Tag Archives: Miso

Clam miso soup over rice

So far, 2017 is a soup kind of year. It’s been a wet and chilly winter, the kind of Northern California winter I remember from my childhood, before the super-drought set in. We’ve had a couple nasty colds pass through our home, and they’ve seemed even more vicious than usual for this time of year.

And of course, every time I read the news or check social media, there’s something new to break my heart. I’ve been struggling to keep my head above the water of despair and depression, and it feels like every new headline is pushing me back under. I’m doing what I can to fight back, with my body and my wallet, but it never feels like enough.

So I’ve been gravitating to soup. Easy, comforting, nourishing soup. I may not know much in life right now, but I know how to make a pot of something warm and delicious. And this particular soup is a good one: miso soup with fresh clams and greens, ladled over rice. It’s light and savory, briny from the clams, and substantial enough to make you feel like you’re doing something good for yourself.

Looking at the recipe, I think I’ve made this sound more complicated than it actually is. Basically, you steam open some clams in plenty of water–maybe with a bit of kombu for added flavor–and then use the cooking liquid to wilt greens and dissolve miso. Make your rice fresh, or use leftovers if you’ve got them. Combine everything in a bowl, and there’s your meal. This is a nice, relatively inexpensive way to treat yourself to seafood, with the comfort and quiet of a big bowl of broth.

clam-miso-soup

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Green vegetable soup with miso

One of the first things Sam and I did after we got the keys to our new place was to sign up for a CSA membership. It’s been great fun so far, having a big box of exuberantly dirty produce show up quietly on our doorstep every other week. We stuff it all into the fridge, and then methodically cook or snack on it for the next fourteen days. Normally I relish this kind of cooking challenge–being handed a bunch of ingredients and told, “Go!” But, if I’m being honest, my creativity has been wearing a little thin.

So this recipe is a case of extremely fortunate timing. Last Tuesday, I opened our CSA box to find, among other things, a huge bunch of dinosaur kale, three bundled broccoli heads, a bunch of gorgeous carrots, and a lemon. On Wednesday, I opened up my RSS reader to find a Food in Jars post with a soup recipe calling for kale, broccoli, carrot, and lemon. All it took was putting two and two together, and I had lunch for the rest of the week.

Marisa from Food in Jars calls this “hippie soup,” which seems accurate. For one thing, it starts by boiling vegetables instead of sweating them in oil. You just toss a big pile of greens and herbs, an armful of broccoli florets, some alliums, and a grated carrot into a pot with water, and cook everything until it’s blendable. The recipe called for nutritional yeast, which I didn’t have and don’t intend to buy. But I had some white miso in the fridge, and figured that adding it would give the soup body and savory saltiness. I also tweaked the ingredients a bit based on my mood and the contents of the fridge, swapping scallions for onions and skipping the spinach in favor of more kale. The soup came out vividly Christmas-green, and the flavor was surprisingly complex–I was worried it’d be bitter, but it was mellow and herbal instead. It definitely tasted “good-for-you” green, but in the best way. (I suppose this is how people feel about green smoothies, but I like this soup way better than any green smoothie I’ve ever had.)

Normally, when I write recipes, I try to give approximate weights and volumes for things like “a bunch of kale” or “the juice of a lemon.” But I’m not doing that here, because precision really, really does not matter with this soup. This kind of recipe begs to be fiddled with, and the greens and herbs are totally interchangeable. I used kale and parsley, but this recipe is a great use-up for whatever greens and leafy herbs you have around–chard, spinach, radish greens, beet greens, turnip greens, collards, carrot tops, cilantro, arugula, watercress, etc. You want about half the mass of the soup to be leafy greens and herbs of some kind, and the other half to be broccoli, scallions, carrot, and garlic. Beyond that, go nuts.

green veggie soup with miso

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Carrot miso soup with quick-pickled scallions

I love how I can know someone for years and years and years and still learn new things about them. For example.

