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.

Amuse Bouche This: Pork Wonton Soup Meets Japanese Braised Pork Belly and Kale

[I can't believe I still haven't blogged about this!... This post was sitting in my drafts folder for almost a year.  How did i miss this?! ]

My ultimate comfort food is pork wonton soup that my Mom used to make when I was growing up.  I could almost guarantee there would a big bowl of filling with two packets of wonton wrappers waiting for me to help her wrap wontons during the first day of winter.  We’d make a large batch to consume later that night, but she would also freeze baggies of wontons for Monday night dinners weeks ahead.

It’s raining and cold outside today.  I was craving something warm and soothing, but I realized that we had recently finished the wontons my Mom gave us.  What was my solution?  It was easy… make some more!

This is my kicked up version of the traditional pork wonton soup with slices of char shiu pork and bok choy…

Amuse Bouche This: Pork Wonton Soup Meets Japanese Braised Pork Belly and Kale

For the filling:

1 pound of ground pork
3 stalks of green onion, chopped
1 1/4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup of low-sodium chicken broth
Pinch of salt
Pinch of white pepper
1 packet of wonton wrappers

Combine all the ingredients thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.

Fill a small bowl with water and keep it next to you. Place one heaping teaspoonful of the filling in the center of a wonton wrapper. [Be sure not to put too much of the filling, otherwise it'll leak out during the folding process.] Moisten all the edges of the wonton wrapper with water using your finger. Fold one edge of the wrapper over the filling like a triangle. Press the edges firmly together to make a seal, which will help eliminate any air pockets. Bring the left and right corners together above the filling. Overlap the tips of these corners, moisten with water and press together. Continue until all the wrappers are used.

Note: Wontons can be made a month ahead. Freeze in a layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Carefully lift the wontons and place them in a sealable plastic bag and keep frozen.

For the soup:

1 quart of chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Salt and white pepper, to taste
1/2 bunch of kale, strip out the center core or stalk, tear kale into small pieces

Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot. Add the kale and drop in the amount of wontons you want, and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes minutes.

Garnish serving spoon or miniature serving bowls with a little broth, kale, a wonton, and braised pork belly.

For the braised pork (adapted from No Recipes):

6 cloves of garlic crushed with a heavy object
1 cup water
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons sake
2 teaspoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 pounds pork belly cut into 2″ strips

In a small dutch oven or heavy bottom pan with a tight-fitting lid, combine all the ingredients in the pot, and cover. Cook over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 hours or until the meat falls apart and the fat is silky smooth.

Remove from heat and allow the pork to rest in the broth overnight by putting it in the refrigerator after it cools. This will accomplish two things: 1) it gives the pork belly a chance to absorb more flavor and 2) it will be easier to skim off the rendered fat.

[Gently reheat the left over with some braising liquid and serve over white rice. You won't regret it.]

Turkey Kielbasa, Potato, and Kale Soup

kale soup, turkey kielbasa soup, turkey kielbasa, kielbasa

I have a few shifts left before I change jobs.  It’s a bittersweet feeling… I’m sad to leave the people that I really enjoy working with, but I’m really excited and nervous about starting my new job.  I didn’t think I was ever going to leave this job.  Ever.  In.  A.  Million.  Years.  If you asked me a year ago where I was going to be with my career in five years, I would have immediately answered with “this job, of course!”

But something suddenly changed within the last six months.  I was feeling unsatisfied and unchallenged by my job.  I was bored.  I need to be stimulated, and my current job just wasn’t doing that for me anymore.  These new feelings about my job was difficult.  I was struggling because I thought that *this* was my dream job, and that it’s such a dynamic environment, so how could I be bored?  I thought it was something that would pass if I just gave it some time, and plus there was nothing out there for me when I did a quick job search.  But the more time I gave it, the more unhappy I was with my job.

Well, low and behold, I started doing some searching and came across a job posting, which I thought I could totally love, or totally hate and regret leaving my job.  I applied, interviewed, and got the job after a two month process.  So here I am, about to finish this job and move on to the next…. wish me luck!

Turkey Kielbasa, Potato, and Kale Soup

1 large yellow onion, cut into small dices
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 fresh bay leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 small-medium sized potatoes, cut into small cubes
14 ounces (1 package) turkey kielbasa, sliced
8 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
6 cups fresh kale, chopped
2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans
Grated parmesan cheese

In a large dutch oven, heat extra virgin olive oil. When oil is hot, saute the onions and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add the bay leaves and sliced turkey kielbasa and saute for two minutes. Pour the chicken broth into the dutch oven and add the diced potatoes, and bring to a boil.

Reduce to medium-high heat. Add the kale, and cook for about 5 minutes or until the kale is tender. Stir in the cannellini beans, and adjust seasoning to your likings with salt and pepper.

Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.

Split Pea Soup with Canadian Bacon and Miniature Open-Faced Grilled Cheese “Sandwiches”

Split pea soup is ONE of my many favorite comfort foods starting today. Yes, you read that correctly. Today. I’ve only had split pea soup once in my lifetime before today, and I was in my early adolescent years when I tried it. We were taking a family trip to the Bay Area to see some friends and family for dinner, and decided to stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s for, well, a bathroom break. But what was supposed to be a bathroom break turned into an early lunch. We had always heard rave reviews of this place, and decided to see what all the hype was about for ourselves. For those who are unfamiliar with Pea Soup Andersen’s, it’s a California classic famed for its all-you-can-eat split pea soup, with a few restaurants found up and down California.

