Sometimes it takes only a single ingredient to turn a soup from bland and boring to tasty and enjoyable. One such food is miso, or soybean paste, a staple of Japanese cuisine. At sushi restaurants, miso soup is frequently served as a first course. Recipes for this light soup usually call for making a stock from seaweed and dried tuna, which not everyone has in the pantry.
But after reading a simple recipe from Eden Foods, a natural foods company that carries miso in a variety of flavors, I decided to use miso to complement my vegetable soups. I make my quick vegetable soup the usual way, from onions, carrots, celery, zucchini and other vegetables, and add a few spoonfuls of light miso. The result is delicious. The miso seasons and thickens the soup and makes it satisfying.
You can use sauces and flavorings from a variety of cuisines as easy-to-use soup enhancers. Bottled curry sauce or Indian curry paste is another useful ingredient that I stir into vegetable soups at the last minute. Like miso, it flavors the soup and makes it more substantial. Some of my friends use spicy Mexican salsas as a finishing touch in their vegetable soups. Tomato sauces work well, too.
Even peanut butter can be used to quickly make soups more substantial. African peanut soup is basically a vegetable or chicken-vegetable soup that is finished with several tablespoons of peanut butter. It makes the soup rich, creamy and tasty.
Bean puree is another good addition for thickening soups. I've used canned pinto bean or black bean puree, but you can simply blend any kind of canned beans in a food processor. Next, stir the puree into the soup by the tablespoon until it acquires the consistency you desire. The beans add flavor and valuable nutrients to the soup. Of course, you can add whole beans, but adding them as a puree thickens the soup better and is useful if someone in the family is reluctant to eat beans.
Microwaving is another efficient technique to cut down on soup preparation time. While I simmer fast-cooking vegetables in a saucepan to make the soup base, I microwave longer-cooking vegetables, like potatoes and hard-shelled squash. Once the microwaved vegetable is tender, I add it either in small chunks or as a puree and simmer it briefly in the soup so it will absorb flavor and lightly thicken the soup.
MISO VEGETABLE SOUP
White or light-colored miso is more delicate in flavor and less salty than dark or red miso. Add the miso to the soup gradually, to your taste.
Vary the vegetables in this soup according to your preference. For an even faster soup, substitute a package of frozen vegetables for most of the vegetables in the recipe; add them to the chopped onion after it has simmered for 7 to 10 minutes. To make this soup more substantial, heat 11â„2 to 2 cups of cooked chicken or turkey strips or cubes of tofu in the soup.
5 cups vegetable or chicken broth, or water
1 onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
1 celery rib, sliced (optional)
2 medium white squash (kishuim) or zucchini, halved and sliced
225 gr. mushrooms, quartered
11â„2 cups frozen peas or small fresh or frozen broccoli florets (optional)
3 large garlic cloves, chopped (optional)
2 to 3 tsp. miso, preferably light miso made with rice
1â„4 tsp. hot red pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. chopped green onions, parsley or cilantro
Bring broth to a boil with onion. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add carrots and celery and simmer for 5 minutes. Add squash, mushrooms, peas and garlic. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes or until vegetables are just tender.
In a small bowl, combine miso with a few tablespoons of soup and stir until smooth. Return to saucepan of soup and heat through without boiling. Add pepper flakes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve soup sprinkled with green onions.
Makes 4 servings.
EASY ONION AND WINTER SQUASH SOUP
The microwave is especially useful for cooking winter squash, which are delicately sweet and rich in vitamin A but can take a long time to cut and cook. To microwave, you need only cut the squash in half. After microwaving it for a few minutes, scoop out the cooked pulp. Meanwhile, saute the onions, cook them briefly in broth and add the squash. The result: a tasty, low-fat soup with a minimum of time and effort. You can serve it topped with a dollop of low-fat sour cream or yogurt.
1 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
2 large onions, halved, sliced thin
31â„2 cups vegetable broth
1â„2 tsp. ground ginger
salt and freshly ground pepper
500 gr. butternut squash (dalorit)
Heat oil in a stew pan or large wide saucepan. Add onions and saute over medium-high heat about 4 minutes or until beginning to brown. Add broth and 1 cup hot water, cover and bring to boil. Cook for 7 minutes over low heat.
Meanwhile, halve squash, cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 7 minutes or until tender. Remove seeds. Scoop out flesh; it will be soft.
Add squash and ginger to soup. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Serve hot.
Makes 4 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book Faye Levy's International Vegetable Cookbook.