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Miso Soup...

(28/6/2005)

I developed this recipe for miso soup with buckwheat noodles over the last few weeks, and pretty much eat it every day now.

I used to buy little sachets of miso soup that you just added boiling water to in a cup. I enjoyed those, but Gary the macrobiotic dancer reckons they're not as good as making your own, so I bought a jar of Japanese brown rice miso and started making simple miso soup by boiling a little finely sliced fresh ginger and spring onion with a few strands of dried Hijiki (a Japanese seaweed) and then stirring in some miso.

On Gary's advice, I've not been cooking the miso, but boiling the other ingredients and then adding the miso at the end.

Gradually, I've added more vegetables: sliced red pepper, sweetcorn freshly sliced off the cob, and a little roughly chopped lettuce. I guess you could use any other vegetables, but I find these work well. A little finely cubed tofu goes well too.

The trick with all of these items is to have a little of them (especially the seaweed - it swells up and can overpower if you're not careful.) You want more soup than vegetables. The aim is to have miso soup with some vegetables and stuff in it, rather than vegetable soup made with a miso stock. Having said that, you can have a hearty amount of vegetables in this, as long as you don't have too much of any one ingredient.

The master stroke though - the thing that turns this soup into something quite unique - is the flat buckwheat 'soba' noodles. I have to get these from a health food shop, which is a pain, but they're really good. If you read what it says on the packet, you are supposed to cook them in some weird way involving several changes of cooking water, but ignore that. I've never cooked the soba noodles the way they suggest, but my guess is the changes of water are supposed to wash away the starchy stuff that comes out of them into the water. For this soup though, the starchy stuff is great: it adds a satisfying thickness.

(I'm afraid I don't have time for fussy cooking. If a recipe starts getting complex or time-consuming, I either move on to another, or try to find a way round it. That's also why I use hijiki seaweed rather than other types: because although you are again 'supposed to' soak it for 20 minutes, blah, blah blah, yawn, etc. - I've found you don't have to. Just bung it in. Also, hijiki has quite a mild taste that seems to be acceptable even for people who are not used to eating seaweed. I will experiment with other kinds of seaweed when I get around to it, but if they turn out to need the kind of preparation they say they do on the packets, I know I will simply not use them.)

Here's how to do it...

Put the noodles in a pan at the beginning along with a few strands of hijiki, and add boiling water. Chop and add the other ingredients in the usual order, i.e. items that take longest to cook first. The noodles will look as if they're dissolving in a scummy mess, but don't worry. Just turn the heat down so the pan doesn't froth over, and cover with a lid.

By the time you've added the last ingredient, the soup will be almost cooked. When the noodles seem soft enough to eat, turn off the heat and stir the miso in. It's easier to disolve it in a cup of soup first, and then add it back to the pan. Experiment with the amount, but don't skimp. This is 'miso soup' after all!

That's it. Serve it in bowls deep enough to be lifted to the lips and drunk out of. Eat the bits with a spoon or fork, quaff the liquid any way you like - and sigh contentedly.



Copyright 2005 Paul Mackilligin