Reminding myself that not all blog posts have to be long-laboured-over 1,000 word essays, I offer this short(er) meditation instead. For as I sit and write, a pot of what will soon become miso soup is simmering on the stove, and I will have to put down the computer so that I may consume it with gusto.
Because this is the second time I am preparing said soup according to this new method, I realize that it is likely to disappoint, as sophomore efforts often do. But last night, in its first incarnation, it was so silky and salty and smooth that only words starting with S could fully do it justice. It soothed. It satisfied. It sated. In fact, it did all the things that a good miso soup – that most healing of foods – should do. They key was the kombu.
Yesterday afternoon, knowing that I was to bring miso soup to a dinner party and not wanting it to be lame, I decided to move beyond my uninspired and unsuccessful method of simply stirring miso into hot water, adding some tofu, and then complaining about how it doesn’t taste very good. Turning to the trusty internet, I did a little research and discovered that there was a key ingredient that I was leaving out: the kombu (or Laminaria digitata). According to the website for kombu harvesters Ironbound Island Seaweed, this king of seaweed has a “monumental ability to cling to the rocks [upon which it grows] as the full force of the ocean flows through [its] fingers” and so you can only harvest it when the tides are out, because it puts up a bit of a fight.
But what does this kombu do? Well, in addition to bringing dozens of vitamins and minerals to the table, it imparts the soup (or grains or beans) with umami, or savoriness. The concept of umami is a rather fascinating one, and if you have a hankering to know more about it, I recommend a fantastic essay on Culinary Propaganda. But back to the kombu…
In addition to the above-described contributions, it also has a lovely toothiness that provides some much-needed structure to what is otherwise a bowl full of soft things (tofu, garlic chives) and broth. Lastly – though there may be qualities I have yet to discover in its briny cells – it provides a solid foundation to the soup, allowing you to simmer the broth until it mellows and deepens before adding the miso, a step that makes it akin to other types of soup, and makes it taste significantly better than my aforementioned miso-flavoured water version.
So here’s how it goes (and I must confess, it was old Ironbound Island Seaweed who provided the blueprint):
For 6 people, throw about 4 cups of water into a pot with 2 strips of kombu, and if you have them, some dried shiitake mushrooms. Bring this to a boil and then simmer for about 30-45 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it cool a bit so you can pull out the kombu and mushrooms and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Return them to the pot.
Do this at some point during the day if possible. Let it sit.
Later, when you want to eat, return the pot to the heat and bring to a boil. I added a bit more water because it did not look like enough. Lower the heat to simmer and add things that you like: sliced fresh mushrooms, scallions or garlic chives, thinly sliced carrots, whatever. Simmer until they are ready to eat.
At the last minute, throw some soft tofu into the pot so it has time to heat through. Then, grab a mug and scoop out some stock. Stir one teaspoon of miso per person into the mug until you have a thick paste. Before adding the miso to the pot, turn off the heat – this is a very important step because miso is a living food and must never go near the boiling point or it will die.
Finally, pour the miso back into the pot and stir it around.
To fully take advantage of its healing properties, enjoy in the company of excellent people.