Thursday, 3 November 2011

SmartCooks Miso Soup

November 2011

SmartCooks here.   Miso Soups

As the cold weather approaches, thoughts turn naturally to warm soups. I fondly remember that the only thing that got me through the Japan trips and my unfortunate experience at ordering food was miso broths.  The Just Hungry website gave me ideas on what I wanted to do so here is the SmartCooks versions.   

Miso soups fit in with my focus on Bentos, sushi rice, and smaller, lighter, mostly vegetarian food, I've researched and tried a series of miso soups.  Besides, I have a frig full of 3 types of miso. Why? I needed a bit for a Bento Box recipe, was in Herb and Spice and found 3 types, didn't know which one I would need, so naturally bought all three. 

((An aside .... I love making soups, have been doing so for the past few years as soon as it gets cold.  I make my own, no sodium, vegetable stock.  If I need chicken or beef stock, Glebe Meat Market and Saslov's both make good, organic, no sodium, hormone-free stocks but I've found it 50-50 in terms of finding them there when I need them so I stock up (pun intended) when I can.  My favourite soups to make are 5-mushroom with tarragon and sherry OR butternut squash with apple and celery OR curried zucchini OR carrot, ginger, and orange.  I've made and brought soup along to dinner with friends. They freeze very easily.  All will be featured in the coming weeks.))

So, back to miso soup or "miroshiru".  I have two types of miso in my frig:  red and white.  Red is a dark reddish brown, and is supposed to be saltier and stronger in flavor.  White is more popular and more versatile.  It can be white or white-yellow (called blended). Miso is based on a basic dashi stock, which is used in Japanese cooking. You can buy instant dashi (like bouillon cubes) but of course they are higher in sodium.  So.... a plug for making it from scratch. PLUS, unlike my experience making vegetable or chicken stock, Japanese dashi stock can be made quickly. 

Traditional Dashi Stock
There's just two basic ingredients: 

-- One is dried kombu seaweed, a dark, tough looking seaweed that comes in large sheets and is cut into smaller pieces;

-- The other is bonito flakes (called "katsuo bushi"), a type of fish.

To make 4 cups of stock would take 4 cups of water, mixed with a 4 inch square of kombu and a cup of bonito flakes.  There's more how-to-dos on the Just Hungry website. 

Vegetarian Dashi Stock

My focus will be on the vegetarian/vegan form of dashi stock, which is my preference.  The stock can either be kombu with water based or kombu with shitake mushrooms and water.  Again, the latter is my preference. 

The directions are straightforward and will produce a light brown coloured dashi with an shiitake flavor:
- Soak kombu in water in a closed container overnight in the fridge (minimum half an hour) e.g., a 12" long piece of kombu in about 8 cups of filtered water.
- Bring the dashi up to a simmer (not a full boil), then take out the kombu. The soaked kombu can be cooked further until soft. 
- To increase the flavour, add a couple of dried (never fresh) shiitake mushrooms in the water, soak for at least a couple of hours, or until the shiitake are quite soft.  

Basic Miso Soup with My Preference for Additions

The websites stress that the miso is always added last.  It should not be overboiled. The only exception they note is perhaps putting baby spinach in right after the miso.  The miso most recommended for miso soup is white or blended white-yellow.  Not red. 

I've put two versions that I have tried and liked.  There are of course endless variations on what to add to miso soup (e.g., chicken, julienned daikon radish and/or cabbage, shrimp, corn, spinach, greens, tofu, green onions etc.).
(Note:  Eventually I will replace the pix with my own versions when I figure out the proper good quality camera to use. In the meantime, I will always credit where I find them.)

1) Zucchini Vegan Miso Soup 

- 4 cups of vegan dashi stock
- 1 cup zucchini, cut into thin strips (about 1 small zucchini)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup white or blended miso

Bring the dashi stock to a boil, and add the zucchini. Simmer until the zucchini is tender, about 5 minutes.

Put the miso into a small cup. Add a little of the hot dashi stock, and mix around until the miso is dissolved into a smooth paste.  Add to the soup. Taste the soup, and add a little more miso if it seems too weak for you. Bring the soup back up to heat, then switch off. Serve immediately.

2)  Grilled Eggplant and Mushroom Miso Soup

- 4 cups of dashi stock
- 1 slim Chinese or Japanese style eggplant (can use Mediterranean but slice it thinner and in chunks)
- 4 to 5 medium sized mushrooms, or 2 large ones
- 1 or 2 ginger shoots (if you don't have shoot, use finely julienned ginger root)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup white miso

Keep vegan dashi stock warm.  Preheat grill pan until it's very hot. Slice the eggplant into round slices. Slice the mushrooms to about the same thickness as the eggplant.

Line the grill pan with the mushrooms. (There's no need to oil the pan, the mushrooms will not stick.) Grill on both sides until they are marked with grill lines and have shrunken a bit. Toss them into the dashi soup stock and simmer. 

Grill the eggplant slices in the same way, and put into the dashi soup. Continue simmering until the eggplant is tender, about 10 minutes. (You add the mushrooms first because they take longer than the eggplant to cook.

Chop the green part of the ginger shoots very finely.  Add the miso to the soup.  Serve immediately, garnished with the chopped ginger shoots or julienned ginger root.

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