Sunday, October 24, 2010

Delicata Squash in Aromatic Miso Broth

Delicata is one of many varieties of winter squash now arriving abundantly in produce markets. As the name implies, Delicata has a subtle creamy texture and flavor and is a bit less sweet than most other winter squash; its elongated shape and modest size makes it easy to handle and slice. Winter squash keeps well and is a good staple to have on hand for impromptu steaming, baking or soup making during cool rainy weather in the Bay Area.

This recipe is inspired by one of my favorite Japanese country soups known as oden. Classic oden is made with dashi, a sea vegetable stock which is a staple of traditional Japanese cuisine. The other ingredients are cooked separately and added to the dashi, creating a flavorful broth studded with satisfying chunks of tender seasonal vegetables, roasted whole eggs, fish balls, tofu and other delicacies.

When making this much simpler vegan rendition (which cannot really be called oden), the vegetables are cut into chunks and simmered gently directly in the broth until tender but not falling apart. Vegetables which require less cooking are added after the denser ones have cooked for a while. When the soup is done and the heat is off, the miso is added. (For more about cooking with miso see earlier post "Miso Demystified"). The thickness of vegetable slices is approximate; just remember that the size and density of the vegetables will affect cooking time.

6 cups fresh water
1 large carrot, cut into pieces about 1 inch long
1 piece leek about 6 inches long, sliced into segments 1- 2 inches long
2 celery ribs, cut into segments 1- 2 inches long
2 or 3 strips kombu or wakame sea vegetable (optional)
3 or 4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in half
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, whole
1 or 2 whole garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
4 or 5 sprigs parsley
1 tablespoon Mirin rice wine (optional)
1 medium delicata squash, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds (seeds removed)
1 medium zucchini, sliced into 1 inch rounds
2 tablespoons white miso paste
lemon juice

Place water, carrot, leek, celery, sea vegetable (if using), potatoes, jalapenos, garlic and bay leaf in a soup pot. Bring to a boil and lower heat. Place parsley sprigs on top of other vegetables, cover and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Add rice wine (if using) and Delicata squash slices to pot, cover and continue to simmer another 10 minutes or so. If vegetables are not mostly covered in broth, add a little more water. Add zucchini slices and continue cooking a few more minutes until zucchini is almost tender. (About 5 minutes). In a small bowl, dissolve miso paste in a few tablespoons of soup broth, return mixture to pot and turn off heat. Allow soup to rest about 5 minutes; taste and add more dissolved miso paste if needed.

Remove garlic, jalapenos, sea vegetable and bay leaf. Serve soup in warm bowls with lemon slices as a garnish. Sea vegetable and jalapeno may be sliced into strips and added to each serving at the table.

Note: Baked tofu cut into cubes is another delicious garnish which may be added at the table. Warm the cubes briefly in a small skillet before serving.