Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Miso Soup Cure

I love the holidays, especially the part about hanging out with friends and family, but even the best Christmas is something of an ordeal, and tonight we Lovesmith's are a bedraggled bunch, worse for wear from travel, sleep deprivation, head colds, and days of eating food we don’t usually eat. Some of us are also feeling the effects of those extra swigs of whiskey.

It’s the perfect night for a miso soup dinner. Miso soup does all kinds of magical things; it detoxifies and alkalizes the blood, soothes digestion, stimulates the immune system and in general straightens a body right out. You can read about its health benefits all over the place, including here and here.

I have been making miso soup for years, ever since a six-month stint living at the Kushi Institute, a macrobiotic community and study center (more on this in future posts), but it’s always turned out meh, at best. Henry and I decided that our next stretch of cooking lessons will focus on soup-making, and we agreed that the first order of business was to develop an excellent miso soup recipe. We imagined a series of test kitchen experiments, pot after pot of soup until we got it just right.

But before we even began, my friend Josh gave me his vegetarian adaptation of his Japanese grandmother’s miso soup recipe. When somebody gives you his grandmother’s recipe for something, rejoice. Rest assured, you're in for something good.

I made Josh’s soup for my family and it was an immediate hit. Jonah, home for the holidays from the University of Illinois, gave it his supreme compliment: “This tastes like restaurant miso soup!”  And so ended our very, very short search for the perfect recipe, and even better – Josh gave me permission to share it with the world.

Miso Soup 
4 servings

1 piece dried kombu *
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 handful dried wakame *
2 scallions, green parts sliced into 2-inch pieces, white parts slivered
1 package firm tofu, cubed.
4 tablespoons miso (Josh uses a combination of white and red miso, and I did the same - I think that using two different types of miso is part of what makes this soup so full-bodied).

* kombu and wakame are seaweed, readily available in health food stores and Asian markets

Put kombu, shiitake mushrooms, and 6 cups of water in a pot. 
Bring to a boil and simmer 25 minutes.

While the broth is simmering, chop tofu and scallions.

Soak wakame in water to rehydrate. 

Measure miso into a bowl or cup.

Scoop out a little hot broth and add to miso. Stir well with a fork to blend into a smooth mixture.

After broth has simmered 25 minutes, remove kombu and shiitakes from stock.
Save for another use or discard.

Pour soaking water off wakame and chop into small pieces. 
Add wakame to simmering broth along with dissolved miso, scallions, and tofu. 
Cook at a low simmer (you don't want to vigorously boil miso) for five minutes.


Josh recommends serving with a side of white rice. I agree wholeheartedly. 
Add a bowl of steamed veggies to make a complete meal, light but thoroughly satisfying. 
And if my family's response is any indication, people adore meals composed of food in little bowls.

All the best for a happy, healthy new year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Deck the Halls with Salad Dressing

I made brownies last night. Henry and I are making Christmas cookies this afternoon. Next weekend, I'm baking two pies. At every turn, people are handing out sweets, and it's great fun, but I'm already a little burnt-out on sugary holiday treats, not to mention a bit compromised in the immune system, and my cells are craving vegetables. So although we don't usually eat a lot of salad in the winter, I've been making salad for dinner this week - salad with cooked green beans and olives, with roasted beets and goat cheese, with blanched cauliflower and homemade croutons, with potatoes, with tuna, with roasted pecans.

These salad meals gave me a chance to teach Henry how to make a few simple dressings. After all, a chef I know includes vinaigrette as one of the ten basics that every kid should learn. This also gave me a chance to teach Henry the word "emulsify." Such a great word.

Basic Vinaigrette

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced very finely
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
Optional: fresh or dried herbs (thyme is good) to taste

Combine vinegar, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl and whisk until the salt is dissolved (takes less than a minute).

Add dijon mustard and whisk to combine.

Add olive oil in a steady stream and whisk until emulsified.

Add garlic and optional herbs. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
2 jarred, roasted red peppers
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon honey

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until very smooth. Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette is gorgeous and delicious. People freak out over it.

