You know you might be a foodie when all your souvenir shopping takes place at food markets. This weekend after some wonderful shabu-shabu and a trip to Oto's Market in Sacramento, I came home and made miso soup.
Did you know that I looked in speciality markets and Asian food stores for over three years before I found bonito flakes (dried tuna, I believe) and kombu (a certain type of seaweed), the two ingredients in dashi? I found kombu at Chico Natural Foods a while ago, but Oto's is the first place I have found bonito flakes that were clearly marked in English, so that I could confirm that they were indeed bonito flakes. I'm sure I've run across them in other Asian markets, but never with enough of an English label to determine that that is really what it was.
Being without dashi in the past, I have tended to make miso soup simply with boiling water poured over a heaping spoonful of miso paste, a handful of cubed firm tofu and half a sheet of nori, torn into 2" strips. I top it with thinly sliced scallion. Not much more difficult than Cup O-Soup, it is our favorite soup-when-someone-has-a-cold. Still, I have kept a look out for the bonito flakes and kombu required to make a traditional dashi stock.
adapted from How to Cook Anything by Mark Bittman
In medium soup-pot or sauce pan, combine 1 quart cold water with a 6" piece of kombu. Turn heat to medium-low and bring almost to a boil. Test kombu, if it is not yet tender, add a little more cold water and let cook a couple more minutes until tender. Remove kombu. (Kombu can be used once more for a second batch of dashi, or cut into small pieces and added to a stirfry.) Add half-cup bonito flakes. Cook 1-2 minutes. Do not allow to boil. Pour stock through a sieve and press to extract as much flavor as possible from the bonito. (Discard bonito.) Stock can be used immediately or refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Simple Miso Soup
Similar to the soup often used as a starter course in Japanese restaurants. Miso is a salty soy paste, increasingly available in Asian and natural food stores.
Makes 4-6 servings.
1 quart dashi, or substitute 2 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water
4 oz firm tofu, cut into small cubes
3 sheets nori, cut or torn into 2" strips
3 tablespoons miso, plus more to taste, white, brown, red, whatever you have on hand
3 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat dashi to a simmer. Place miso in liquid measuring cup. Ladle approximately 1 cup of hot dashi into measuring cup and whisk to combine. To the simmering dashi in the saucepan, add tofu cubes. Cook 1 minute, just enough to heat through. Turn off heat. Add dashi-miso mixture and nori. Stir gently to combine without breaking tofu. Ladle into small soup bowls and top with scallions.
Heartier Miso Soup
To create a heartier miso soup, one that can be used as a vegetable side dish or even a main course, simply cook a up to four of your favorite vegetables in the dashi stock prior to adding the tofu. Remember to carefully cut the vegetables into appropriately sized pieces, and add those that would take longer to cook (such as carrots, winter squash or sweet potatoes) first, following them with vegetables that require progressively less cooking time (various mushrooms, thicker greens, cabbage, udon noodles) and finally things that cook almost instantly (spinach, peas, bean sprouts and nori).