Thursday, May 24, 2012
As I recently wrote in my Vegan Miso Soup recipe, I am so excited to discover kombu, the Japanese dried kelp that can be used to make savory vegan soup stocks. Kombu is special because it contains natural glutamic acid, the same amino acid that gives meat its savoriness. It's also great because, if you simmer it for awhile, it loses its seaweed flavor and becomes very neutral and highly adaptable to different cuisines.
French Onion Soup is one of those dishes that vegetarians seem to miss the most. (Many have the common experience of ordering it regularly in restaurants, mistaking it to be vegetarian, until they were regretfully informed that its rich, flavorful base was long-simmered beef or veal stock. Delicious but definitely not vegetarian.)
Even if you're an omnivore, like me, the idea of simmering beef bones for hours to make a decent stock may not be practical. And if, like me, you're trying to cut back on your meat and fat intake, you may have tried buying cartoned vegetable broths, and found them to be weak and strange tasting, expensive, and high in sodium.
Enter kombu. It not only makes a hearty stock for a traditional meat-based soup like French-onion, but contains none of preservatives or "off" flavors you find in prepared stocks. And by the time you caramelize the onions, the delicious stock will be ready, saving you hours of time over traditional beef stock. It's a boon for vegetarians and meat lovers alike, and I think you'll be very impressed by the richness of its flavor.
For about 5 cups of soup, or 3-4 hearty servings, you will need:
2 large onions, cut in half and thinly sliced to about 1/4 inch. (I normally use yellow for cooked foods, but if you have red on hand, that's fine too.)
1 tablespoon thinly sliced garlic cloves
1 12"x3" piece of kombu, well-rinsed and broken into smaller pieces
1/4 t dried thyme, or 2/3 sprigs of chopped fresh thyme
2 small bay leaves
1 tablespoon or to taste dry sherry (or a splash of dry white or red wine)
3 large button mushrooms, thinly sliced and sauteed in a little salt and olive oil.
Handful of raw, chopped dark greens (spinach, kale, mustard...)
Toasted or stale bread slices
Grated Gruyère, Emmentaler, Jarlsberg, or other good Swiss-style cheese
Dusting of grated nutmeg
Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and coat well with the oil, then reduce heat to medium low. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for about 20 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan every 30 seconds or so to avoid burning. As the water from the onions evaporates, you may find that you need to lower the heat further. Add the sliced garlic and the dried thyme. (If you're using fresh, you will add it when you put the onions in the broth.) Continue to scrape the pan regularly and caramelize the onions for another 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of your pan: bigger pan = quicker caramelization) until they achieve a deep golden brown, but do not smell or taste burnt.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring the kombu and the bay leaves to a boil in 3 cups of water. Reduce to low heat and simmer, uncovered for 30-45 minutes. This will yield about 1 1/2 cups of kombu broth. Remove the kombu pieces and bay leaves and add 2 1/2 cups of water and the sherry or wine. Add the caramelized onions and any greens or sauteed mushrooms you are using. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered for at least 10 minutes, until the greens are cooked through and soft, and all the flavors in the soup have married.
You may serve as is, or, if you are traditionally inclined, ladle the soup into broiler-safe bowls or ramekins. Top with toasted bread, and cover generously with shredded cheese and a dusting of nutmeg. Place under an oven or toaster oven broiler until the cheese is melted and browned. Serve immediately.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
In addition to a lot of sweet, sour, cola-flavored, and fruity jelly candies and marshmallows, they also have chocolates, fudge, nougats, and quite a few iterations of singularly Scandinavian salty licorice. If you're never tried it, it's strong - definitely an acquired taste! But once you're used to it, you may find yourself craving more.
If you live in New York, some sweets from Sockerbit would make a fun Mother's Day gift. I'm sending some to my mom in California!
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Wednesday, May 2, 2012
I recently made a discovery that I'm exited to share with everyone: Kombu. Kombu is a dried seaweed from Japan that is used to make dashi, the savory broth that forms the base of miso soup and other Japanese soups. Often it is combined with dried, fermented bonito fish flakes, other dried fishes, or dried shitake mushrooms, which I used in this recipe. Kombu is special for a couple of reasons. First, it's a great source of iodine, which is important for thyroid heath. Second, it contains natural glutamic acid, an amino acid present in meat and other proteins that is responsible for umami, what the Japanese call savoriness. Umami is the reason meat tastes so rich and delicious, and the reason why monosodium glutamate (MSG) is such a widely used flavoring. Finding a natural, healthful, vegan source of umami like kombu is really exciting because it means you can make vegetarian soups, even traditionally meat-based ones like French onion, that have a similar, deliciously savory quality to the original recipes.
I've started using Kombu as a base for stock in all my vegetarian broths. Canned and cartonned vegetable broth is generally pretty icky; it tends to taste like salty, dirty water. And the longer you simmer kombu, the more savory, more neutral, and less like seaweed your broth tastes. This means that you can use it in delicate soups, and they won't be overpowered by an oceany flavor.
I wanted to start with a basic kombu and shiitake mushroom dashi for a Japanese miso soup, because it's an easy, traditional way to get familiar with kombu. And miso is in itself quite healthful. Like yogurt, it's a fermented probiotic with live bacterial cultures; never boil miso soup, or you'll kill those good bacteria. This time of year, you can garnish your miso with all the beautiful fresh baby greens and spring onions that are at the farmers market right now.
For 2.5 to 3 cups of soup, enough for 2 people as a light entree and 4 people as a small starter, you will need:
8 dried shiitake mushrooms (Definitely use dried here - fresh won't give you the same pungent flavor.)
A large, 10"x3" piece of kombu dried seaweed, rinsed well (Kombu, like dried shiitakes, is available in Asian supermarkets. Kombu looks like a piece of stiff black shoe leather. It may have a light white powder on it - this isn't mold, it's dried seawater.)
2 to 3 tablespoons white miso paste (I prefer the flavor of white to red miso - it's sweeter and more delicate - but you can use red if you like. Miso paste is widely available in many supermarkets in the refrigerated dairy section. It is made from fermented soybeans and wheat. If you are gluten-free, health food stores, Whole Foods, and Asian markets have gluten-free options.)
Cubed silken or firm tofu
Baby mustard greens or kale
Rehydrated wakame seaweed or shredded noriShredded carrots
Thinly sliced scallions
Cooked udon or soba noodles
Pour 2 cups of boiling water over the dried shiitakes and allow to soak for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the kombu into small pieces and simmer in a large saucepan with 4 cups of water for about 30 minutes.
Remove the mushrooms from their soaking liquid, reserving the liquid. Discarding the stems, thinly slice the shiitakes, and add to the kombu broth. (I found I only needed to slice 4 of the 8 mushrooms for this amount of soup.) Now pour the soaking liquid into the kombu broth, making sure hold back the gritty mushroom sediment that collects at the bottom. Remove the kombu pieces from the broth. (They are edible, but I'm not fond of the texture.) Take the pan off the heat and stir in the miso paste to taste and any garnishes. Return the pan to the heat and bring it to just under a boil - boiling will kill the healthy, probiotic bacteria in the miso. Serve immediately.