As The Room Turns

Miso hungry

Miso hungry

Wow. That was fast. January – the “Monday Morning of the year” – ends this weekend. Can it be just a few short weeks ago that I was gorging myself on holiday cookies? Eating chocolate like a condemned man? Seems like a distant memory. Ah well, that’s okay because you may recall that I designated January as my month of virtuous eating. The idea was to deblobify while not letting myself feel as though I was on a diet.

This week I had planned to make a cleansing, healthy, but substantial soup. The type of thing that makes you feel like you’re treating your body like the temple that it is, while also feeling like you’re indulging in one of life’s great pleasures – which to me is what cooking well and eating well is all about.

Then I caught a doozy of a winter cold, and that changed the dynamic. Out went my plans for a carefully tended, delicate but hearty chicken soup. “La grippe” rendered me too lazy to chop the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic that serve as the aromatic base for really good chicken soup. No, all I wanted to do was sit on my big fat…uh…sofa.

So I changed tactics a bit. I suppose I could have opened a can of soup. I have no objections to that. But what kind of a blog would that make? “Dear Readers: Tonight I opened a can of soup. The End.” I think I can be a little more creative than that, even with a stuffy nose.

Here’s how this came to be: I may have mentioned in the past that I am a bit of a lightweight when it comes to alcoholic beverages. You can add Ny-Quill to that list: one dose and the room starts to spin. The other night as I was holding on to the bed to make sure I didn’t fall out, I thought of Shirataki noodles.

Non-sequitur? Yes indeed, and don’t you envy my ability to get completely ripped from one tiny dose of Ny-Quill? I have no idea why I thought of Shirataki noodles, but once the thought came to mind there it stayed until I drifted off.

Japanese Shirataki noodles are kind of amazing – in theory. They are not made of flour; instead they are made of powdered Konnyaku root (a yam), with certain brands throwing in some tofu for good measure. More important: they are gluten free, and extremely low in carbs, and calories.

Here’s the problem: I tried them a year or two ago and hated them. The easiest to find Shirataki noodles come packed in a bag of water and have a somewhat gelatinous texture. In other words, they have the mouth feel of overcooked noodles. That’s a major flaw for me; I’ve been known to fatally undercook pasta. I’m talking al Dente with a capital D. (Or should that be a capital A?) As I was riding the Ny-Quill roller coaster I decided that I should give Shirataki noodles another chance, but this time I’d make sure to keep them within a milieu where they can feel at home: miso soup.

Miso soup is a staple of Japanese cuisine, so much so that many Japanese even drink it for breakfast. Miso is a paste made of fermented soy and usually another grain like rice or barley. The paste is simply mixed with water or broth to make soup. Easy and fast, right? The best part is that anything else in the soup is your choice.

Cut to the next day, and me, stone cold sober, trawling the aisles at Whole Foods. In my shopping cart: miso paste, and Shirataki noodles. As I walked up and down the aisles I kept an eye out for things that would complement the mild saltiness of the soup while adding color (miso soup tends to be a bit muddy), and add a bit of texture. I also hoped for something vaguely medicinal to attack my cold. Garlic was a given. Supposedly it has antiseptic properties that would wash away my cold.

I thought scallions might be a nice addition too; they were usually floating in the bowls of miso soup I have been served in restaurants. But that day Whole Foods was pushing big fat Vidalia Salad Onions which looked like scallions that had gorged themselves at an all you can eat buffet. They looked too good to pass up. A few shiitake mushrooms found their way into the basket – one of the familiar faces I thought would keep the Shirataki noodles company.

Finally, I realized that I craved a bit of protein and bought a palmful of 41-50 shrimp from the fish counter.

Back home in my kitchen, making the soup was literally as easy as boiling water. I cut the garlic into not-too-thin slices. I figured I could steep its medicinal qualities into the soup by not chopping it too finely. I sliced the mushrooms, and added the Shirataki noodles early so they’d have enough time to heat up with the soup.

(Shirataki noodles usually need to be boiled very briefly before using, because straight from the package they may have a bit of a funky smell. I did as directed, but I probably could have skipped this step: mine didn’t smell bad coming out of the package.)

I added the shrimp last and let them cook in the soup. This takes a whopping two to three minutes. After pouring the soup into the bowl, I added thin rings of the Vidalia Salad Onion as a garnish. Their spiky / sweet crunch would be a nice counterpoint to all the other mellow ingredients.

My instinct about the Shirataki noodles was right on target. In a soup I didn’t find their softness objectionable; here they fit in beautifully and added a bit of guilt-free chew. The soup itself was light and refreshing with a reassuring sting of garlic that I chose to assume were its medicinal qualities announcing their report for duty.

No, the soup didn’t rid me of my cold. But it did get me back on the sofa quickly, well nourished, and with happily amused taste buds. What’s the old saw about colds? Three days coming, three days here, and three days going. If that schedule holds, my cold should exit with the month of January.

And will January leave me deblobified? I’m down ten pounds. Not bad, eh?

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Saveur CoverThe kind folks at Saveur Magazine found my August 31st, 2009 posting about Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas and asked me to distill it for inclusion in their readers’ 2010 Top 100 list. You’ll find it in the Jan / Feb 2010 issue of the magazine, now on newsstands everywhere. Take a look and let me know what you think!

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