Saturday, 22 September 2012

Miso Soup

Yesterday marked the unofficial end of summer. Yesterday we... reluctantly turned the central heating on. Mind you, it was only for one hour, but still; it was switched on. For me, that is a sure sign that winter is on its way. Nights are drawing in earlier, the wind is gustier, the air, crisp and autumnal. And it's cold. Sadly the time has come to say bye to the BBQ and hello to hot chocolate. 

Typical winter food is hot, hearty, filling but often stodgy. One of my favourite things to eat when I need warming from the inside out is simple, comforting, hot soup. Every cuisine has its own soup recipes. They are so easy to make, can be a good way to use up left over veg, and are mostly very good for you. 

This week I decided to expand my soup repertoire and try making Japanese Miso soup. It is such a healthy soup, there is hardly any fat in it at all. Miso soup is comprised of a hot miso broth poured over noodles and lightly stir fried veg. (To make it even healthier, and to save on the washing up, you could even skip stir frying the veg and keep them raw allowing the broth to cook them gently). If you have never tried miso, you must! It has a distinct, unique savoury flavour, and is found in lots of delicious Japanese food. Nowadays it is really easy to get hold of miso paste; often is comes in sachets made specifically for miso soup. I bought a tub from the supermarket, an investment for those cold wintery days when you need something simple, easy to prepare and delicious to eat. 

This is my version of the soup, but really it is just the broth that makes it miso soup. You could vary the vegetables according to what you've got, swap the tofu for meat or seafood, and even leave out the noodles if you want to make it an even lighter dish.

Miso Soup (serves about 6 people)

Miso broth:
2tbsp miso paste
2tsp/2 cubes vegetable stock
soy sauce (to taste, you will need at least 1tbsp)
approx 2 to 3 litres of water
Simply dissolve the miso, vegetable stock and soy sauce in the water and leave to simmer until the other components of the soup are ready. 

Vegetables, tofu and noodles:
1/2 leek, roughly chopped
1 red onion finley sliced
3 large garlic cloves roughly chopped
2 courgettes, chopped into thick chunks
8 or 9 (a supermarket box) shitake mushrooms cut into thick slices
approx 100g (half a pack)fresh spinach, roughly chopped
a good handful bean sprouts
soy sauce
1 pack firm tofu, cut into large cubes
250g noodles (I like soba, but you can use whichever variety you want)
3 spring onions, chopped finely to garnish

Stir fry the the leek and onion in a table spoon of oil for 1 minute. Add the garlic, courgettes and mushrooms and continue frying for another minute or 2. Pour in a generous splash of soy, stir in with the heat still on. Turn off the heat and add the vegetables to the soup. 

(Or if you are serving the soup later, just decant the veggies into a large bowl). Add in the spinach and bean sprouts. (Or sit them on top of the stir fried veggies if you are serving later, so that they don't cook). 
It is important not to let the vegetables cook too much, as once they are in the hot broth they will soften immensely. If they are cooked too much, they will be soggy and unpleasant to eat. As I said earlier you can even not cook the vegetables at all, and simply let the broth cook them slightly for you.

It is also unnecessary to cook the tofu. However if you like crispy tofu you can fry it in hot oil. (Top tip: pat the tofu dry with a paper towel before frying to ensure a really crispy finish. Also, water and oil do not mix well. Patting dry the tofu before frying is a safer way of cooking). 

Finally, cook your noodles according to the packet instructions. Once cooked, drain and rinse using cold water to stop them cooking any further.

To assemble the soup:

Place a portion of noodles in a bowl. Add the vegetables and tofu to the hot broth, and ladle generously over the noodles. Garnish the dish with a good sprinkling of spring onion. (Don't think the spring onion is a superfluous decoration. No. It is an important finishing touch that will add crunch and freshness).

And that's it! Simple, and delicious. 

To make a real meal of it, I made these Chinese Dumplings as a starter. However, this time I used a different filling mixture.

Mushroom, Spinach and Sesame seed:

8 or 9 chestnut mushrooms, chopped finley

100g (half a pack) spinach, chopped finley
2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
soy sauce
shaoxing rice wine vinegar
toasted sesame oil
handful of sesame seeds

Start by stir frying the mushrooms in a wok, add the garlic after about a minute and continue to stir fry on a high heat until most of their liquid has evaporated. Add a good splash of soy and the vinegar (adjust to taste later). Then toss in the spinach and sesame seeds. Cook until most of the liquid has disappeared. Turn off the heat and drizzle in a little sesame oil. 

So that was my delicious feast from the east. A warming, healthy and delicious way to ease into the winter months.

Until next time...

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