The past two days here in Boston have certainly been teasing us with the promise of autumn. It's still sunny and warm enough, but the air is a bit chillier, less humid, and altogether much more pleasant than it has been in the past few weeks. And while this autumn brings things to remind us that life isn't all fun and games and cooking (school for Jonathan, work for me), it also brings soup, which is undoubtedly a good thing.
When it comes to soup, the possibilities are endless. Really, you can sneak almost anything into soup, as long as it's delicious. The problem with soup isn't making it taste good, but rather (in my experience at least), making it look good.
Most of the time, I don't really care much about the appearance of my soup. I know we "taste first with our eyes" and all that, but when it comes to soup, it's more about the steamy comfort of it all, and not so much about the presentation. That said, it's nice to serve soup to dinner guests, and it's also nice to serve visually appealing food to them, too.
I don't mean to imply that I wouldn't serve a hearty vegetable soup to dinner guests, but the soup today, with miso and vegetables, is as much a treat for the eyes as for the taste buds. The soup is very simple, with a mildly flavored broth, and is filled with a bouquet of vegetables, tofu, and green touches of scallions and seaweed.
I served this soup a couple of nights ago as an accompaniment to homemade sushi, and it was both perfectly light and satisfyingly warm. It was also a great way to showcase the adorable baby carrots and glowing beauty of a squash that I found at the farmers market that morning. I also added tofu, which, along with the squash, provided the right amount of substance to complement the rest of our dinner. Next time, though, I might try adding soba or udon noodles to the mix to create a real one-dish meal.
The best part of this soup, of course, is how quickly it comes together. I based this dish on traditional miso soup, which calls for making dashi, a broth flavored with kombu (dried kelp) and bonito (dried fish flakes). I used the kombu, but skipped the bonito and added some vegetable stock, which added both color and flavor. The broth takes only 10 minutes or so to complete, and from there, it's just a matter of adding and lightly cooking the vegetables. In order to speed up the dinner preparations, I steamed my squash beforehand, since it takes a bit longer than the other vegetables to cook. I would imagine that it could also be cooked directly in the broth. Oh, and the miso: miso should never be boiled, so I added it at the very end, softening it with a bit of hot broth and then mixing it in to the finished soup. Lovely, light, and wonderful for dinner in autumn.
Miso Vegetable Soup
2 c. low-sodium vegetable stock
4-6 c. water (use more if you haven't pre-cooked the squash)
splash each soy sauce and mirin
2 pieces dried kombu
1-in. piece peeled ginger
3 scallions, roughly chopped
6 small carrots, halved lengthwise (or 2 regular carrots, sliced)
4-5 large shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 small winter squash, cubed
12 oz. silken extra-firm tofu (I like Mori-Nu), cubed
1/4 c. white miso, or to taste
chopped scallion, toasted sesame seeds, and crumbled nori, for garnishing
Combine stock, water, ginger, kombu, and scallions in a pot and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove ginger and kombu and discard, then add soy sauce and mirin. If you haven't pre-cooked the squash, add it to the soup and simmer until just tender. Add carrots, mushrooms, and tofu, and cook for a minute more, until carrots are slightly softened. Remove soup from heat. Mix miso and a spoonful of broth in a small bowl until softened, then add miso mixture to the pot. Adjust for seasonings, adding more soy sauce or miso as necessary. Serve immediately, and garnish each bowl with scallions, sesame seeds, and nori.