Vegan and Gluten-Free Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame

When I think of Japanese food, I think of a carnivorous feast full of sashimi, nigiri, and sushi rolls; chicken or pork tonkatsu; chicken, beef, or salmon teriyaki; porky udons; and much, much more.  Everything but vegan.  Six months ago, I would have snubbed at the idea of a vegan Japanese meal.  I would have thought, “such a sad waste of calories” at that time.

Interestingly, since I’ve made the decision to eat less meat, and more veggies, my palate has become more open-minded to vegan and vegetarian fare.  I seek out vegan or vegetarian restaurants when I’m traveling.  We recently visited the East Bay and headed to the Gourmet Ghetto (aka, Berkeley) for some vegan/vegetarian Japanese food at Cha-Ya.  I have to admit, I was still a little hesitant about vegan Japanese food because I had some doubts that it was going to be as good as your traditional Japanese meal.  We ordered miso soup; sunomono; udon with vegetable tempura; and pickled burdock and pickled melon sushi rolls, and a seaweed salad sushi roll.

The dinner was ridiculously amazing and filling!  I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and how much I look forward to going back.  What stood out the most was the simple but savory miso soup that oozed with umami.  Oh.  My.  Word.  It was just delightful.  I like a good miso soup, and I order it just about every time we dine at a Japanese restaurant.  Most places are either too salty or too stingy with the tofu and wakame.  I can honestly say that Cha-Ya offers some of the best miso soup.

I left Cha-Ya feeling inspired to cook up some vegan Japanese food at home.  I started with a vegan miso soup.  It turned out pretty good… it’s definitely a close second to Cha-Ya’s :)

Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame

6 cups vegan dashi (6 cups of water + 12 inch piece of kombu soaked overnight)
3-4 tablespoons gluten-free red miso paste
1-2 tablespoon gluten-free white miso paste
1 block firm tofu (fresh if possible), drained and cubed
2 tablespoons wakame, soaked in water for 5 minutes, drained and roughly chopped
1/4 cup green onion, chopped

When ready to make the soup, bring the vegan dashi up to a simmer (not a full boil), then take out the kombu. Bring to a full boil, and then add the wakame and simmer for one minute.

Place a small strainer over the broth. Add the miso [a little bit at a time to your preference, since miso varies in saltiness] by dissolving and pushing through the strainer. [The strainer helps to avoid a lumpy miso soup. Lastly, do not boil the miso or else you risk ruining the miso flavor.] Add the tofu and green onion.

Serve immediately.

Miso-Marinated Salmon

I’ve come across many recipes for “miso-marinated black cod” and “Nobu’s miso black cod,” while perusing foodie blogs and finally had the opportunity to make it.  My bestie was spending the night with us, and I wanted to make something light, but yummy.  So I brought the gourmet on and went with Nobu’s notorious miso black cod.  We went to Whole Foods to get ingredients for our salad and fish.  But to our dismay, Whole Foods rarely carries black cod unless it’s special ordered.  So onto plan B.  Unfortunately, I had NO plan B!!  After a somewhat stressful trip to the fish counter, we ended up leaving with salmon.  I prayed to the foodie gods that the recipe work just as well for salmon as it does for black cod.

And guess what?!  The recipe was perfect.

Miso-Marinated Salmon (adapted from Nobuyuki Matsihisa)

2 pounds salmon filet, skinned (about four 7-8 ounce filets each)
1 1/2 cups white miso
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups mirin
3/4 cups sake

Combine miso and sugar in the top of a double boiler.  Add sake and mirin, and whisk to combine, using a heavy whisk.  Cook over boiling water, stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved and the color begins to darken, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool.

Place fish in 1 layer in a shallow dish.  Pour miso mixture over fish, turning to coat thoroughly.  Cover with plastic wrap, and marinate in refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, turning once a day.

Heat broiler to high.  Remove fish from marinade, and place on a baking sheet. Broil until caramelized, 2 to 3 minutes.  With a flat spatula, turn fish, and broil 2 to 3 minutes more.  Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

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