Sunday, 18 December 2011

Miso soup with tofu, broccoli, bok choy and mushrooms

This recipe I describe below is inspired by a recipe I used to make regularly when I was eating a lot of shrimp. Even after I stopped eating meat, I continued to eat shrimp, justifying that it is really more of an insect than an animal. When I first moved to Vancouver I was astounded at how cheap a bag of shrimp was at the grocery store. It was at least half, if not a quarter, of the price I could buy shrimp for back in Saskatchewan. Thus, shrimp was an ingredient I used in many of my recipes.

The book Slow Food Nation focuses a lot on the industries that allow food to be cheap and how cheap food has a startling effect on the environment, farmers and labourers. One story in this book details the state of prawn farming in India. The industry was initially instated with the intent of promoting rapid development, jobs and profits. These farms unfortunately take up huge stretches of coastline, large amounts of fresh water and also use sea water. The result has been a ravaging of coastal lands, depletion of drinking water reserves and pollution of the water and soils. Instead of helping the local economy, these farms have destroyed the previous, bio-diverse, cultural farming practices, ruined the local fishing industry and contributed to widespread unemployment. 

It turns out the shrimp I was buying does in fact come from India. So I have stopped buying that shrimp. In Vancouver, in the spring, the local spot prawn population flourishes and for about 6 weeks, spot prawns can be purchased directly off the pier, just down the seawall 15 minutes from my house. For now on I will save any must-try shrimp recipes for that time of year.

In the recipe below, I used crispy tofu, bok choy, broccoli and a variety of mushrooms instead of shrimp. The recipe I used in the past is flavored with clam juice and the shrimp also added an important depth to the broth. My biggest annoyance with vegetable based, asian soups is that they are often very bland. Meat adds a richness to soup stocks that vegetarians have to supplement using other ingredients. Here, I used ginger, garlic and shallots as a base for my broth and added white miso paste to add to the richness of the broth. A touch of honey and using enough salt (but not too much) is important for making all of the other flavours stand out.

Miso soup with tofu, broccoli, bok choy and mushrooms
Autumn/winter seasonal: mushrooms, broccoli and bok choy

Sesame oil
1/2 block tofu cubed
2 small shallots, chopped
1-2 tbsp roughly grated ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 cups chopped mushrooms (portabello, brown cremini and shiitake mix)
1- 2 cup small broccoli florets and stem cut into small cubes
Pearl baby bok choy
2 cups vegetable broth + 2 cups water
Dash chili flakes
1 rounded tbsp white miso paste
1 tsp honey (agave or maple syrup for vegans)
Sea salt to taste
Instant noodles or rice noodles
Cilantro, chopped

1 - Heat 1 tbsp sesame oil in a non-stick frying pan (I use my well-seasoned iron skillet) and heat to medium temperature.
2 - Add cubed tofu, sprinkle with sea salt and fry, turning occasionally until brown.
3 - Meanwhile, in a separate heavy bottom pot (I used a clay pot), heat 1 tbsp sesame oil over medium heat. 
4 - Stir in shallots, ginger and garlic and fry about 5 minutes.
5 - Add mushrooms and broccoli and fry a couple more minutes.
6 - Add broth, water, chili flakes, miso paste, honey and a tsp of sea salt. Bring broth to a near boil and add bok choy. 
7 - Taste broth and add more salt, if needed, to bring out the flavours of the soup.
8 - Add in the dry noodles (best to have noodles that will cook in a few minutes) and bring to a low boil.
9 - Cook until noodles are soft, a few minutes.
10 - Spoon soup into bowl and top with crispy tofu and chopped cilantro

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