There is just the hint of winter in the air as we move through autumn and this slight chill always gets my soup bells ringing. Here is a soup that ticks all of the autumnal boxes, tasty and utterly loaded with healthy things, even (almost) locally made Welsh Miso.
This recipe takes care of all of our seasonal fare on Tiger Mountain, all of them green and when simmered together for a time, transform into a tasty health elixir. The flavours are hearty and comforting with a tinge of ginger and miso in the background to keep things interesting and offer a little Japanese style twang.
My Dad, John (aka the big yin, aka ‘heed’, aka Johnnie Boy) has been visiting for a week and he knows how to enjoy himself, Jane and I struggle to keep up! We’ve had a week of wonderful times but lets just say that many of them were not exactly beneficial to the health. Our wine rack is bare (a very grim sight) and our ale stores seriously depleted. After waving Dad off at the station, we both decided that our bodies needed some kind of green wake up call and nothing comforts and revitalizes more than a decent bowl of soup.
Cabbage is the backbone of this soup, and a good cabbage is essential late autumn behaviour. Not the most glamorous of ingredients but when handled with care, one of the tastiest and versatile veggies. I love wrapping things in cabbage leaves and baking them, or even blanching the leaves and using them as an alternative to something like a spring roll. One things for sure, in north Wales, we’ll never be short of cabbages, they love it up here and at work the other day (I cook in a retreat/ alternative learning centre), I had the privilege of tackling the largest cabbage I have ever seen. Judy (farming genius and very much more) wandered into the kitchen bearing a green globe at least 2 feet across!!!! I swear there must be something magical in the soil over there, we can hardly eke a Brussel sprout out up here!!!! If you can’t get hold of a good organic cabbage, you may need to add a little more stock to the mix, your taste buds will be the guide…….
We have been building up to making our own miso for a while now, but are fortunate to have Welsh miso being produced almost on our own doorstep, give or take a few hundred miles, in the same country at the very least. They guys at Source Foods seem like a very decent bunch and their products are top. We recently got hold of a pot of their hemp miso (thanks for forgetting it Helen!) and its a wicked addition to their fabulous fermented offerings. They use all organic ingredients and without sourcing bits from Japan, which has been very unfortunately effected by the Fukushima tragedy. Welsh Miso, quite randomnly, is our amazing stuff!
Miso adds unmistakable vitality and deliciousness, but comes with bags of sodium. If you are serious about making this a detox soup, give your kidneys a break and take it easy on the miso, 2 tbs is enough. There is however new research coming out that highlights the difference between salt and miso, they are handled differently and have different effects on our bodies. Salt leads to higher blood pressure and for some miraculous reason, miso does not. This is backed up by the rate of heart problems in Japan, where high levels of miso is consumed regularly. We used light miso here, but you can use a darker variety, just use less. See the ‘Foodie Fact’ below for more info on marvelous Mr Miso.
This soup falls into the bracket of ‘a meal in itself’ and we regularly eat it like a stew, without much liquid and plenty of lumps. In this state, it will be wonderful with brown rice, but we find it filling enough by itself.
The Bits – For 6 good bowls
1 teas olive oil
1 teas toasted sesame seed oil
1 leek (finely sliced)
1 1/2 inch fresh ginger (finely diced or roughly grated)
2 celery sticks (finely sliced)
1/2 medium savoy cabbage
1 cup green/ puy lentils
1 small head broccoli (cut into small florets)
6 handfuls spinach leaves
600ml warm organic vegetable stock (use only water if you trust your veggies to be amazing)
1 teas dried rosemary
2-5 tbs light miso (to taste)
sea salt (if needed)
Drizzle of olive oil (optional)
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan on medium heat, drizzle in the oils and when warm add the leeks, ginger and celery. Stir and fry for 4-5 minutes, until soft. Add the cabbage, lentils, stock/ water and rosemary to the pan. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a steady simmer, pop a lid on and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the lentils are soft.
Add the broccoli and spinach, stir into the soup and pop the lid back on, cook for a further 5 minutes on a low simmer. Stir in the miso to taste. Pulse a few times with a stick blender, or add a quarter of the soup to a food processor and blend until smooth.
Pop a lid on and leave the soup to stand for a couple of minutes. Miso is really like salt with benefits, it will enhance and deepens the flavours.
Straight away, add a little splash of olive oil for added richness. If its a very special occasion (or a Tuesday) you could stir in 2-3 tbs of hazelnut butter to add silky creaminess. Inevitably, Jane’s Easy Seeded Wholemeal Loaf, lightly toasted would be a belter of an accompaniment.
‘Miso’ is Japanese for ‘fermenting beans’ and miso can be made with any grain/ bean. We used soya based miso here but you can find barley, rice, buckwheat, wheat, hemp seed….the list goes on. Obvious what the miso is made of will alter the nutritional benefits but soya beans are normally used as a base in the process.
Miso involves fermentation, which of course means funky mould (or fungus if you will). The fungus in question is the brilliantly named ‘Aspergillus oryzae’ and its highly magic! The key discovery made in the production of miso was how to keep these spores alive and transportable. Miso on the move. People have been fermenting foods in Japan and China for thousands of years (its also traditionally made in Indonesia and Korea), it was referred to as ‘Koji’ and they were well aware of the health benefits brought about by these amazing moulds. This is the same process used when making sake, soya sauce tamari etc.
To make miso, you basically add the Aspergillus (or other sometimes other bacteria’s/ micro organisms are used) to soaked and cooked soya beans to get things started, this is in turn added to soaked and cooked grains/ beans and the miso is left to mellow and mature. Miso comes in all sorts of shades and colours, normally white, red and dark brown, the fermentation process dictates the depth of flavour and colour. Normally the darker the colour, the more intense the flavour, red and brown miso can be matured for three years and ‘Hatcho’ Miso, which is famous in Japan, is matured in 200 year old vats for three winters.
Buy organic miso when you can and ensure that no MSG has been added, cheaper makes will do this. Miso is very nourishing and is a good source of fibre and protein, it is a very tasty way of adding legumes to your diet, 2 tbs of miso normally contains the nutrition of 2 cups worth of legumes. The fermentation process of miso means that some of the beneficial chemicals present are already broken down by the magic fungus, giving our digestion a break and allowing our bodies to easily absorb all the goodness. Misos main attraction, from a health point of view, is its outrageous list of beneficial anti-oxidants, our free radical scavenging friends.
We also just like the word ‘Miso’ and have decided that if another cat decides to move in with us, there are few appearing round our way, we’ll name it ‘Miso’. Could we get away with calling a child ‘Miso’?! Hmmm…..
Somethings we’ve cooked with our friend mighty Miso:
Soup on the hob