Possession with Intent to Distribute

Miso soup is a healthy, warming umami explosion, and incredibly easy to make. Want to win something quirky to cook it in? Read on.

miso soupThere 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.

copper pot giveawayAmong 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.

Miso Soup

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.

  • I try my very first attempt at home-made pho… something that has been on my to-cook list, but never risen to the top.

    Also is it just me, or are there a lot of dissatisfied law school grads who have cooking blogs? (I noticed you graduated from Columbia, Amateur Gourmet went to Emory Law and this my second year currently hating NYU.ReplyCancel

  • Fantastic post, “Lady from Freecycle!” LOVE Miso soup, but have never attempted to make my own… I just may need to try…ReplyCancel

  • I think we’re not going to move just to avoid that emptying-out-the-closet thing.ReplyCancel

  • Elise

    I haven’t made a batch of Beef Bourguignon in years, and I mean YEARS, so that’s the first recipe I’d make using that wonderful pot.

    Thanks for a great (as usual) post.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah

    great post! :)

    there are so many things that come to mind when i think about what i’d like to make using that lovely pot, but first, i’d probably try my hand at french onion soup – something i’ve been meaning to make at home for a long time now…ReplyCancel

  • Henry

    …Carolyn, you just crack me up lady!

    I worship the schroom in all it’s forms! ha…. My tribe of friends love hunting and gathering, but I’m the only shooter… so check out just a few of my finds:
    …mostly taken in ME.

    Have you ever had: trompette de la mort ? …amazing how something so unappealing in appearance could taste so good!

    Also, my folks met in their journalism class at NYU, after the ‘big one’; dad saw her and said, “I’m going to marry that girl”; three dates later, they were engaged. Had their reception at T on the G – back in the day. Mom was 82 yesterday, and still a rock’n. So, some good came out NYU!ReplyCancel

  • slammie

    Hmmmm, hard to tell how big it is but I’m looking for a new pot to cook oxtails in….ReplyCancel

  • Caroline

    I would make this soup, of course! It’s so much more elegant than my version, which involves eating the kombu and has never been organized enough to actually have bonito flakes.ReplyCancel

  • What a beautiful pot. I’ve never had a copper pot. I would make Julia’s “Aigo Bouido” (Garlic Soup). Just got the book “the way to cook” from the library and I really want to try this soup. How can you resist a recipe that has “final liaison” as one of the steps in the ingredient list :) Thank you for having the giveaway.ReplyCancel

  • I would definitely make a batch of sweet potato soup in that gorgeous pot. I’ve been wanting to try it out for a while and this would give me a good reason :o)ReplyCancel

  • So many ideas, but I would have to try your miso recipe. Not inventive on my part but probably very healing for my familyReplyCancel

  • Lindsay

    I made miso soup last week and my recipe is nearly identical to yours! So I would make a butternut squash soup black bean soup as my first batch in that beautiful pot.ReplyCancel

  • Wow! This is absolutely gorgeous and well made.ReplyCancel

  • It’s so much fun to read your posts. Personality and wit really shine through.
    I’m not sucking up; I know the pot winner will be chosen at random! :)
    Although I would love to own this pot. I’m getting married this summer and fiancee is big on “we don’t need any more possessions” so a culinary tools-filled wedding registry isn’t appearing on my horizon. Not that that’s a bad thing.
    Anyway, 1st soup to make: definitely this miso soup. Have never made it before, and I can’t begin to think why not! Actually, I can. All of the kombu-dashi-bonito talk scared me a little. But you make it sound super approachable. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Henry

    Btw… as for the pot, I’m thinking Cassoulet or Paella, since the covered, all copper vessel would be perfect for cooking dishes traditionally intened to be oven-cooked with as even a surrounding heat source as possible.

    ….can’t wait!ReplyCancel

  • Lynda

    What a beautiful pot, pleasing to the eye and inviting me to make my delicious carrot soup recipe. Thank you, Carolyn, for the sentimental giveaway!ReplyCancel

  • Gosh, it’s so beautiful. I’m usually the type that makes a thick soup but that pot calls for a nice clear broth. I’d probably take a stab at Italian wedding soup, which though I never had in Italy, was a favorite of mine growing up, and the idea of which still makes my mouth water. What a sweet and thoughtful giveaway!ReplyCancel

  • Christine

    What a simple yet beautiful pot. How could you part with it? When I first skimmed the recipe the pot caught my eye, and when I read the post about the giveaway, I swooned just a little. I try to live simply (and you’re right – there’s nothing like a move to realize how much stuff you don’t need!) but a pot like this would have a place of honor in my kitchen. I’d make a luscious cream of mushroom soup…
    Oh, and I can’t wait to make miso this week – I’ve actually been trolling for a miso soup recipe, and it’s surprisingly hard to find one that uses the kombu and bonito. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Jaz

    I would make my Popo’s Jook.ReplyCancel

  • Rona

    What a lovely and generous gesture. Chicken soup would probably be the first thing I’d make but would love to try your miso recipe as it sounds so simple and delicious. Good luck to everyone and thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Amy

    What a great idea for a giveaway! I would want to make a hearty chili as a last shout-out to winter :).ReplyCancel

  • I’d probably make a potato leek soup. For some reason I always think of copper pots when making anything with leeks.ReplyCancel

  • Daphne

    Carolyn – What a beautiful pot – and, yes, I hang my head in shame for the 3 plus copper pots that need to be “refurbished” that are sitting in between our baskets of recycling – they are neither freecycled or recycled – or even cycled – they are stuck – but perhaps you have inspired some fresh movement. See moving isn’t such a bad idea :)ReplyCancel

  • Nick Neville

    My Daughter is coming home from college for a visit in three weeks. I would make her favorite Fettuccine Alfredo with crawfish tails. Sometimes I eat red Miso paste right out of the container, its good.
    Take CareReplyCancel

