I do love where I live. Who wouldn’t? It is pretty and rural and full of healthy things like fresh air and country walks. But just sometimes I miss some of the things I used to able to pick up at a moment’s notice when I lived in Frankfurt or New York. Take miso soup, for example. It’s not something that turns up on my local supermarket’s shelves. Why not, I do not know. They have all manner of horrible soups to make up in a cup, the kind that always leave a powdery residue on the bottom of any cup and always taste the same whilst giving absolutely no nutrition whatsoever, no matter what flavour you buy. But no miso. When most of us were struck down with the dreaded flu, all we wanted to eat was a nice warm miso soup, but despite my rudely healthy husband (I have not got over that yet, I am the healthy one round here) kindly bringing back supplies from London, we just didn’t have enough to go round. From my sick bed I gathered the family around and vowed that as soon as I was fighting fit again I would experiment until I found a version that I could knock up quickly and painlessly in my own kitchen so we would never have to go without again. I am happy to report that I did just that and now luckily we can get back to enjoying the country walks without cursing the lack of miso soups. Now there is no way round it, even to make a make-do miso soup, you will need to get hold of some miso paste. Your choice which colour. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the colour the longer the product has been fermented for and therefore the stronger the flavour. I believe that in Japan the lighter pastes are generally used for soups in the warmer months and the darker ones for the winter months, but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. If you can’t get miso in your local shops, it is worth ordering it online. Unopened it keeps for months at room temperature, and even opened it stays fresh for ages in the fridge. As with the sauerkraut, it is a fermented product so to make sure you are getting all the health benefits possible you should try to ensure that you buy an unpasteurised version. Do that, and you’ll be adding benefits from all the gut friendly bacteria as well as the benefits from the nutrient, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory rich soy to your lunch or dinner time routine. Having said all that, I do find it hard to get hold of dashi, the Japanese stock used for the base and that is where I have had to improvise. I took a vegetarian approach as well. Traditional miso relies on using dashi made up with dried sardine flakes and this is obviously not going to be suitable for any vegetarians or vegans out there, and I see no reason why they should have to miss out. I used a good vegetable stock brought to the boil with a handful of shiitake mushrooms and as getting hold of kombu (or kelp another vital component of dashi) is also tricky around me, I threw in a ripped up piece of nori. Nori (or laver around here) is all sorts of sea vegetables which have undergone a process not dissimilar to making paper resulting in sheets of dark green that toast up lovely and that most people will recognise as the coating to many types of sushi rolls. Left in boiling water or stock it does disintegrate and does leave a wonderful deep flavour behind, which although some people will argue is far from authentic is a very good impersonation of the real deal. If you don’t fancy it, you’ll still get a very good result from the plain stock with the shiitakes, but I can promise you it is worth a go.
Make-Do Miso Soup Recipe
750g light good quality vegetable stock
1 sheet nori seaweed or kombu
A handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
1-2 tsps miso paste (your choice which colour)
70g spring greens or other dark green leafy veg (spring greens are my favourite)
4 spring onions
125g extra firm silken tofu, roughly diced
Firstly, make your make-do dashi. Bring the stock to the boil and throw in the ripped up nori (if using) with the dried shiitake. Simmer for ten minutes, then leave to steep for 30 minutes.
Strain through a sieve and reserve the liquid, and the mushrooms if you’d like to have them in the soup as well. If so, chop them up roughly.
Return the stock to the pan and bring to the boil then throw in the spring greens. Simmer for two minutes, then throw in the spring onions. Cook for a further minute, then take off the heat. Lightly stir in the tofu, leave for a minute or so to heat through, then you are ready to serve.
Seve in small bowls, ready to pick up and drink without ceremony.