Friday, July 4, 2008

Miso For Candice.

If the friendship between Candice and I was a dish, it would be a laksa: confusing, spicy, dizzying, gloriously messy, sweet, salty, occasionally fishy, but damn, damn good. Most of the best and worst moments of my life were shared with this precious girl, including the first time I ever tried miso.

Candice went to live in Canberra, yeah, bitch, i know. She wrote to me the other day telling me that she was feeling pretty "ble", apparently she was so bleh she couldn't even be bothered with a needless H. Candice is a very intuitive girl, every time she is feeling a little weak or run down, she craves miso. She asked if I knew of a good recipe for this beautiful Japanese brothlike soup. The first time I tried it I was with her at the old Woodglen restaurant, an amazing vegetarian restaurant that once occupied the space of the now equally hallowed E Lounge. It was a great first experience, and it didn't hurt one bit. I'm not usually big on shoulds, but you really should learn to make miso from scratch, as most commercially available miso has MSG and other such crappities, which it shouldn't.

I was taught one of the multiple methods for miso making a few years ago by Sydney naturopath and culinary firecracker, Janella Purcell. It's a recipe I have changed a little to suit my taste, and a recipe I am still turning to years on. Miso is very interpretational, it can be part of a heartier vegetable soup to which you add as many components as you choose, it can also be used as a condiment in dressings and sauces. I prefer it in its simplest incarnation, as a sustaining, aromatic broth which strengthens my digestion and leaves me warm, nurtured, incredibly light and energetic afterwards. It is so restorative. 
Miso is a highly alkalising food. It contains live bacteria and enzymes and actually takes toxins from the system and draws them out and purges them. This is the reason that why, upon purchasing miso, you should remove it from its plastic container into a glass jar for storage in the fridge, as it will actually draw out and absorb the toxins from its original plastic container, just as it will draw out and absorb the toxins in your system. 

Don't let its deliciousness fool you, this is potent food, a highly healing, nurturative ingredient. With this in mind, purchase the best that you can find. Ideally organic, ideally preservative and sugar free, and ideally stored in a fridge in the shop (which means it is not pasteurized). Admitting, if you don't read fluent Japanese, deciphering labels can be hard. I usually go for a slightly pricer miso, one that is well aged will cost you more than a few dollars. The one I am currently using is from Simon Johnson, a wonderful providore who sources authentic imported products of impressive quality. 

The actual type of miso you use, hatcho, genmai etc is entirely up to your taste. Begin with the lighter coloured varieties if you're trying it for the first time, they are generally sweeter and less overpowering. This recipe makes the stock from scratch, it does so simply. This provides a fuller taste than dashi from a packet, and a more vital soup.
Grab the following ingredients:

1 bunch of fresh coriander, with roots intact, ideally
1 knob of young ginger
3-8 shiitake mushrooms, dried
kombu sticks
wakame and/or arame
bonito flakes (chicken stock can be used instead, or just water)
1 cob corn
1 leek/onion
tamari
firm tofu
shallots

In a soup pot, sautee finely sliced coriander root and sliced leek/onion in a little olive oil, add some grated ginger, also a thick slice of ginger (i like mine very gingery, adjust for yourself). Add the corn kernels, sautee further. Add 6 cups of water, 1/2 cup bonito (dried fish flakes), the shiitake mushrooms, one big stick of kombu. Allow all this to simmer on a low heat for 30-40 mins, you can rush through this stage on a higher heat, but the flavour will be more subtle if you take it slowly

Once the shiitakes are soft, remove them, slice them, cut the stem away and discard (they are poisonous), add sliced shiitakes back to pot. Remove the kombu, add arame/wakame, cubed or long thin slices of tofu. Allow to heat slowly for another 10 or 15, then remove wakame if you have added it, it will now be soft, slice it into slivers and return it to the simmering pot. Allow it to heat a little longer.

Take some of the stock from the pot, put in a bowl, add some miso paste and stir it in until it is mixed with no lumps. Turn the heat onto very low, return the contents of the bowl to the pot. You can not boil miso, it is a living food with enzymes which easily destroy in heat. Stir and then taste, if you would like a stronger miso taste, add more paste slowly until it suits. I usually just skip the little bowl step and stir 2 tablespoons of miso into the big pot.

Garnish with some coriander leaves and shallots. Macrobiotically, they are shoots that grow up towards the sky, and hence balance out the grounding actions of the soup. Add a splash of tamari if you like, and a few drops of sesame oil at the end won't go astray either. It's so nourishing and beautiful, it's a great meal for the hungover or the lethargic, for anyone, actually. 
Easy and Beautiful. To Buy this great miso paste, go here: Yamato miso. It's a beautiful, well aged, organic and unpasteurised miso, the tub will last you quite a few soups, so it's good value for money. Yamato is the best quality miso I have been able to find in Sydney, and one of the reasons I love the local Simon Johnson store.

For the times you would like a quicker soup, it is a good idea to have some spiral brand dashi handy, they make a bonito and a non bonito variety. Both are preservative and additive free, I still prefer a dashi made from scratch, but this shortcut does produce a soup with decent body in about 10 or 15 minutes. For those who would like a more advanced version of miso, Tatsu believes the secret is to buy a red and a white paste and to combine them for maximum flavour. Tatsu is half Japanese, so that's not a suggestion to be taken half lightly.

Enjoy Candle! I love you and can't wait to see you soon, in Canberra ("ble")  xx a. 

PS: do me a favour, eh, have your people call my people and we can do cake?

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