One of the reasons I really wanted to consult my friend Stacey about Japanese food is that I have been wanting for years to try my hand at miso soup. I have a recipe book on Japanese cuisine, but although it has many soup recipes none are that basic standard of every Japanese restaurant I have ever visited: miso soup. When in Chicago, I regularly stock up on the powdered version available in my favourite health food store (Sherwyn's) and I have even gone so far as to buy a packet of the miso paste...but then I am stopped dead in my tracks. What next?!?
So I told Stacey about my goal when we visited the Japanese grocery store and she made sure I got all the right ingredients. Whew.
It turns out that Miso soup is not only incredibly delicious, but incredibly easy to make. On Stacey's advice (combined with the cryptic instructions on the box of miso paste) here is the recipe.
My Miso Soup (home-made - yippee!!)
2 strips of konbu (dried seaweed, cut in big pieces)
1/2 cup katso-bushi (or at least this is what I assume it is from the recipes I have read; the smell and look are consistent with dried tuna flakes - I just bought what Stacey told me to get!)
5 cups water
a small bunch of enoki mushrooms
2 small bunches of certified organic Alaria dried seaweed, purchased at Sherwyn's some time ago in the vague hope I would some day learn about miso soup
silky tofu (to taste - didn't put in too much as the Critic doesn't like it)
4 green onions/scallions
Soak the konbu in the water for at least half an hour to bring out the maximum amount of flavour. Bring to the point of nearly boiling and remove from heat. Remove konbu from broth. (The Epicurious recipe I looked at afterwards said "reserve (it) for another use" - no idea what would that be?) Add the fish flakes and bring back to the boil; cook for a few minutes. Strain the broth and return to the heat. Add the alaria seaweed (cut in bite-sized morsels), the tofu (ditto), the onions (chopped finely) and the mushrooms (ditto). Cook for 15-20 minutes, to allow the seaweed to expand and the flavours to mix. Just before serving, add 1 heaping Tbs (55g) of miso paste.
Some more information on the ingredients:
The konbu is cut in long, thickish strips and looks fairly tough. I'm not sure what else you would use it in, but now that I know you CAN, I'll try tasting a bit the next time I use it.
The fish flakes are weird and smelly. The sell-by date on them is 04.12.16. (!)
The alaria has a variety of uses, according to the back: you can soak it over night and use it in a salad, add it to soups, blanch it, roast it or fry small pieces as a snack. I was pretty happy with it in the soup. It claims on the back to be "an excellent substitute for Japanese Wakame" and it really was very nice.
The enoki mushrooms were a bit hit. The Critic even admitted that they were very nice (although he hastened to add that I shouldn't put in more next time as it was just fine as is). Stacey tells me that mushrooms are always cooked in Japan. The idea of putting raw sliced mushrooms on a salad is an alien concept.
Miso paste comes in many different varieties. The ones with yellow labels tend to be sweeter and the ones with red labels more savoury. In fact a lot of the comments Stacey made about foods seemed to come from the color of the food or label involved. When we were in the pickled foods section, her comments ran along the lines of "well, the red ones are okay, but we didn't like the yellow ones and these orange ones - they are daikon - are pretty good..." I don't know if this tendency to recognize food by color is Japanese or expat-confronted-with-Japanese or (most likely) both.
Tofu also comes in many guises and fried tofu is also used in miso soup. However, Stacey recommended the silky variety (which is what you get in most restaurants) and I thought it was great. It has a lovely texture to go with soup.
So there you have it: My Miso Soup. It was so good I might even make it again tonight; it's certainly much better than those little envelopes of freeze-dried soup. I have a huge tub of miso to finish up in the next few weeks - I'll have to ask Stacey if it freezes well!