Creamy Garlic Dressing

1/4 cup mayonnaise or vegan substitute
1/4 cup greek yogurt or vegan substitute
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch pepper
2-4 cloves garlic, pressed or very finely minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, regular or vegetarian

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a bowl or blender. Whisk or blend to combine.
Add olive oil in slow steady stream and whisk or blend well.
Tastes even better a few hours after you make it.

(For a creamy green-goddess-ish dressing make creamy garlic dressing in the blender and add a small handful of parsley, spinach, basil, or a combination.)

Tahini Dressing (adapted from May All Be Fed by John Robbins)

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup tahini
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
2-4 tablespoons water
optional: pinch of cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients except water in a blender and blend until smooth. Add water until desired consistency is reached.
Tahini dressing is good on steamed vegetables, especially broccoli, as well as on grains or noodles.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Vegan Butternut Squash Ziti

We are not a vegan family - our diet includes fish, cheese, and eggs - but we're part-time vegans, eating a few completely plant-based dinners every week. I like the challenge of coming up with healthier versions of traditional comfort-food favorites, and this Butternut Squash Ziti recipe was the result of an extended and ultimately failed attempt to make a delicious vegan macaroni and cheese. As I gradually gave up on making a mock (it was more a mockery of) mac and cheese, Butternut Squash Ziti began to come into its own.

This is a fun recipe to make with a kid, a great one for practicing tasting and adjusting seasoning (Henry, like me, loves cayenne pepper and tends to add an extra pinch), for encouraging experimentation (it took multiple tries to get this right, we ate quite a few okay-not-great versions along the way), and the sauce was a nice spin-off from our recent white sauce lessons. Butternut Squash Ziti is satisfying, creamy and rich, a good comfort-food substitute for macaroni and cheese, not an inferior imitation.

Vegan Butternut Squash Ziti
8+ servings

1 lb ziti or penne

1 large butternut squash (3.5 - 4 lb)

1/3 cup nonhydrogenated margarine (like Earth Balance) or olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, very finely chopped

3-4 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1/4 cup white or whole wheat pastry flour

 2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon white or black pepper

big pinch cayenne pepper

big pinch sage

1 cup unsweetened soy milk or almond milk

1 cup water

1 can coconut milk (14 oz)

For topping:

2 1/2 cups breadcrumbs

1/4 cup nonhydrogenated margarine or olive oil

1 teaspoon rubbed sage

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon paprika

big pinch each salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

Butternut squash sauce:

Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise (keep seeds intact) and place face down on a cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 1 hour, or until easily pierced with a knife and slightly bubbling. When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out and discard seeds and pulp. Puree about half the squash in a food processor or blender. Save the un-pureed squash, you're going to use it, too.

Heat margarine or olive oil in a large heavy pot. Add onions and a pinch of salt, cook over medium-low heat until very soft, sweet, and slightly golden. This takes at least 15 minutes! If you rush the process, you're only robbing yourself. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for an additional minute or two. Stir in salt, pepper, thyme, cayenne, and sage.

Add flour and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until flour smells nutty and toasty, about five minutes. Whisk in soy/almond milk and water, a little at a time, then whisk in coconut milk. Bring mixture to a simmer and stir constantly until sauce begins to thicken.

Add pureed squash and stir well. Use a spoon to scoop bite-sized pieces of the un-pureed squash into the sauce (I like the look and texture of this dish best when it's not all smooth - the chunks of squash look pretty and add interest). Let simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

Taste and adjust seasoning. More cayenne? Wish there was some nutmeg in there? Love black pepper and can never get enough?

Add cooked, drained pasta to pot and stir well to combine. Transfer mixture to  9 x 11- inch casserole.

Breadcrumb topping:

Heat margarine or olive oil in large skillet over medium heat

Add breadcrumbs, herbs, and spices and stir to coat for 3-4 minutes. Taste and adjust - might need more sage or salt?

Spread breadcrumbs on top of pasta.

Bake for 30 minutes, and cool for at least 10 minutes before eating.
Leftovers are excellent.