Well, we came, we saw, we conquered. And me no likey-likey at that time. I didn’t understand split pea soup. It looked like a big glop of green goo in my bowl. The texture, the color, and the flavors were unappealing. I had half a bowl, and did not pursue any further all-you-can-eat bowls. I mean, that’s what all the hype was about? Blech. So as a finicky teenager eater, I opted for some “real food” – pancakes – while my parents were eating bowl after bowl of soup. And to drive home my point of how “gross” I thought split pea soup was at that time, my brother also had the same experience as I and opted for pancakes, too.

One of our New Year’s resolution for this year was to make more soups. I was going down a list of soups to make today, and none seemed to appeal to my partner. Actually, she’d interject “split pea soup” after each soup suggestion I made. I made a yucky face at my partner’s suggestion, and was not excited. But I agreed, with some hesitation, which she doesn’t know (at least up until now). So I decided to give split pea soup another chance today. And I’m sure glad I did! OH EM GEE, I can’t believe what I missed all these years! I can’t wait to make this again.

I’m realizing I should listen to my partner more often… this seems to be a common theme this week :)

The recipe below is my own take on split pea soup. I searched through many different split pea soup recipes, but just wasn’t excited about any one in particular. I decided to use a few ideas here and there from several recipes, and added my own twists to make this fantabulous soup.

Split Pea Soup with Canadian Bacon and Miniature Open-Faced Grilled Cheese “Sandwiches”

5 cloves garlic, minced
4 large leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed, chopped into small pieces
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large yukon potato, diced
1 pound (one 16 ounce bag) of dried green split peas, rinsed
2 bay leaves
2 quarts (8 cups) of low-sodium chicken broth
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
6 slices of canadian bacon

Heat a large pot or a dutch oven over medium-high heat, and heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add garlic, leeks, carrots, celery, and bay leaf. Cook until vegetables have softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add potatoes, split peas and chicken broth.

Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about two hours, until soup is thick. Remove the bay leaves at this time. With a hand-held immersion blender, pulse until you achieve a smoother texture. If the soup is too thick for your liking, thin out the soup with more broth (if you have extra on hand) or water. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and enjoy!

Optional toppings:
1) Crispy, crumbled bacon, pancetta, canadian bacon, or Spam

Heat a nonstick skillet lightly coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Pan-fry your choice of pork on both sides until lightly browned. Remove from skillet, and when cool to handle, dicepork into small pieces. Mix into the soup, or topped on the soup.

2) Miniature grilled cheese “sandwiches”

4 slices ciabatta bread, cut into bite-size squares
1 tablespoon melted butter
Smoked Gouda cheese, cut into thin slices

Brush butter on bread. Spread bread on a cookie sheet and place cheese on about half of the pieces. Broil bread until cheese is melted. Then, sandwich pieces together and broil until golden brown.

Roasted Ratatouille Bisque with Parmesan Crisps

ratatouille, ratatouille soup, ratatouille bisque, roasted ratatouille, roasted vegetables, vegetables, parmesan crisp

ratatouille, ratatouille soup, ratatouille bisque, roasted ratatouille, roasted vegetables, vegetables, parmesan crisp

I’m losing my mind.  I have been so forgetful lately.  And I feel like it’s only getting worse.  I’ll think of something that I need from the bedroom, walk to the bedroom, and completely forget what I needed in the two seconds it took to walk to the bedroom.  I know the example is a common problem for a lot of people.  However, I seem to be doing this many times during the day, several days a week!  Here’s another example that I have been doing a lot of lately… I go to the grocery store with a huge list of items to purchase, gather all the stuff, place all the items on the belt at the cash register station, and just as I am about to pay I realize that my wallet was left at home!  It wouldn’t be so bad if I went to the grocery store a few blocks away, but the two places I love to shop at is a 15-20 minute drive EACH way.  So what should be a 45 minute endeavor, ends up being an hour and a half grocery store trip from hell!  No bueno. This cuts into my limited cooking time.

Ratatouille Bisque with Parmesan Crisps (adapted from Modern Comfort Food)

For the soup:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into quarters
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 red bell peppers, seeds and pith removed, sliced
1 small eggplant, peeled and diced to large cubes
1 medium-sized zucchini, peeled and diced to large cubes
2 1/2 pounds of fresh tomatoes (mix of heirlooms, cherry, vine and plum tomatoes), cut into halves
6 sprigs of thyme
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3 cups of chicken broth
1/4 cup fat-free half and half
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Spread the tomatoes, red bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, garlic cloves and onions onto a baking tray.  Use two baking trays to not overcrowd the baking tray with too many vegetables.  I find that when I “crowd” the baking tray, the veggies tend to “steam” rather than roast properly.  Drizzle with 1/2 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized.

Remove vegetables from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot. Add 3/4 of the chicken stock, thyme, cayenne, and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third.

Remove sprigs of thyme from the pot. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Return soup to medium heat, add cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Garnish with a parmesan crisp.  Forget the crouton.  Do the crisp.

For the parmesan crisps:

2 cups shredded parmesan cheese

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking liner. Sprinkle four 1/4-cup mounds of parmesan about 2 inches apart onto each prepared baking sheet; slightly flatten with a spoon. Bake until golden-brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool for 30 seconds. Using a thin metal spatula, drape the crisps over a rolling pin until hardened into shape, about 3 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

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