Friday, March 5, 2010

Miso Soup for the Soul

Lately, things have been a bit frantic in my household. There are approximately 15 million decisions to make (give or take a thousand), and while the days are lengthening, they never seem quite long enough to accommodate my optimistic to-do lists. Some days, I throw my hands up and make a fancy dinner anyway, time be damned.

But on occasion I too want good food fast, and since the closest thing to convenience food in our house are rice cakes, it takes a bit of creativity to make a simple meal in short order. On Monday, however, we stumbled across a formulation that is almost as easy as ramen and infinitely more delicious: miso soup and wasabi peas.

We'd love to make our own miso, and Sandor Katz provides helpful directions in his awesome book Wild Fermentation, but we've not yet acquired the requisite koji grains to begin. Once we do, we'll need at least two months to ferment sweet miso, or a full year to make a traditional salty miso. So until then we are purchasing our miso at the local co-op, where we happened to find it absurdly on sale one week.

Miso is traditionally a soybean ferment, though you can make an unconventional miso out of pretty much any legume or even barley. The koji grains (which, unfortunately, you will have to purchase unless you like next door to a miso shop, where the mold might naturally exist) consists of rice inoculated with the spores of Aspergillus oryzae. Fermentation actually renders soy products far more nutritious to a human digestion system, as it turns complex proteins into simpler, more digestible amino acids. This is why so many Asian soy products--tempeh, tofu, tamari/soy sauce, miso--were fermented. In the West, however, we seem to have missed the memo, as the plethora of unfermented soy products touting great health benefits is long and varied. Considering the fact that the United States is the world's largest producer of soy beans (92% of which were Genetically Modified Round-up Ready seed in 2008), is it any surprise that soy gets stuck into practically anything?

If you'd like to avoid the GMO soy bandwagon, however, miso and other traditionally fermented products are the way to do it. They are not only good for you (miso contains an alkaloid that binds with heavy metals to carry them from your body), but they taste wholesome and healing like homemade chicken soup. And miso is SO much faster!

An important thing to remember when making miso is never to let it boil. Part of the nutrient value of miso derives from the living bacterial culture contained in the miso paste (rather like the healthy bacteria in yogurt). If you boil the soup, your subsequent soup will be dead.

At its simplest, miso soup can be made by mixing one cup of hot water with 1 tablespoon of miso. This is delicious, yes, but not quite substantial enough for me to consider it a meal.

MK's Miso Soup Meal
(serves 2)
N.B.: my measurements are approximations. Taste and add more or less stock as you like.

3-4 cup fish stock*
1 T tamari or soy sauce
2 T miso
1 carrot, finely diced
scallions, finely diced (optional)

Feel free to throw in other things if you have them: Chinese cabbage, diced daikon radishes, seaweed such as kombu or wakame instead of the fish stock, shitakes mushrooms, tofu, garlic, greens, tahini, or a dash of fish sauce. In other words, you can eat miso every day and it never taste the same...

Bring the fish stock to a boil, and add the carrot. Cook until soft. Remove from heat and let the stock cool down a bit. In a small bowl on the side, mix a few tablespoons of stock with the miso until fully combined. Add the miso and soy sauce and scallions back into the stock. Serve warm.

*We got fish heads from Dean and Deluca in New York City for free. And they were covered with extra fish meat, which we were able to pick off after we had made the stock and use late for fish cakes and whatnot. So wonderful, hearty fish stock can be yours for nothing more than a little bit of time and a slightly fishy smell in your kitchen.

Wasabi Peas
Oh man....I used to love those little morsels from Trader Joes: the blast of horseradish heat that fades away quickly into a crunch. But you don't have to buy them, I am happy to report--you can make them yourself in no time at all. Though, FYI, these will not be crunchy. This recipe is from my new Mollie Katzen cookbook The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without, which I highly recommend.

1-2 t unsalted butter
1 cup minced onion
1 lb green peas (defrost frozen peas in a colander with warm water)
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 T wasabi paste (it comes in little tubes at the grocery)
1 T olive oil
3 T water

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring often so that they don't burn. Add the peas and any salt and pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the wasabi in a small bowl and mash it with the olive oil. Add water by the tablespoon until the mixture becomes a supple sauce, pour this into the peas. Stir gently to coat. Turn the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook for 10 minutes.

The longer you let the peas sit after cooking, the more the flavors will milk. Serve warm.

1 comment:

LP said...

You add soy sauce? And konbu to eat? I was a little surprised by your fish stock suggestion - you should take that konbu and buy some shaved bonito to make your own dashi! Do you use white or red miso? I've been eating more of the red lately. And a dash of sesame oil is sometimes a nice addition. Oh, and I'm with you on the daikon. You should consider winter melon too for something a little less assertive.