I felt like soup today and Eilene always complains that when I make miso soup there is never enough for seconds (or thirds). Today I decided that I would make enough even for her.
While I cook a lot of Chinese food, because I lived in China for a couple of years, I grew up eating Japanese food. My father was stationed in Japan for a time during the Korean War and returned a Nipponophile. I knew how to use chopsticks by the time I was five and we had a lot of Japanese food growing up. Japanese cuisine is not exotic for me, it is everyday fare.
Meat has been making Jan feel ill lately, so I am trying to cut back. For her I am adding tofu and, as an added side, a bit of shrimp for Eilene and me. I had some napa cabbage and green onions in the bin for the fresh vegetables. Miso paste, HonDashi (Japanese dried fish soup base) and dried seaweed are staples in my cabinet.
Today I am using white miso for my soup. White miso is not white, it is simply a lighter brown (tan) than aged red miso. There are many different kinds of miso, but these two are the most commonly available in the West. You may use any miso for your soup, each variety of miso has its own distinct flavor.
How much miso you used depends on your personal taste. I once asked a Japanese person how much miso you put in miso soup and she responded, “as much as you put in.” You may add just a little to have a clear soup with a cloud of miso floating in the bottom of the bowl. You may also add enough that you have a soup that you cannot see through.
I usually have dried Japanese udon noodles in my cabinet as well, but today I was out. I did not want to run off to the Japanese store, so instead I substituted some fresh Chinese wheat noodles. The high quality udon noodles are large, finely-textured noodles that cook up very firm and round. The Chinese noodles are flatter in cross-section and are a bit softer to the bite when fully cooked. The difference is more in the texture than in the taste.
I frequently add dried seaweed to my miso soups, so I always have three or four kinds on hand. Today I decided on wakame and kizami kombu (shredded kelp). Be very careful when adding dried seaweed to your soups. Dehydrated seaweed expands a lot when you get it wet. A 1/8 inch square piece will swell into a one inch square in just a few seconds.
Karl’s Weekday Miso Noodle Soup
½ lb. udon noodles
1 Tbs. wakame
1 Tbs. kisami kombu
4 Tbs. white miso paste
1 inch nob of ginger root
12 oz. tofu
5 green onions
5 leaves napa cabbage
1 Tbs. HonDashi
10-15 cooked shrimp (optional)
1. Boil noodles in a medium pan until al dente and then rinse in cold water. Set aside.
2. Put the seaweeds in a small bowl and add hot water to cover. Let it set for 5-10 minutes and then drain off the liquid. Set aside.
Note: You may simply add the dried seaweed directly to the simmering soup, if you wish, but like many dried Asian foods you do not know where it has been or what it has gone through before entering the package. I usually rinse/rehydrate separately and then add it to the soup.
3. Add 3 quarts of water to your soup pot and bring it to a boil.
Tip: How much water? It depends on how many people you are feeding. And how much soup do you plan on each person having, a small 6 ounce bowl or a large 14 ounce bowl? As you increase the water you also increase the HonDashi by 1 teaspoon per quart.
Note: Do not add the HonDashi now!
4. Slice the ginger root into coins (large thin slices).
5. Add the ginger and miso paste to the pot and stir it until the paste has fully dissolved. Simmer for five to ten minutes.
5. While the soup is simmering, cut the tofu block into 3/8 to ½ inch cubes.
6. Trim and cut the green onion into 2 inch pieces. Separate the green and white parts.
7. Rinse the napa cabbage leaves and cut them into ¼ to 3/8 inch strips.
Tip: Stack the leaves and starting at the thick end of the leaves, cut them into thin strips. Separate the thick bottom slices from the thin top pieces.
8. Add the tofu, white parts of the onion, and thick parts of the cabbage to the soup pot. Simmer for three minutes.
9. Add the rest of the onion and cabbage, the seaweed and the HonDoshi to the pot and turn off the heat. Let the soup stand, covered, for three to five minutes.
Tip: You do not want the soup to boil after you have added the HonDashi.
10. Diners add noodles (and shrimp) to their bowls as they please and pour the hot soup over them. Eat immediately.