Hearty Winter Miso Soup

A lot of individuals and experts make a lot of different claims about what constitutes healthy eating these days.  There's clean eating, gluten-free, grain-free, wheat-free, paleo, vegan, macrobiotic, sugar-free and on and on and on.  It can be very confusing to know who's right and what's true;  and the stakes are pretty darn high when words like cancer and poison are bandied about. Personally,  I think if it works for you, then go for it.  But just to be clear,  by "works" I mean it makes you feel great, and it's not obsessive and alienating, or being driven by fear or a negative body image.  

What works best for me is to follow my intuition.   I know that when I eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, I feel energetic and revitalized by my food.  When I eat high fat, high sugar, low nutrient foods like french fries, cupcakes or my absolute favourite:  fresh baguette and butter, I am in sensory heaven, but they don't make me feel physically restored. In fact, I often feel like taking little nap after an indulgent snack like that!    

So in following my intuition, when someone is sick, I look to one of my whole foods cookbooks for something that's packed with nutrient rich ingredients and also appeals to my cooking imagination.  Recently when a close friend and home cook extraordinaire came down with a serious case of influenza, I cracked out Amy Chaplin's gorgeous cookbook At Home In The Whole Foods Kitchen and came across this Hearty Winter Miso Soup with adzuki beans, squash and ginger.   I was attracted to this recipe for a few reasons.  First, the interesting ingredients:  ginger juice, 2 types of miso, sesame oil and seaweed.  Second, Chaplin’s claim that this soup is a “deeply nourishing meal” which sounds like the perfect thing to eat when your sick. And last, this cookbook has never steered me wrong. 

When my dear sick friend took her first spoonful of this traditional Ayurvedic-style soup, it was plainly obvious to me that this was exactly what she needed. The finest meal in the finest restaurant could not have done for her, what this humble, but mighty soup did in that moment.  And that, to me, is the epitome of intuitive eating.   It certainly is a delicious soup, but I think it's particularly tasty when your body is craving something restorative and immune boosting.  I promised I’d send her the recipe, so here is my ever so slightly adapted version!  

1/2 cup of adzuki beans soaked overnight (or one 455ml can)
8 cups of water
3 dried shitake mushrooms
1 tbsp. sesame oil (Amy says unrefined, untoasted, but I used toasted) 
2 inch piece of kombu (optional, but good if you’re boiling the beans from scratch)
1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on a diagonal
2 cups squash, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup of thinly sliced kale leaves (preferably Lacinato)
2 tbsp or 1/4 oz of wakame, (soaked, drained and roughly chopped)
3 tbsp. plus 2 tsp dark miso (Amy says barley or brown rice, but I used red)
3 tbsp. chick pea miso
4 tsp of ginger juice (grate ginger and squeeze in your had over a bowl to extract juice)
green onion to garnish

Drain soaked beans and place in a pot with water, shiitakes and kombu.  Cover pot, bring to a boil and simmer until beans are soft and creamy.  (30 to 60 minutes depending on how fresh your beans are) Remove kombu and thinly slice shiitakes.  

OR put water, shiitakes and kombu (if using) on the stove and boil for 20 min and open a can of adzuki beans.  After 30 minutes, remove kombu and throw away.  Take out shiitakes and thinly slice them.   Toss the canned adzuki beans into the kombu, shiitake broth.  

Warm oil in another pot over medium heat and add onions.  Saute until translucent (around 3 minutes) and then add carrots, squash and saute for another minute or two.   Add adzuki beans, broth and the sliced shiitakes.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked.

Stir in kale, wakame and simmer for 1 minute more.   Dissolve the miso in a cup with a little bit of soup liquid and then pour in the miso over a medium strainer (to avoid chunks), pushing with a spoon.  It’s best not to boil miso because it’s a live food and will lose some of its nutritional integrity if cooked at a high heat.  

Stir in the ginger juice and remove from heat.  Serve garnished with green onion.

Makes 4 to 6 bowls of soup

A FEW NOTES:  I’ve made this soup twice now.  The first time I made it with around half a cup of arame (another type of seaweed), which I thought was equally if not more delicious.  It’s slightly chewier and already shredded.   I also used canned beans the first time and I think they were slightly creamier than my scratch beans, which took forever to soften.  

The second time I made this I also threw in some leftover mushrooms from the fridge (around 1 cup, thinly sliced) which works well, if you’re a mushroom fan.  I’ve been eating this soup for breakfast all week and it’s been the perfect start to my day!  

For a quick version of something similar I would also try Amy Chaplin's Squash Miso Bowl with Greens and Ginger  


Squash, Lemongrass and Lentil Soup

A few weeks ago we went away for the weekend and returned home to discover that someone (probably me) hadn't closed the door to the freezer properly so everything had defrosted.  This has happened before (see, it's the doors fault!) and it is always a super, duper annoying bummer.  The biggest offender is hands-down the whole frozen bananas I keep for baking.  Once melted, they produce a brown, sticky syrup that oozes and coats everything in its wake.   So after a long drive and no concrete plans for dinner, I was unexpectedly tasked with the burden of cleaning out the entire freezer while trying to control my behaviour and language in front of my two small children who frequently chose the worst moments to sing their random thoughts at top volume. 

Because we had lost good food to similar circumstances in the past, I was determined to save as much as possible.    I turned the defrosted bread into crisps and breadcrumbs, the melted frozen wild blueberries into Blueberry Vanilla Chia seed Jam and we ate all of the leftovers within the week.  Phew!   But there was one item that sat for longer than I intended in the fridge - a yellow lemon grass curry paste that's part of a recipe from award-winning author and food writer Nigel Slaters'  gorgeous cookbook Eat:  The Little Book of Fast Food.  The recipe is a simple Thai-inspired concoction called Prawns, Lemongrass and Coconut that Nigel in his typical poetic style describes as "Vivid flavours, a little heat.  Uplifting and energizing".  The recipe instructs you to make twice the amount of paste required to make the dish so I always keep the second batch in the freezer.    

After eyeing this turmeric-laced , gingery paste in the fridge for far too long, I decided to chuck it in a soup with a beautiful butternut squash I'd recently purchased on impulse.  It being fall and whatnot it's pretty easy to fall in love with a squash at the market.  The result was a sweet and spicy soup with a warm and fragrant lemongrass punch - perfect for a fall lunch or light dinner.  Next time I make this paste I will quadruple the recipe so I can use it for all sorts of other kitchen experiments.  As long as I remember to keep my freezer door closed, the possibilities will be endless! 

Put the following into a food processor to make smooth yellow paste
1/4 cup cilantro
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 large cloves of garlic
2 lemon grass stalks
2 red bird's eye chilies
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 inch piece of ginger

1 butternut squash (roasted and chopped)
1 onion
1 tbsp coconut oil
4 cups broth
1 can of coconut milk
1 cup of red lentils
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 to 2 tsp sriracha
squeeze of lime

Preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  

1.  Cut butternut squash in half, scoop out seeds and drizzle with oil.  Place face down on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until soft.  Let cool.

2.  Heat 2 tbsp. of oil in a pan and add onions and 1/2 tsp. of salt.  Cook onions until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add half of the amount of yellow lemongrass paste in the pan and fry for a couple of minutes.  Add in 4 cups of broth, 1 can of coconut milk and 1 cup of lentils.  Cook 15 minutes or until the lentils are soft.  

3.  Roughly chop the roasted butternut squash, without the skin,  into 1 inch pieces and add to the pan with the broth and lentils.

4.  Add fish sauce, mirin, sriracha, salt to taste and chopped cilantro.

Makes 6 generous bowls