Virginia Willis Blog

Global Cuisine: Miso Soup

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Global Cuisine

As a French-trained Southern chef, it’s pretty easy for me to whip up a soufflé or make a batch of biscuits. And, when I am free-form cooking in the kitchen, just making supper, I lean towards those styles of cooking. I know them like the back of my hand. They are easy and comfortable. However, cooking from other cuisines and cultures is one of my favorite ways to play around in the kitchen. It’s also a way to literally spice things up. Face it, aren’t you becoming a wee bit weary of root vegetables and braised meats? I love the exploration of foods that I do not really know. It’s like a treasure hunt! 

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Cooking global cuisine requires me to read and research. I may not be as familiar with the ingredients. While my French-Southern pantry contains thyme and parsley as aromatics, Indian cooking might require fresh curry leaves and Middle Eastern might require preserved lemon or exotic spices. This kind of cooking is a form of exploration that allows me a bit of freedom — obviously, everything I eat or want to eat couldn’t possibly be French or Southern! And, it helps to educate me on techniques and flavors from other parts of the world.

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This week, I am sharing a simple Miso Soup with Tofu. Now, I know you don’t need me for a recipe for Miso Soup. You could consult Elizabeth Andoh or Hiroko Shimbo. They are the real experts on Japanese cooking. But, I had a craving for this healing, healthy, warming broth. And, believe it or not, I keep miso as a pantry staple. However, I won’t lie. I’m not a huge fan of tofu. It’s fine in this soup. I love it fried, but hell, nearly everything tastes better fried. Tofu both benefits and suffers from not having a whole lot of flavor. It’s receptive to other flavors, but on it’s own, most readily available tofu is pretty bland.

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Miso on the other hand, is packed with flavor. Miso is fermented soybean paste, often containing barley or rice and a little goes a long way because of its super-concentrated, salty taste. It is available in different colors, depending on the type of grain or bean and how long it’s been fermented. In general, the paler the paste, the more mild the flavor. I  often use miso to flavor vegetable stocks or give a powerful pop of umami to a dish. Essentially, miso does what a more traditional Southern ham hock does, but it’s plant-based and more healthful.

It’s good to stretch and learn new things. I like going to the source and researching native cooks, but then again, that’s my job. It’s what I do. If you want to make it a little easier, I suggest Global Kitchen by my friend and colleague Dave Joachim. He partnered with Cooking Light magazine to create this really great cookbook. It’s one stop shopping for tips, techniques, and recipes from all over the world. Check it out — and let me know what you’re trying this week to shake things up in your kitchen.

Bon Appétit Y’all!

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 Miso Soup 
Makes 1 quart

Traditionally, miso soup is made from dashi, which is made from kombu and bonito. Bonito is dried tuna that has been shaved into tissue-thin flakes. Bonito can be expensive and hard to find. More so, since it’s made from tuna, I’d like to find a verified sustainable source. Until then, I’ve stopped using it in my miso — I now substitute a couple of drops of fish sauce.

1 6-inch square kombu
1 6-inch square kombu, cut into strips
2 quart water
4 ounces firm tofu
1/2 cup mild miso paste
1/4 teaspoon fish sauce
1 packet enoki mushrooms, end trimmed
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Place kombu in a medium pot with the water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to simmer and let cook for 10 minutes. Remove the larger piece of kombu.

Meanwhile, place the tofu in a bowl lined with a kitchen towel. Place a towel on top and weight down with a can of tomatoes or a box of salt while the miso simmers. Pat dry then slice into small cubes. Set aside.

Whisk the miso paste into the kombu water. Add the fish sauce, enoki mushrooms, scallions, and reserved tofu. Bring to a boil over high heat then remove and serve immediately.

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