My friend Marissa and I have known each other for the better part of a decade–almost our entire adult lives. She’s one of the first friends I made in college. We spent inordinate amounts of time together, in dorms and in common rooms, on grassy lawns and on airplanes, in classroom seats and in theater seats. I’ve shared a bed with her. She’s worn my clothes. I can tell you exactly how she’ll react to a piece of news, or who her celebrity crushes are, or what her sister’s ex-boyfriend’s name is. But not until she came to visit me from Florida last month did I learn how much she loves carrots.

It started when Audrey and I took her out for Thai food. We ordered some gorgeous elaborate stir-fry, speckled with vegetables, and the first thing Marissa did was to pick every single carrot off the serving dish and claim them for herself. She was genuinely more excited about those carrots than about anything else we’d done that day. “Omigosh, you guys, I LOVE carrots,” she gushed between mouthfuls. It took me aback. I could feel a small pang of offense–how hadn’t she told me this before? It seemed like such a fundamental character trait. Well, maybe not so fundamental. But certainly news to me.

So a couple days later, on a cold and blustery evening, when the train to my neighborhood got shut down and Marissa was stranded at a distant station wearing shorts and a thin sweater, shivering and sad by the time I picked her up, I knew I needed to make her something warm and carroty to bring her back to her sunny self. I’d had a carrot miso soup recipe bookmarked for months, and with a carrot-loving houseguest and a half-finished tub of miso in the fridge, I knew the time had come. This is a beautifully simple recipe, for a soup that’s smooth and lush and gloriously comforting. For me, it hit the same autumn spot as squash soup, with a similar pulpy orange sweetness; but it’s brighter and less sugary than squash, with a deep salty thrum from the miso.

The soup itself is clean, simple, and cheerfully sweet. I felt it needed a little bite and a touch of richness to even it out. So, going off of a parenthetical note on the original recipe, I quickly pickled some scallions in rice vinegar, then swirled them into the soup. A drizzle of dark fatty sesame oil, and we had a lovely windy-night meal.

And now I’m wondering what else she hasn’t told me…

carrot miso soup

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Parsley miso pesto

This one started with a fridge cleanout. I opened one of the crisper drawers and unearthed most of a bunch of parsley, about a week old (leftover from making stuffed tomatoes, I think). The leaves were slowly darkening and turning brittle, and it was clear they were at their use-or-lose point. Of course, when life hands you a bunch of herbs, the natural thing to do is make pesto; but, as the rest of the fridge-cleaning revealed, we had neither nuts nor cheese around. What we did have was a tub of white miso, which I’d bought for some other cooking project that ultimately flopped. So I decided to experiment a little, and see what a vegan, nut-free pesto might be like.

As it turned out, miso makes a surprisingly appealing pesto. I was concerned about texture, but the miso easily replaced both the waxy bulk of the nuts and the salty stickiness of the cheese. It looked and felt just like an ordinary pesto, lightly bound and made moist with olive oil. I used a knife, as per usual, and the whole thing came together quickly and without fuss. In fact, I think it was faster to make than my usual pesto; the knife glided through the miso paste, instead of having to bite chunks of nuts and gather flecks of cheese with each stroke.

I will say, though, that if you came to this expecting an exact replica of Italian pesto, you’d be disappointed. This is different from the nut-and-cheese version, and majorly flavorful in its own right. It’s lighter and more relaxed than the traditional stuff, and the mass that binds the herbs and garlic together is soft instead of slick. The miso is subtle but definitely present; instead of the earth tones of nuts, there’s a grassy undercurrent of soy. The saltiness is deeper and blunter than it would be from cheese. This version feels even more summery than regular pesto, if that’s possible; the greenness of the parsley is really front and center.

Because of the unmistakable miso flavor, I don’t think I’d use this on pasta. Rice, perhaps, or some other grain; maybe as a spread on bread; perhaps as a coating for roasted potatoes. I could see it spread and rolled in a piece of meat, or basted on chicken, or stirred into vegetable soup, or folded into scrambled eggs. But, in my mind, this pesto is really tailor-made for seafood, and specifically fish. I thinned out my batch of pesto with some lemon juice and a splash of hot water, and used it as a sauce on simply seared white fish: incredible. So light, so sophisticated, so much flavor in so few bites.

parsley miso pesto fish

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