It's getting cold out there.
I tried to get by the other day with a heavy sweater. And I mean heavy - this sweater is designed to be the only outerwear you need for temperatures down in the teens. It was plenty warm until I hit Michigan Avenue and Lake Street here in Chicago, and the wind whipped right through the tiny holes in the weave and right down to my bones.
A sweater and a good coat will keep your heat in, but on a really cold day, you also need to heat your down deep insides. Soup is the answer. Most winter soups are heavy affaris, but I don't always want a thick soup with cream and the like. Often, especially during the heavy-food-rich holidays, I like nice hot thin brothed soups with loads of vegetables to fill me up. Miso is ideal.
Most people think of miso soup as either something you get at the sushi place or in an instant packet. It's more natural form is as a paste made from soybeans and fermented rice or rice koji. I find mine at Whole Foods, but any natural foods or Asian/Japanese market should have it. I use yellow miso, but you can experiment with other types for different flavors.
While you shop for miso, look for konbu - or Japanese kelp/sea vegetable. This particular soup uses a purely vegetarian dashi (or soup base), but for a more traditional base, add bonito flakes - a form of dried fish - and strain from the broth before using.
Miso Soup with Vegetables
1 zucchini, cut into 1/2" wedges
2 cups broccoli, cut to bite sized florets and thinly sliced stems
3 small bundles rice noodles (one package)
9 cups water
10 square inches konbu/kelp
4 tablespoons yellow miso
4 scallions, sliced diagonally into 1" lengths
1 red thai chile pepper, sliced thinly and seeded
1 onion, diced 1/4"
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons sesame oil
scant pinch white pepper
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 package firm tofu
First, we make a basic dashi: Wipe the konbu/kelp with a barley moist towel. Do not wash. Place konbu in a bowl and cover with 9 cups of cold water. Let sit for one hour. Remove and reserve kelp, and strain water. This water is your konbu dashi.
Chop half the konbu into small 1/4" strips. Reserve rest of konbu for another recipe.
While the kelp is soaking, drain your tofu. I highly recommend using fresh tofu packed in water rather than the tofu packed in those aseptic containers that last forever. You'll have to make room in your fridge, but the fresh stuff is much easier to work with and tastes better, too. Press the tofu to squeeze some of the water out of it. I put down a layer of paper towels on a small plate, then the tofu, then another layer of paper towels, then another plate upside down and top it all with a marble pestle I have as a weight. You could use a medium sized book or a big can of tomatoes as a weight instead to gently push water out of the tofu.
Why do I press the tofu before cutting it up? If the water is pressed out, the tofu will be thirsty and will absorb the flavors of the broth much better. I always press my tofu before using it for at least fifteen minutes. You'll be shocked how much water you get out of a block.
In stockpot, heat sesame oil. When hot, add garlic and onion and sautee until onions are translucent. Add soy sauce and white pepper and stir throughly.
Add dashi/kelp water from first step.
Add zucchini, broccoli, chopped konbu, scallions, and chile pepper. Stir, and reduce heat to just a simmer. You don't want to boil this soup to death.
In a bowl, cover rice noodles with water to soak. You can also cut your tofu into 1/4" dice at this time.
Simmer for 15 minutes and test zuchhini and broccoli stems. Add tofu. Continue to cook until the vegetables are tender.
Once vegetables are tender, drain noodles, rinse lightly, and add to soup. Reduce heat to below a simmer and let sit five minutes.
Add miso and stir thoroughly to combine. You should not boil this soup after you add the miso.
Taste and adjust seasonings. You may even want more miso. Feel free to add lemongrass, lime, any other seasonings you like, though I like the subtle flavor the soup has as it is.
When thoroughly warmed, go find a snowdrift and jump into it.