  • I made an okra stew for the first time recently. It was awesome, and gone way too fast, so I’m dying to try it again — given the proper pot and some decent okra at the market! ;-)ReplyCancel

  • I would work my way through Anna Thomas’ “Love Soup” cookbook with this pot.ReplyCancel

  • I’d probably make miso soup, because for starters, I’m always making miso soup, and because it just seems like a good idea for its new owner to carry on its history. Then I’d probably do a follow-up with some coconut rice pudding. Can’t break in a new pot without dessert!ReplyCancel

  • I’ll have a boeuf bourguignon showdown using Julia Child and Thomas Keller’s recipes. I think it just seems fitting to cook something so close to my heart as an appreciation for this lovely pot.ReplyCancel

  • christina manzur

    Lovely post! I think I’d make a spanish lentil soup first…and your miso recipe second!ReplyCancel

  • Hm. Depending on the size, two things come immediately to mind: polenta, and chicken-in-a-pot (or “poule en cocotte”, if you’re feeling French and fancy). Both are great classic comfort foods, the kind of thing that holds families together, and seems to befit a storied treasure like this.

    Plus, if I do polenta? I love the challenge of cleaning pots, yessir… ;)ReplyCancel

  • Oh man – the first thing I would do is make a coq au vin. Holy cow – I would LOVE this pot.ReplyCancel

  • erica

    Tried your recipe in my old le creuset and it was awesome. But my food share keeps giving me Jerusalem artichokes, in case you need ideas for future posts! In terms of your pot, one could do worse than to make risotto from freshly picked wild mushrooms or else plantain soup.ReplyCancel

  • Stephen Zaklukiewicz

    I for several months stayed at a friend’s farmhouse in the west of Scotland near the Firth of Clyde in the early 90s. It was a wonderful place, windswept and wild. My host, a recent widow in her mid 60s, still ran the farm, rearing sheep for the weaver as well as the butcher. I had some experience farming and I was happy to offer my labor. Despite being weary from what seemed like endless toil, she would find the time to prepare incredibly simple meals at the end of each day. One that remains with me is a fresh lamb stew with barley, carrot and potato simmered on stovetop in a simple, timeless and dented copper pot. I would like to take a shot at preparing that meal, replete with stories of the Picts, King Andrew’s Cross and Angus MacFergus, should I be so lucky to win your pot!ReplyCancel

  • Henry Doll

    c’mon….how do you compete with that one?
    (little dubious of the sheep though)

    OK, this is becoming too much fun, you should let this run for a while…. can we go in the direction of creative novella writtings?ReplyCancel

  • Thanks for all the great comments, everyone!

    Alison, I’ve noticed the same thing. The law-to-writing progression seems natural, but I’ve often wondered why the connection between law and cooking. It’s not just bloggers. Jeffrey Steingarten is a Harvard Law grad, Warren Brown (of Cake Love and Sugar Rush) was a lawyer, and several of the lawyers and staff at my former firm were former chefs, FCI grads, etc. (so the door swings both ways). Sorry you’re hating NYU. Feel free to email me if you want to talk.

    Henry, those photos are amazing. I’ve been wanting to try foraging for a few years but haven’t made it yet. Maybe this year!

    Caroline, bonito flakes are definitely worth the trouble. I don’t see a problem with eating the kombu, though, other than possibly passing out from joy. That could cut into your evening I guess.

    Anu, I love garlic soup but have never tried Julia’s. Richard Olney’s recipe, which I found on 101 Cookbooks, is excellent, but there is—alas—no final liaison.

    Jackie, thank you, you’re so sweet. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

    Erica, I love Jerusalem artichokes and will try not to hold it against you that your farm is already giving you anything at all. Expect a recipe!

    Stephen, that is a lovely story. I seriously hope you are planning to write something more than legal briefs at some point soon. Oh, and I’d like to edit the manuscript, please.ReplyCancel

  • Henry

    Carolyn, love your “brief” to all of us….

    I think it interesting the apparent connection between the law and food – could it be the comonality of the torts? My son in law graduated from St Johns, majoring in history and Eng Lit, then planned to go the CIA and ultimately write about food – he’s quite amazing in both arenas.

    Funny thing though, a few years post grad, he decided to bail on all those plans, enrolled at Touro full time, with an infant and one on the way, and came out the other side another member of the bar.

    Interesting pattern, I just may have to ask my daughter, as sr majoring in lit and anthropology, and just threw on the poly sci minor for good measure this year….what this may all say about a new emerging culture.

    Most of my lawyer friends, and it’s scary how many I have, are mostly also musicians, hmm…. but they’re all my age, so maybe it’s a generational thing.

    AND……………..we are all like defendants here, awaiting a decision from our very own ALJ in the matter of The Pot!ReplyCancel

  • […] it’s good for more than quick lunches at work. For those who want something hot in a hurry, miso soup brings a light, fast break to the hunger pains many of us find prevalent after a long day at the […]ReplyCancel

  • […] it’s good for more than quick lunches at work. For those who want something hot in a hurry, miso soup brings a light, fast break to the hunger pains many of us find prevalent after a long day at the […]ReplyCancel

  • […] it’s good for more than quick lunches at work. For those who want something hot in a hurry, miso soup brings a light, fast break to the hunger pains many of us find prevalent after a long day at the […]ReplyCancel

  • […] it’s good for more than quick lunches at work. For those who want something hot in a hurry, miso soup brings a light, fast break to the hunger pains many of us find prevalent after a long day at the […]ReplyCancel

  • I do believee all of the concepts you have presented on your post.
    They are very convincing and will defijnitely work. Still,the posts are too short for newbies.
    Could you please rolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you
    for the post.ReplyCancel

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