I love trying new ingredients, new dishes, new cuisines. And I don’t understand people who don’t. One of the things I liked the most about Russia is how popular Japanese restaurants and bars are there. It has been like a boom; you can find a Japanese sushi bars almost everywhere, and some of them have quite reasonable prices. I am sure that they are far away from real Japanese sushi bars — where sushi is neither an everyday dish nor a kind of fast food—but it’s better than nothing.
What is even stranger to me, people really like it. No, don’t misunderstand me; I love Japanese food too. I was surprised because the panorama is completely different where I live. In Spain, there are very few Japanese restaurants, they are quite expensive and not very popular. People think it’s too exotic. Strangely enough, Chinese restaurants are very popular, cheap….but not exactly haute cuisine.
Our volleyball team coacher invited us one day to a Japanese-Chinese-Asian restaurant (he promised that he would do it if we won an especially difficult match…and we did) I remember the face of my team when he told us that it was a “Japanese” restaurant. Luckily for them there were more European dishes than Asian ones and so they didn’t have anything to complain about. One could choose between chopsticks and a fork. I almost always eat with chopsticks at home because I like it, so without the slightest hesitation I took the chopsticks. When I began to eat, I realized that all my team was looking at me. They were amazed; I could eat with chopsticks! To the surprise of the waiters, a dozen of girls rushed immediately to get theirs too. But when the croquettes, potatoes and all the other food they tried to catch with them began to roll across the table (and the floor), they decided to put aside their chopsticks and finish their lunch with a fork.
I am in love with Japanese culture and as the food is a very important part of a culture…how could I dislike Japanese cuisine? It is focused on simple, (almost always) quick, healthy and high quality food. It’s hardly surprising that they have the highest life expectancy in the world. I could have chosen a spectacular and highly elaborated recipe to illustrate this post, but I didn’t want to, because this is not the way the Japanese eat. Instead, I have chosen from the basics: miso soup (miso shiru, みそしる, 味噌汁). Miso is a staple ingredient of the Japanese cuisine, almost as important as rice, and miso soup is certainly one of the favorite uses of this traditional Japanese seasoning. Miso generally has a salty, deep flavor, although there are different kinds. If you want to know more about this ingredient, a good source is Maki’s Just hungry; her posts about the miso soup and types of miso are very useful.
Mushroom miso soup
I am sure that there are as many different miso soup recipes as there are cooks. There is the basic recipe, which involves just miso and dashi, and hundreds of different variations. The most common additions are tofu, wakame and green onion, but you can also add potatoes, daikon, carrots, cabbage or mushrooms (like in this one). Experiment, play with the ingredients and find your own favorite miso soup. The miso and the stock are key ingredients, although I have used water and it tasted wonderful anyway. If you are using stock, one too strong could spoil your miso soup because you won’t be able to notice the miso. Watch out for the salt! Miso is very salty, so it doesn’t combine with salty stocks (unless you want to see your blood pressure go sky-high).
1 carrot, sliced or grated
1 cabbage leaf
3–4 mushrooms, chopped
2 slices of firm tofu, cubed (about ¼ of a block)
1tbsp wakame seaweed (before soaking)
About ½tsp miso (I used red miso)
1tsp soy sauce
1 cup water, dashi or light stock
Gomashio (sesame seeds with salt) for garnish (optional)
- Soak the wakame seaweed. Reserve.
- Heat 1tbsp of oil in a saucepan and add the chopped mushrooms. Sauté them until them become brown and crispy. You can add some onions. Reserve.
- Add a little more oil if needed, and add the sliced carrots. Sauté for one minute and add the cabbage. After a couple of minutes, add the mushrooms. Set aside.
- Now brown the tofu a little bit on a saucepan. You can add it directly to the pot, without sautéing, but I prefer to do it as so gives it more flavor.
- Pour about one cup of water into a pot; add the veggies, the tofu and wakame. Boil for 5 minutes on low heat. Turn off. In another bowl, dissolve ½tsp of miso in some of the soup. Return it to the pot and leave it to stand for at least another 5 minutes **Try a spoon of the soup to check the saltiness, because depending on the miso and the stock (if using), it can be not salty enough…or too salty! So be careful and begin with less. You will be always able to add more.
- Serve with some gomashio on top.