Yesterday I was debating with Aaron about whether it was really that cold outside. My argument hinged on the fact that my eyes didn’t burn when I walked outside. I may be wearing fur-lined boots, mittens over gloves, and layers of wool, but if I can feel my face then it has to be at least -10 outside. As you may expect, Aaron won.
January is brutal. It’s sharp and cruel. It’s ironic, or perhaps appropriate, that January is the month so many of us are trying to do things better. Survival can be dicey- or at least it feels a bit uncomfortable. But I think that the sharpness of January helps spur us to make changes. For all of January’s hard angles, there’s a sparse brightness that’s beaconing. January is clean and spare. The days are getting longer, minute by minute. The sun is out once again. If we can do well in January, why can’t we do well in any month?
I wrote a bit about New Year’s resolutions in my last post. One of my resolutions is to keep creatively engaged with the work I do. I want to try out new ideas, new techniques, new point of view. To that end I’m going to try and cook from a different book every month. For January, in honor of this spare wildness, I’m using Amy Chaplin’s revered and weighty At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen. Amy writes passionately about grains, vegetables, beans, and a wide variety of superfoods and condiments that I’ve yet to use. It’s a beautiful book, but most excitingly it’s a fundamentally useful book. And although we play with a lot of the same tools, Amy uses them in a completely different way.
This soup, for instance. If I were to make a hearty winter miso soup, I’d probably caramelize onions in butter, add some squash, kale, and a can of beans, add water, and stir in a tablespoon or two of miso once everything’s cooked all together. I imagine it would be tasty, but it likely wouldn’t end up here.
But Amy’s soup is a beast, hearty and perfect for January. She has you soak then cook adzuki beans from scratch with kombu and shiitake mushrooms, then cooks onions, carrots, and squash in sesame oil. You add in kale, wakame, and 2 types of miso, then stir in a hit of fresh ginger juice. It tastes savory and earthy and sweet and bright. It’s warming and hearty. It’s a soup that’s a match for January, meeting intention for intention and sharpness with warmth.
Adzuki Bean, Squash, and Miso Soup
adapted from At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen by Amy Chaplin
This soup calls for a small amount of ginger juice, which is very easy to make at home. Finely grate ginger, then squeeze using either your hands or cheesecloth to extract the juice. For the 4 teaspoons specified, I needed about 2 inches of fresh ginger. As for ingredients, I’ve found kombu, dried shiitakes, and wakame all at both natural food stores and Asian markets.
1/2 cup adzuki beans, soaked overnight
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 two-inch piece of kombu
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot (or 3 small carrots), halved and thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 cups winter squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup thinly sliced kale
2 tablespoons dried wakame
3 tablespoons dark miso
3 tablespoons light miso
4 teaspoons ginger juice
thinly sliced scallions, to serve
Drain and rinse the adzuki beans. In a medium pot combine the beans with the shiitake mushrooms, kombu, and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook the beans until they’re tender all the way through, 30-50 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove the kombu and discard. Remove the shiitakes and thinly slice, then return to the pot.
In a large pot warm the sesame oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and squash and cook for another minute. Add the beans and their liquid and bring everything to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. The vegetables should be soft by this point. Add the kale and wakame and cook for another minute. Place both miso into a medium strainer and lower the strainer into the soup. Stir well, so that the miso dissolves into the soup. By the end there will only be husks left of the miso. If you don’t mind a less than perfectly smooth broth, you could add the miso husks to the soup. Stir in the ginger juice and remove from heat. Serve topped with scallions.