Miso soup is a healthy, warming umami explosion, and incredibly easy to make. Want to win something quirky to cook it in? Read on.
There is nothing like moving to make you take all your shit out of your closets. And there is really nothing like taking all your shit out of your closets to make you finally second-guess that smug attitude of yours about other people’s conspicuous consumption. Smug, it turns out, does not look as great as you thought in those $250 jeans you failed to return after three years, or in your husband’s Jesus Christ, Is It A Bathing Suit Or Shorts from high school. Not so great, let me tell you. Not so great.
When you move three weeks after the earthquake in Haiti, it’s especially hard to feel good about teaching your kids fancy new grown-up words as you repeatedly bruise your knees on the corners of unopened moving boxes. It’s hard, even, to find the good in feeling bad about that.
I’m still working on that one. In the meantime, I’m making pot law jokes and doing my best to become known around my new town as That Lady from Freecycle. The one they’d never heard of a month ago. The one whose two-story cat perch and second blender and tempered glass computer desk they now count among their own possessions. The one, though, who held out on them when it came to this beautiful, time-worn French copper pot from the now-extinct Sur La Table collection. She wanted to give it to someone she felt like she already knew. Someone she’d fed in the Umami Kitchen. Maybe someone such as yourself.
Among many other family meals sourced from near and far, this pot has made more than a few servings of miso soup in its day. If ever a food could cure the paradoxical ills of over- and under-consumption in one steaming bowl, miso soup might be just the one for the job.
Like many Japanese dishes, miso soup starts with dashi, a simple broth of simmered kombu (an umami superstar among dried sea vegetables) and dried bonito flakes. To make the dashi into miso soup, you simply add a heaping spoonful of miso (a fermented soy—and sometimes rice or barley—product) and whatever vegetables, starches and proteins you like. If you’ve never cooked with these ingredients before, don’t be intimidated. The process is very simple, and the results are very good. You’ll often hear people who grew up eating Japanese food talk about miso soup as the ultimate comfort food. Although I didn’t grow up with it, I couldn’t agree more. It’s a wholesome, holistic take on comfort, one that soothes both with its deep, rich flavors and with its obvious nutritive benefits.
So. A genuine soup recipe for a genuine pot. This pot does not come in a svelte new box or with a shiny manufacturer’s warranty, but it does come with a piece of my heart and my home and a respectable measure of culinary history. If you think any of that would make you happy, I’d really like you to have it. For a chance to win, leave a comment letting me know what is the first dish you’d want to cook in this storied pot before midnight on Monday, March 8, 2010. I’ll choose the winner at random from the valid entries to be announced in next week’s post.
Adapted from JustHungry.com, which is a great place to learn about Japanese food. Serves 2.
1 4-inch-square piece kombu
4 cups cold water
1 handful bonito flakes
1/2 cup diced silken tofu
2 Tablespoons shiro miso paste
Sliced scallions, for garnish
Optional: sliced wild mushrooms and baby spinach leaves, or really whatever else your little heart desires
1. Place the kombu in a medium pot. You don’t need to rinse it, even if the package says you do (Maki at Just Hungry suggests you don’t rinse it, because the white powder on the outside is full of umami.) Pour in the water. Let sit for at least 20 minutes, ideally overnight.
2. Bring the water with the kombu in it to a boil. When it boils, turn down the heat and let it simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Then turn off the heat and add the bonito flakes. Let steep for 10 minutes, then strain the broth into a clean pot and return to a low boil. Ladle out about a quarter cup of the broth into a small bowl and reserve.
3. If you are adding any ingredients that need to cook for more than a minute or so (mushrooms, for example, could use about 5 minutes to simmer), add them now. When they are nearly done, add the diced tofu and any other ingredients, such as baby spinach, that need just a few seconds of cooking.
4. Into the small bowl of reserved broth, whisk in the miso paste with a fork until there are no lumps. Pour the miso mixture into the pot and stir to combine. Remove from the heat after just a few seconds—miso does not like to be overcooked. Ladle into bowls and serve.