Serves 4 - 6
It’s winter in the UAE. And by winter, I mean “winter“, of course. It’s funny how quickly one acclimates to their surroundings. There are days when I catch myself pulling out a light sweater, or socks! Then I remember, this weather is reminiscent of late summer in NY. Not quite sweater material just yet.
Though this week it’s a bit more like early fall which is so lovely and definitely the cause of my nostalgia.
However you define it, there is a feeling of winter in the air. I’m craving hot chocolates, chai lattes, root vegetables, stews, soups! Perhaps the winter is just part of me now and that’s just fine. It’ll help me bring my daughters a taste of the winters I grew up with, winters they don’t know…yet.
Miso soup is a favorite around here. It’s simple, salty goodness in a little bowl. This jazzed up version is just for fun and by fun, I of course mean delicious, nutritious yumminess. Miso is one way I get probiotics into our diet. When we’re not smearing it on rice crackers with butter (seriously, it’s SO GOOD), or putting it in dressings, we’re drinking it in soup.
By now you’ve heard all the glories of good bacteria flooding your gut. It’s not a trend. Your gut really IS your second brain. If you’re not into bacteria yet, you might want to get started on some ASAP. The good bacteria of course, and miso is a great first stop.
Miso is a paste made of fermented soybeans, rice or barley (usually) and a koji starter (inoculated with the culture Aspergillus oryzae). As a result of differences in starting ingredients, the micro organisms used to ferment and fermentation time, the nutrients vary. That’s what happens when a food is alive. You know what else happens? Your digestion is the first thing that will sing with happiness. A balanced gut means easeful and efficient digestion. Your digestive system is intricately linked to your immune and nervous systems, so this is no laughing matter. Probiotics have been linked to greater cardiovascular health, have anti-cancer benefits, have effects on behavior and gene expression. They have been known to be beneficial to diabetics and can even combat obesity¹. This link has a very comprehensive explanation on miso, its preparation, its nutrients, its storage, etc.
If you’re interested in more info on the gut and probiotics, I’m reading an AMAZING book that I highly recommend called: Gut: The Inside Story of Our Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders.
Now to the soup. All the fabulous stuff that’s happening in your gut, well, that’s the bonus. The soup, that flavor, that feeling of feeling fed and satisfied and warm; that’s what you’ll remember and that’s what you’ll keep coming back for.
It takes a few steps, but it’s worth every single one. I promise you that. The other beauty is that this soup works with whatever veg you have in your fridge at the moment. So, if you don’t have shiitake mushrooms, don’t sweat it. Cabbage, greens, celery, even fennel, they’re all going to work.
Miso Vegetable Udon Soup
4 ounces udon noodles (or soba if you want GF)
4 C Dashi (see recipe below – you’ll need 4 C water, 2 6X6″ pieces of kombu and 1 ounce or 2 C of bonito flakes)
1 t toasted sesame oil
2 t sesame oil
2 carrots, julienne or grated
1 large leek, thinly sliced up to the light green part 😉
1/2 C shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 T tamari
1/4 C white miso
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 C spinach or kale or chard, lightly packed
2 scallions, white and green parts sliced diagonally
1 t sesame seeds
Prepare udon noodles according to package. When done, strain through a sieve and run under cold water. Toss 1/2 t toasted sesame oil and coat the udon.
To make the dashi: Place kombu in a sauce pan with water. Let sit for 30 minutes, and then bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, remove from heat and discard kombu. Add the bonito flakes and stir to submerge them. Return pan to heat and let boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer for 5-7 minutes. If any foam surfaces, skim it off. Strain dashi through a fine-mesh sieve and discard flakes. Set aside.
In another sauce pan over medium heat, add sesame oil then carrots, leeks and mushrooms. Let saute for 5 minutes till aromatic.
Deglaze pan with 1 T of tamari then (almost immediately) add the dashi to the pan. Boil the soup for 15 minutes.
Take out 1 C of the broth and mix it in a bowl with the miso. Whisk evenly to avoid any clumps. Once you have a clump-free broth, add it back to the pan and turn off the heat.
Add remaining toasted sesame oil, tamari and the lemon juice.
To serve, distribute spinach and noodles evenly among 4-6 bowls (depending on what size you’re using 😉 ). Ladle in the soup into each one and top with scallions and sesame seeds. (Sesame seeds didn’t make it into this soup, but it’s so good when they do!)
*You can certainly add tofu or tempeh or shredded chicken to this soup to make it heartier. Let me know if you do though. I’d love to hear how it turns out.