Friday, 2 March 2007

Pork and Vegetable Miso Soup - 豚汁

tonjiru - pork miso soup

Growing up in such a mild climate, I never thought much about the seasonality of dishes. Aside from a handful of very hot or freezing days, it seemed pefectly natural to have soup in summer and BBQs in winter.

The Japanese, on the other hand, are very proud of their distinct four seasons; a dry, cold winter, all-too-short sunburst of spring, wet sticky summer and pleasantly gradual cooling and goldening autumn. Restuarant menus change with the seasons and produce appears and disappears from supermarket shelves as the weather changes. More than that, sensitive Melbourne girls are simply too hot or too cold to contemplate whole genres of dishes.

For the last three months I've rarely eaten a salad or cold sandwhich. Ingredients for vietnamese rice paper rolls sit untouched in my cupboards and I laugh at myself eating the occaisional icecream safely indoors with the heater blasting and wooly slippers on.

With the arrival of March and the (as yet unfufilled) promise of warmer days, I've started thinking about all the foods that have warmed me up this winter. Pots of spicy chili, nabe cooked at the table, rich stews, curries and vats and vats of soup. I wonder "Will I have another chance to eat you before December?"

Determined to make the most of the remaining cold weather, I've been making the most winter friendly dishes I can think of. Tonjiru is a hearty soup by Japanese standards, packed with pork and vegetables and flavored with miso. The best tonjiru I've tasted was eaten sitting on the grass in Ashio, Tochigi, after a hard morning of tree planting with the local environmental group. Prepared that morning by volunteers, it had been simmering away for hours, softening the vegetables and mingling flavours.

Most versions contain daikon, potato, gobo, carrot and the jelly-like konyakku. I skipped the konyakku and potatoes and added some nameko mushrooms and aburaage tofu because that's what I had lying around. I also cheated slightly by using ready cut gobo, because scraping all the dirt off is mendokusai (a pain). Despite the substitutions it turned out hearty and flavourful, so it seems like a fairly forgiving recipe. If anything the liquid to filling ratio was a bit low. Next time I'd add a cup of water at the beginning or top up while simmering.

Recipe: Tonjiru - 豚汁
Serves Four with rice and other side dishes.

200 grams very thinly sliced pork
3 cups dashi stock
A good dash of sake
2 TBS miso paste
1/4 daikon (大根)
Packet ready cut gobo strips
1 carrot, peeled and cut into strips
1 sheet aburaage tofu (油揚げ 豆腐)
Handful of nameko, shitake or shimeji mushrooms

  • Saute the daikon, gobo and carrot in a little oil. As they begin to soften add the mushrooms and stir for another minute or two.

  • Add the pork and stir until cooked through.

  • Add the dashi, bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for around 15 minutes. Check that your vegetables have softened and add a little more liquid if needed.

  • Dissolve the miso paste in a ladle or cup, using a little of the stock, and add back into to the pot.

  • Add the sake, simmer for a couple of minutes and serve.

(This recipe is loosely adapted from the many I found on the internet, including Lucas's, which features a step by step video.)

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