Monday, January 3, 2011

winter miso soup

With such frigid weather in the whole country right now (it snowed here in Las Vegas last night!), I am inclined to share a recipe that has warmed and soothed me many times in recent weeks. It is a hearty, rich miso soup that showcases sauteed onions and healthy vegetables of your choice. If you like French onion soup, but like me never indulge in it because it is way too rich (and not vegetarian/vegan), you should consider this option, because it offers a reminiscent fullness of flavor.

Most people have tried miso in soups at Japanese restaurants, but perhaps don't know much about it. It is a fermented flavoring paste that has been used in Asia for thousands of years. Typically made from soybeans, miso can also be made from other legumes or grains, or a combination. There is a true art and inventiveness to miso production, and each variety has its own distinct color, texture, and flavor. And miso is incredibly healthful. Since it is a fermented food, it has live enzymes which help digestion and assimilation. It is high in protein, contains vitamin B12, and in general it is considered a very healing, tonic food that promotes longevity.

In restaurants that serve miso soup, I find it is always the same. The same brown color paste is used, and it is always served with raw tofu and green onions. Of course, the traditional preparation should be respected, but miso is very adaptable and creativity is rewarded. Luckily, if you go to the health food store, you will likely find quite a few varieties to experiment with; like white, red, or yellow, and barley or rice varieties. Make sure that whichever miso you choose is unpasteurized. The photo below shows the ones I have right now.

A good rule of thumb is to take advantage of lighter miso in warmer weather and darker miso in cold weather. So for the soup I made today I went straight to some of Stefanie's black Hatcho Miso. As for vegetables, I like to use spinach, and I am really a big fan of mung bean sprouts in my miso soups lately. So I prepared a few days ago by sprouting some mung beans in my sprouting tray. You will see from the photo that these don't look much like the mung bean sprouts they sell at the grocery store. Those sprouts are grown to a much longer length, and the hulls are removed. From what I have read, sprouts actually have maximum nutrition when the tails are short. So I use them at that point. Hulls are removed because they can start to rot over time, but this isn't something that is going to happen in the couple of days needed to grow short ones. (By the way, if you are interested in sprouting, you should try it. It is very easy. You don't need a fancy tray either.)

So for the soup, I use these sprouts, onion, and spinach for my vegetables. I use the dark miso, and I add a dollop of sesame butter for creaminess. Stefanie taught me that miso should never be boiled because the beneficial enzymes are fragile and will be destroyed. So in the recipe you will see that the miso is mixed in to the soup pot at the end.

1 tsp. sesame or olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
1 cup of spinach, chopped coarsely, and 1 cup of mung sprouts
an equal amount of thinly sliced vegetables of your choosing
2-3 cups of broth or water (use low or no salt broth, since miso is salty)
1 or 2 T. miso (with strong Hatcho Miso, I use 1 T.)
1 T. sesame or another kind of nut butter (optional but highly recommended)

In a medium saucepan, saute onions in oil until they begin to turn translucent. Add the other vegetables, and saute until tender. Add the broth or water and the nut butter, cover, and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove a few tablespoons of broth from the pot and mix well with the miso. Stefanie suggests using the magic bullet for this step if you have one. Turn off the heat under the pot and then add the miso mixture. Cover the pot and let the soup sit for a few minutes so the miso gets warm before serving. Serves 2.