Thursday, October 22, 2009

Veggie Might: Vegetarian Miso Soup

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

Hi Readers! I thought of you every time I went grocery shopping or cooked a meal over the last month. I’m so happy we’re back together.

Back in June of 2008, I wrote an article about hidden meat that can trip up vegetarians and vegans, warning particularly of fish and chicken stock in soups. Blinded by my own ignorance, and probably the good-faith assurance of some waiter at some restaurant in 1991, I’ve been contentedly slurping down fishy broth at sushi joints across America, alongside my avocado rolls and edamame.

God bless the child that knows it all.

Miso soup is not vegetarian. I stumbled on this shocker last winter while reading the charming Japanese home cooking blog, Just Hungry, and I’m just getting around to sharing it.

Luckily, the mourning period was short-lived. The blog’s author, Maki, clued me in and gave me a vegetarian alternative in one fantastic post. I chose not to dwell on the amount of bonito fish flakes I must have consumed over the last 18 years.

Miso soup is made from a standard Japanese soup base called dashi, which combines water, kombu (dried seaweed), and bonito (dried fish flakes). Dashi can also be made with shitake mushrooms added to the mix.

The vegetarian/vegan version is just dashi without the bonito flakes. Yes, just two ingredients: water and kombu seaweed. I was able to score kombu at a fantastic price from a Korean grocery near my office. You can also find kombu at gourmet markets, health food stores, and larger grocery stores with a Japanese foods section.

Making dashi is an overnight process, but the soup that follows is so easy, light, and flavorful, you will want to make it by the tanker truckload. However, I must advice against that. Miso doesn’t stand up well to boiling and should be served right away. Otherwise, it gets angry and bitter.

You can add whatever veggies you like to your miso soup. I used scallions and a few button mushrooms, along with strips of the soaked kombu instead of the traditional wakame seaweed. It turned out to be too tough, so I’ve left it out of the recipe. Play around and see what you come up with. It’s a whole new fish-free world.

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If you like this recipe, you might also like:

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Vegetarian Miso Soup with Mushrooms
Yields 6 1-cup servings
Adapted from Just Hungry.
LEIGH NOTE: Please excuse the camera phone picture. My camera and I took an accidental swim in Lake George (brrrrr!) while canoeing a couple weekends ago. Fingers crossed it will dry out yet.

8 cups cold water
1 12” strip of kombu (wide, black seaweed)

Miso soup
8 cups of dashi
1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
2 scallions, chopped (white and light green parts only)
1/4 cup yellow, white, or blended miso

The dashi part
1) Soak kombu in water overnight (or at least an hour) in the refrigerator.

2) Bring to a simmer in a large heavy bottomed pot for 5–10 minutes. Do not allow it to boil.

3) Remove kombu and discard. (Or it can be saved and cooked for other dishes if desired. It’s rather leathery, otherwise.)

The miso soup part
4) Add mushrooms and scallions to dashi. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes.

5) Ladle out about 1/2 cup of broth into a small bowl. Stir in miso until dissolved. Remove soup from heat and stir in miso mixture. Taste and repeat, adding more miso if desired.

6) Serve immediately alongside avocado rolls and edamame across America.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price per Serving
26 calories, 0g fat, 0.9g fiber, $.32

8 cups of dashi (12” strip of kombu + water): 0 calories, 0g fat, and 0g fiber, $.3

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