Sunday, May 21, 2006

Breakfast soup

This is the kind of morning I love. I awoke at an hour not too early, not too late. The house was chilly, but my bed was delightfully warm. There was a pleasant hour spent sipping coffee, doing a crossword, snuggling with the cat, talking on the phone to a friend in a warmer climate.

At this stage what would have made things more perfect could only have been my lover materialising (now I had had that wonderful, soul restoring, solo time) with some crisp pastries from Filou’s. Alas, despite a good 30 seconds trying to will this to happen, I realised breakfast today would be by my own hand - and I needed it now. Sadly the French bakery doesn’t deliver (“An apple slice and pain au chocolat to the spinster in number 12 please”) and I still was not ready to get dressed and take the 10 minute stroll required to satisfy the sweet gluten craving (and anyway, there was always the possibility of afternoon tea!).

A warming and decidedly healthier option came to mind. Soup for breakfast. Not just any soup, but the world’s best breakfast soup – miso.

To me, miso is good health in a bowl. The cultured bean, immune strengthening shitake mushrooms, beta carotene resplendent in carrots and carminative ginger. What’s more it is a very quick breakfast.

I make no claims to authenticity with this recipe. A true miso uses lovingly made dashi, certainly not a speedy process. The instant kind, which I suspect is used by far too many of this city’s Japanese restaurants, is spiked with msg and goodness knows what else. Instead I use the simplest of fish stock –the fiddley bones and scraps from flathead fillets simmered in water for 10-15 minutes. The stock is unadulterated with any seasoning, strained (through muslin if you are a purist and want to remove the sediment) and frozen til needed.

Miso Soup

Plain fish stock or water
a knob of ginger cut into fine, thin slivers
spring onion, diagonally sliced
carrot, thinly sliced
shitake mushroom (reconstituted dried, if fresh not available), thinly sliced
tofu, cubed

shiro miso paste

Place fresh fish stock in a pot (slowly thaw if using frozen). Add vegetables and tofu and bring to a simmer 5 minutes, or until carrots are tender.

gratuitous shot of the tiles and granite in the new kitchen. I put in lots of fresh shitake as I had been around a lot of sick people this weekend

Take some miso paste (about 1 tsp per serve) in a small bowl (or suribachi if you have one) and ladle in some of the warm broth. Mix until the paste has dissolved. Now turn the heat off and pour the liquefied paste back into the pot. Stir. You should see moving clouds bubbling around, one of the joys of using cultured foods. But remember miso is a delicate being, never boil it and if you need to reheat the soup do it gently, with the greatest respect.

As I have switched in recent years from the bold hatcho miso, to the young, sweeter shiro, I add a little tamari to get some balance of sweet and salty tastes.

If you want this to be a hearty meal, rather than a dainty breakfast, add more vegetables and cook some rice vermicelli, and eat from a suitably large bowl.

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