Asian food in general, Japanese in particular, might just be my favorite food on the planet. For most people, I guess, comfort food is the stuff that they loved in childhood, but for me, comfort isn’t mashed potatoes or a plate of lasagne; it’s soba noodles with toasted sesame oil, even though that never crossed my path in childhood. No garnish needed; just soba and toasted sesame. Preferably this brand: La Tourangelle!
Years ago, because of my love for all things Japanese, I went to great lengths to create a homemade version of miso soup. After tinkering with many recipes, I finally settled on this one, my own hybrid of all the ones I’d tried. I loved it dearly and had a bowl every day at lunch for years. Of course, you need dashi to make miso soup, and traditional dashi calls for bonito flakes. Bonito = smoked fish. Along came my conversion to vegan eating and out went my favorite miso soup recipe, bonito flakes and all!
So the tinkering began again. First I tried simply omitting the bonito flakes, but it was vapid and boring. Finally I’ve come up with a version that I love, with a different flavor, but a complexity similar to what my original dashi had.
The soup I want to share with you today has to be made in three stages. Nothing difficult, just a little time and attention is needed, but you will be rewarded in the end. First, make the dashi; second, make the miso soup (that part takes about two seconds); third, make the miso-mushroom-celery soup with rice noodles, and you’re all set for a soul-warming feast on a chilly day. This soup is my husband’s invention, and the first moment I tasted it, I grabbed some notepaper to jot down what he had done. I knew we’d be making it again and again and again. And we have.
If the deep, complex flavor isn’t enough to convince you to try it, then check out the health benefits of miso!
Add everything at once to cold water in stainless steel pot. Bring to boil and simmer gently for 25 – 30 minutes.
Reserve the dried shiitakes. Strain the rest of the vegetables out through a colander, then strain the broth through a coffee filter set into a sieve to remove sand and dirt left over from the mushrooms.
Now you have a deeply flavored vegan dashi that you can use as the base for miso soup.
* NOTE: If you don’t have enough saved stems to make up at least 1 C., add whole mushrooms, and if you don’t have enough vegetable scraps, use whole vegetables. This is where your flavor comes from so don’t be stingy!
Add salt and miso to the hot dashi and whisk until well incorporated. If you plan to make the full blown Miso-Mushroom-Celery Soup below, stop here and move on to the next recipe. But if you want to enjoy a steaming hot, simple bowl of miso soup, have it as is or add chopped scallions and tiny cubes of “raw” tofu if you like. This is soup for the soul. If you need to reheat this soup, do it very gently in order to preserve the nutritional value and flavor of the miso; it is delicate!
Best to do this in a wok over high heat.
Start a pot of salted water boiling for the rice noodles. Break the long noodles into thirds or quarters (optional, but it makes them easier to corral with a spoon) and simmer until just al dente. They will continue to cook for a minute or two in the soup, so stop them a bit short of being fully done. Drain and toss with a small amount of toasted sesame oil to keep them from sticking together and to add more flavor to the final soup.
Heat about 2 – 3 Tbs. peanut oil and 1 tsp. or so of the toasted sesame oil until nice and hot, then add the celery and the fresh mushrooms. Stir fry until they begin to caramelize (get browned). This will take from 8 – 10 minutes, but timing isn’t as important as the look of the vegetables; judge by the browning edges, not the clock.
In the meantime, gently warm your miso soup in a separate pot. Do not allow to boil. No need to keep it on a flame; once it’s warm, shut the flame off and leave it there until you need it.
Once you’ve achieved the caramelization of the vegetables, add the thinly sliced reconstituted dried shiitakes and stir-fry briefly. Now add 4 cups of the miso soup and lower the heat to the gentlest little simmer you can get. Add the noodles and parsley and continue to simmer gently for about 2 more minutes. If you’re not making the Sizzled Scallions, slice your scallions thinly and add them now along with the noodles and parsley. Add more broth if needed (the noodles will absorb some of it).
I find it’s easiest to serve by lifting some of the noodles out with tongs and placing them into the serving bowls, then ladling the soup over them.
Serve with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil over each bowl and sprinkle with sizzled scallions and crunchy tofu if using. These are optional but they’re habit-formingly good.
To reheat leftovers, simmer with loving gentleness and add broth if needed. Keep the tofu and scallions separate and re-warm in a dry cast iron pan.
Crispy Tofu Cubes (vegan and wheat-free)
Mix about ½ cup of finely ground white rice flour (I like this brand or similar ones that can easily be found at Asian markets.; the super-fine grind makes a difference) with a good dash of kosher salt in a bowl.
Cut firm tofu into ½″ cubes and toss in the rice flour mixture.
Heat a generous amount of peanut or olive oil in a cast iron pan. (Olive oil is surprisingly good for this even though it’s not and Asian flavor.) Don’t add the tofu cubes until the oil is really hot; toss a tiny bit of rice flour in to see if it sizzles (if it does, it’s ready). Allow them to brown on one side without moving them and then rearrange them periodically with tongs to get them nicely browned on all sides.
Drain on paper towels and sprinkle over soup when serving.
Make a little extra rice-salt mixture. Cut several scallions into approximately 3″ lengths. Slice the thicker bottom parts in half lengthwise. Add a bit of water to the rice mixture until it’s the consistency of thin pancake batter. Drop the scallions into the mixture and toss to coat. Add to the hot oil after the tofu cubes have cooked for a while (or fry in a separate pan for a shorter time). You want to avoid over-frying these, because they can get too crispy and become jaw-breakers instead of a beautifully crunchy condiment to add at the last minute to your bowl of soup.
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