Thursday, April 2, 2009

Soups On

Since yesterday's post was obviously not the healthiest, or the best representation of my attempts to lighten my load for summer, here comes a perfect example of my favorite go-to meal for those warmer, but not-quite-hot spring days. I love miso soup during this time of year because it's as light as a soup can get without sacrificing flavor or balance. The broth is light but salty and slightly fishy thanks to its base of dashi broth and miso paste. The tofu helps to add a bit of protein, while mushrooms give the soup a little more depth and some meaty bite. Green onions round out the traditional ingredients by adding pungent flavor and some necessary crunch. You're not left over-heated or stifling, but refreshed and pleasantly filled, especially if you eat them with a nice plate of salted edamame or a side of sauteed baby bok choy.

Miso soup is a nice cheap soup to make, although an authentic and classic one requires some specific, albeit inexpensive ingredients. They're all under $3, last forever in your pantry or fridge, and are good for many, many servings (I get at least 6 huge pots of soup out of all the ingredients). And just because a few ingredients may be unfamiliar to you, doesn't mean that it's time consuming or difficult. In essence, all you're doing is boiling everything in a large pot of water for a few minutes to create what is called "dashi" broth. A proper dashi (which you may have seen Masaharu Morimoto make several times if you're an Iron Chef fan) is made up of two main ingredients: kombu (seaweed) and bonito flake. Bonito flake comes from what is essentially a dry, aged fish (not unlike the process used to make salt cod) that is then flaked off and packaged as a base for stock. It's the bonito flake that gives miso soup it's slightly fishy taste, while the kombu gives it that sea-like salinity. Once you've boiled those in water and removed them (about 10 minutes for the kombu and just 5 for the bonito flake) you have your dashi broth, and all that's left is to stir in the miso paste.

Voila, you've made your miso soup, and now you can throw in your favorite ingredients to make it as hearty as you'd like. I always make a point of having tofu, shiitakes and scallions, but there's a myriad other ways to finish a soup like this off. It's great for using up leftover greens, chicken, and shrimp, not to mention soybeans, broccoli and cabbage. The entire process takes less than 30 minutes and makes for excellent leftovers. You can also save time and money by taking advantage of your local Asian market. I like to buy dried shiitake mushrooms and keep them in my pantry, so all I have to do is reconstitute them by soaking in hot water until plump. And as a bonus, you can reserve the leftover mushroom stock and use it as you would vegetable stock, for soup, gravy or risotto. They're about 3 bucks for what would equal at least 20 dollars worth fresh, so it's definitely a great deal. Here's the basic recipe for the miso soup broth, feel free to take it and make ti your own:

Basic Miso Soup

6 cups of water
1 piece kombu (about 2-3 inch long piece), wiped with a damp paper towel
1 5 gram packet of dried bonito flake (about 1/2)
3 Tbsp shiro miso paste (white miso)

1. Bring kombu and water to a boil in a pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove kombu with tongs and discard. Add bonito flake and simmer for 5 minutes, then remove with a strainer or strain through a fine mesh sieve and return dashi stock to pot. 

2. Combine miso paste in a large bowl with 1 cup of hot dashi broth and stir or whisk until miso paste is dissolved. Add mixture to pot and stir to combine. Add any additional ingredients and serve. Enjoy! 


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