Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Miso soup, my way



Miso soup: comforting; warm; and importantly - cheap.

A simple cup of miso soup and a conbini onigiri is probably the cheapest (and perhaps healthiest) lunch you can grab on the run in Japan. Miso soup is usually made with dashi (fish stock), miso, and something else - maybe a bit of wakame (seaweed) or negi (Japanese leek - my favourite), or sometimes tofu or clams. In Washoku, the author gives a recipe for dark miso soup with sweet potatoes. Two weeks ago or so, I bought an admirably large specimen - sweet potatoes in Japan can feed a family of four, if need be. Then I did some stuff, and some other stuff happened, and I got a bad cold, and I didn't cook much, I just lay around the apartment and survived on chocolate chip melonpans. (Colds respond nicely to chocolate chip melonpans - they don't cure you, but they make you feel better about things) And the sweet potato waited patiently for me, in the bottom of my cupboard. When I finally felt better, I opened up my cupboard, and took it out, with every intention of following the recipe in Washoku.

But all that non-cooking had gotten to me, and I felt the need to mess around with stuff, so I came up with my own recipe, inspired by that one. I call it "My Way Sweet Potato Miso Soup", because I'm sure if I fed this to a Japanese person, they'd be surprised. You don't want to mess around with miso soup on a Japanese person, it's upsetting to them. It's like, if you were making a peanut butter sandwich for a kid, and you went and added - I don't know - slices of chocolate cake. Or brownie chunks. You know, they'd eat it, and they'd definitely enjoy it. They might even ask for another one. But you'd be hard pressed to get that kid into agreeing it was a peanut butter sandwich.

So here it is. I had some small-batch miso (hatcho and aka) from a small soybean shop in Takayama that had a nice depth of flavour. But if you have regular miso on hand, that's fine too. Don't worry about it too much. I also had some chili oil made from Takayama chilis and some of the shichimi togarashi I got there, as well, that I used as a garnish.

My home-made chili oil:
My Way Sweet Potato Miso Soup

4 cups sweet potato, diced
4 cups dashi (or meat stock)
1 Japanese Leek (negi) thinly sliced, or three green onions
4 tbsp. miso (I used two hatcho; two aka)
3 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. mirin (or a few pinches of sugar at the end)
1 tbsp. soy sauce (use the good stuff, please - no V-1!)

Peel and cube your sweet potato. In Japan, they're yellow inside, and susceptible to discoloration, but the orange ones available in Canada should be fine. In a big soup-making pot, heat the sesame oil, then saute the negi in the oil until they go limp. Add the miso, and cook it stirring to prevent burning for another three minutes or so. Add the mirin and soy sauce, and a little sake if you have it on hand. Toss in the sweet potato, and stir it around to coat it in the miso mixture. Let this cook for a few minutes, just to get the miso flavour into the potato a little. Then add your dashi, and lower the heat. Cover the pot, and let the soup simmer until the potatoes are soft all the way through. Then blend it smooth with a food mill or immersion blender or similar. Or don't - just mash the potato up a bit with a fork to thicken the soup.

I garnished my soup with sprinkles of shichimi togarashi, shredded negi that had been soaked in cold water for 10 minutes to take out the harshness, and swirls of homemade chili oil. We ate our soup with bowls of rice mixed with sesame seeds (a la Soup Stock Tokyo) and tsukemono, but this would go well with fresh bread, too.

I have a lot more to say on the subject of sweet potatoes. I will post more about them later.

As for the miso, you might be looking at this recipe and thinking, "Wow, it looks good, but do I really need a tub of miso lurking at the back of my fridge for months and me with only one recipe for it?" Fear not, kids. I will post about more fun things to do with miso. Stay tuned.

(And for my friends in Korea - you can use Deonjang as a miso substitute. Not that you cook, or anything.)

36 comments:

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