Saturday, January 9, 2010

Miso soup, of a sort

As usual, the fridge was empty, the cabinets were bare, and it was dinnertime. We tend to have some basics lurking in corners, a few carrots, some ginger, noodles... And what better to do with odds and ends than soup? With Tampopo in mind, I set about to make something tasty, simple and filling.

It began, as most soups do, with a pot of water. I used my dutch oven for the heck of it, about half full of water (6 cups). Into this I chopped one onion, about an inch of ginger (would have used more if I had it, ~2") and four cloves of garlic. After letting it boil for at least half an hour, I strained out the bits, and put the broth back on the stove with the heat off.

Meanwhile, in a blender I had been working on the miso. First I squeezed a lemon, retaining the skins, and put the juice along with a large (1/2 cup+) spoonful of red miso paste into the blender. I used the lemon skins to grate some zest and set it aside. I also chopped some dried kelp and set this aside, as well. Then I added the strained out onions, garlic and ginger bits to the blender as well as a splash of vermouth (because it made more sense than soy sauce (overwhelming) or water (thinning), and because I didn't have sake, which would have been more appropriate). [Blend] You could also use some of the broth, but make sure you have enough left in the pot for cooking the veggies in the next step. The broth is not strong on its own, but there should be about 6 cups left by the end step. I added water twice during the cooking process.

While everything was blending and cooking I also prepped some rice noodles (vermicelli style) and chopped a cube of tofu. Note that as a component in this soup the tofu pretty much tastes like plain tofu. I like it this way, and it's traditional in miso soup. The noodles soaked in a bowl of warm water for ~10 minutes. They don't need to be completely soft, as they will finish cooking when added to the soup.

At some point I managed to get two chopped carrots and about a 1/4 head of cabbage into the broth on the stove and turned it back on for a few minutes, maybe 5. The cabbage got a little overdone in my case, and could be replaced with a different green soup veggie, possibly bok choy or some such.

Check list:
-Soup base: broth + carrots + cabbage
-tofu squares
-rice noodles
-blended miso mixture
-chopped kelp
-lemon zest

To assemble: I used a couple of conical bowls, which meant that things stayed in the order I added them in instead of spreading out across the bottom of a wider bowl. First about a cup of tofu cubes went in (mine were largish), then a handful of noodles, then several ladles of soup to fill to the top with hot broth (ideally there should be a good pile of veg, but not so much that they emerge more than 0.5 cm from the broth . On top of this I spooned a generous helping of the miso mixture (er, 1/4 - 1/2 cup?), then a sprinkling of kelp and lemon zest and voila! a rather pretty bowl of soup.

Of course, the whole shebang should be at least partially stirred up before eating, or you'll get all your miso in one bite. It should be mixed into the soup on the table to create a new broth. Miso cannot be cooked or it will die a horrible horrible death.

~ ~ ~

In retrospect, and if I had my choice of ingredients, I wouldn't change much. I might ditch the onion in the beginning for some shredded spring onion on top, and find something more pleasant than cabbage. There was also a vote for soba noodles instead of the rice noodles I used. The lemon really makes this dish, so don't you dare go using bottle lemon juice. Tsk.