Tag Archives: vegan

Adventures with Miso Soup

The thing about being a scaredy cook, is you have to face your fears. Domino them, if you will, one at a time.

At least that’s what I’m hoping.

I love Miso soup. It barely hits the sides in terms of fullness but I don’t care – it’s salty and deep and something I run out of the office at least once a week to buy because it’s delicious and cheap.

Naturally I’ve wanted to make miso soup at home for a while. Problem? The information on miso pastes is overwhelming – they’re different colours, made from different things. You can get hard and soft pastes, instant and must-be-refridgerated-lest-it-die. There’s regions and, honestly, miso snobs. There’s miso for sauces and marinades and other misos for soups and other miso that’s for sacrificing to the Gods or something. I’ve stood in health food shops and supermarkets and asian groceries and stared at the array of miso, failing to make a decision. I’ve asked people to enlighten me as to which paste I want and been given the infuriating response of “it’s personal preference”.

I don’t know what my preference is! I just want to make soup that tastes like every Japanese restaurant ever – I want that paste. I mean, I just want soup, is that so hard?!

So, I finally took the plunge. I just grabbed one. In my normal supermarket run I just grabbed the first packet I saw that said “miso”. This week I was making soup – it was happening!

Well, it happened, and, as it turns out, it was the wrong miso. I’m willing to give myself some credit and say as a white, middle-class, self-labelled “scaredy cook” Australian girl who only knows miso soup from sushi restaurants or in take-away Styrofoam bowls I may lack in some cooking knowledge required for the making of miso soup. In this case, however, I think it was the miso.

Miso soup edit

I made soup with soba and wakame and vegetables, I made the dashi stock to mix the precious paste into so I didn’t kill it (boiling miso is a sin, apparently, I suspect because it’s a microorganism and therefore alive like yoghurt and the goodness in it would die if overheated) and was getting excited that I was able to finally turn that delicious workday snack into a fully fledged meal. But it was light. I thought I needed to add more miso paste, that maybe my miso:water ratio was out. So I did… and a bit more… and a bit more. Until it was ridiculous, until I realized that I could probably upend the packet into my soup and it wouldn’t taste right and wouldn’t get any deeper in flavour.

The flavour I had was nice, don’t get me wrong, but what I was tasting was slightly sweet and mellow – I can see how it’d make an excellent dipping sauce for something, a glaze maybe, or a marinade. A reduction, something to accompany or temper something else. I believe I found a sauce miso. Not a soup, miso. Apparently there is a difference.

Here’s some pictures of my soup but I won’t include the recipe because I wasn’t happy with it – I’m including this entry, though, because it’s the first in my miso quest. This is happening. I’m hunting down the next miso paste, I’m upping my research, I’m going back to my oracle (Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian), I’m buying a whisk, I’m doing everything short of going into the local restaurant and asking (and I’m not even writing that off as an option) because it’s a challenge now. It’s possible, I just don’t know how yet.

I may be a scaredy cook, but that doesn’t mean I get to back down and not try again when something doesn’t work the first time.

Roast Vegetable and Israeli Couscous Salad

My mum introduced me to this salad a few Christmases ago. My extended family has a habit of forgetting I’m vegetarian – admittedly because I usually forget to remind them – but, whatever the reason, when everyone else is enjoying crazy amounts of fresh seafood I’m either stuck with whatever salad is served on the side or waiting for vegetables when the roast comes out. (Useful tip for newer veggos: food availability at things where people have forgotten you don’t eat meat gets better as the meal progresses, climaxing at dessert).

Salad 1

I have no idea where she found this, but in doing so she achieved two amazing things at once. One, she gave me something hearty to eat two or three serves of at Christmas and still leave room for pav, and two, she introduced me to Israeli couscous.

For the uninitiated, as I was, Israeli couscous is little round pasta (the packaging lies, it’s not actually couscous) that’s roasted so that it remains uniquely al dente and chewy in texture. It’s also low GI – everyone wins! You can usually find it in either the pasta/asian food aisle of the supermarket or, as my local supermarket did for reasons known only to themselves, next to the bread. Like other small pasta like orzo or ziti you can make great little starchy side-dishes with it, use it instead of rice, quinoa, or couscous as under saucier dishes or, like here, use it to bulk up other dishes like salads, soups or stews.

I love the chewiness of Israeli couscous, and it works really well with the contrasting textures in this salad.

Salad ingredients edit

Roast vegetable Israeli couscous salad

  • 1 large beetroot (or 2 smaller ones)
  • 2 parsnips
  • 1 swede
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 zucchinis
  • ¼ red cabbage
  • 5 mushrooms
  • 200g fresh spinach
  • 400g can chickpeas
  • 250g Israeli couscous
  • Olive oil for roasting
  • Mixed herbs
  • 1 tsp garlic paste or 2-3 cloves fresh garlic (peeled)

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200˚C
  2. Largely dice beetroot, parsnips, swede, onion, eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms.  All of these veggies are going to be roasted together so be aware when chopping that things like the beetroot and swede should be diced smaller and the mushrooms and zucchini should be bigger (case in point, most of my mushrooms were halved) to ensure relatively even cooking time. Alternately you can put your quicker to roast things in at a later point to your longer to roast items, but I’m lazy and prefer to organize it so it all works in the one pan.
  3. Place all veggies in roasting pan, drizzle liberally with olive oil, drop in your garlic and add a tablespoon or so of mixed herbs. Mix well and place in oven.

Tip: Cover with aluminum foil for the first stage of roasting – it keeps heat in but won’t burn the tops of things like your onions. Take it off for the last 5-10 minutes to let everything crisp up.

  1. While your veggies are roasting shred your cabbage, wash and dry your spinach, drain and rinse your chickpeas and set aside.
  2. Add couscous to boiling water to cook – stir it fairly regularly because it has a tendency to clump together, which I quite like because I’m a carbophile, but for this salad you want to keep it all fairly separate. It usually takes about 10 minutes to cook but don’t stress too much about overcooking because it’s really forgiving and doesn’t tend to get waterlogged like pasta does it you don’t pull it out and chill it at the right time. Once cooked, set aside.
  3. Wait for your veggies to finish roasting, check them every now and then to turn, nibble and generally check they’re doing ok. I used this time to make the quinoa patties.
  4. When your roast vegetables are done mix together with your set aside ingredients: the couscous, chickpeas, spinach, and cabbage

Variations

  • My mum originally did this with mustard seeds instead of mixed herbs and that worked a treat
  • Obviously the vegetables can be swapped and changed as you like. I wouldn’t recommend things like potatoes but pumpkin, capsicum, corn, green beans, carrots… get inventive or use whatever you have on hand!
  • This version doesn’t have a dressing but if I was going to I’d think a mustard dressing or a balsamic vinegar-based dressing would be your best bet

Salad 2 post edit

This salad is great not only for Christmases when there’s prawns from one end of the table to the other but I’m also loving it for work lunches. There’s something about having a purple plate that makes people pause and ask what you’re eating. I served it with quinoa patties to make a full meal, though arguably there’s so much bulk in this salad it’s a meal in itself.