is at the heart of Japanese cooking. It's the snokey, fishy broth that makes up the base of soups, and really, seems to be added to just about everything. And yes, you can buy little MSG laced packages of dashi granules (the fishy equivalent to a beef boullion cube), but it's really easy to make your own - especially if you skip the fish part.
Vegetarian dashi consists of only two ingredients:
Konbu is kelp. I buy it in packages labelled "dashi konbu", which means it's in the perfect size for throwing into a pot. In the vegetarian version, the shiitake mushrooms add a pleasant earthiness and depth of flavour to make up for the lack of dried fish flakes.
And you know what's even better? If you're in a rush, you can make the stock in about 10 minutes.
1. If you have a couple of hours on your hands, take one square of konbu and one shiitake mushroom.
2. Wipe the piece of konbu with a damp paper towel to remove some (though not all) of the white stuff on it. Then throw it and the mushroom into a pot of 4½ cups of cold water. Let it sit for 2 hours. That'll infuse the broth with even more of that pleasant seashore aroma that characterizes dashi.
3. Over high heat, bring the pot of water almost to a simmer. Keep it at this temperature for 4-5 minutes (don't let it boil!), then remove from heat and let sit a further 4-5 minutes. Remove and discard the konbu and the mushroom and voila! Dashi, ready for use.
If you only have 10 minutes, skip the 2 hour soak and proceed directly to step 3.
Yes. It is that easy.