On one of our last days in Tokyo, we met with a group of Japanese girl scouts. We were each paired with one japanese “home stay sister”, whom we spent the day doing various activities with and spent one night at their house. My home stay sister lived ~2 hours from the Japanese girl scout center in Tokyo, so it was quite a long ride back to her place. The subway excursion, however, ended up being one of the highlights of my trip. We managed to hold conversation for the whole two hours, talking about school, American scouting vs. Japanese scouting, prom, anything. She lived in this gorgeous, traditional house in Chiba surrounded by rice fields and scattered with Shinto shrines.
For breakfast, her mom made some of the best food that I had in Japan. Breakfast consisted of rice, miso soup, and many small servings of various vegetables, fish, and fruit. The miso soup was heartier than we had at the NYC center or in restaurants, which gave me the idea for this beet miso soup (or shall I say.. itBeetsmiso soup). The beet miso soup I made was pretty much just regular soup, but with miso paste added at the end for extra flavor and health benefits. The soup is very simple and filling, I had one small bowl of the soup and 2 pieces of the squash and I was already too full.
I used golden beets because I had some around and loved the color it lent to the soup, but any red beets would work as well. Any greens can be substituted here as well, kale, spinach, chard, etc. When I had the idea to make the soup, we had run out of all greens in my house, but apparently we grow red spinach in our back yard (?!?!). I knew we had a vegetable patch, but I would always walk by the spinach and assume that it was a plant with an unusually large amount of leaves that had yet to produce tomatoes or something. Either way, this red spinach plant discovery was very exciting for me, and I highly suggest growing spinach now, who knew it was so easy?!
Alongside the rice and miso soup were these pieces of simmered pumpkin. Normally I am not a huge pumpkin or squash fan, but this pumpkin had the texture of a baked sweet potato and was perfectly salty and sweet. The flavor of the pumpkin was mild, but paired with the salty miso soup it was delicious. I was so impressed by the pumpkin dish that I had my home stay sister look up what it was called on the train ride back to Tokyo. She didn’t know the english translation, so she showed me a Japanese website with the recipe on it (cookpad.com I believe it was). The website is in Japanese, but she told me the dish is called “kabocha no nimono” (or “simmered pumpkin”, I looked up the english translation when I came home) and that it was made by simmering pumpkin in water, soy sauce, and sake. Since I am under 21 and cannot buy sake with my own volition, this recipe uses a combination of mirin and rice vinegar, which are common substitutions for sake.
Kabocha is a japanese pumpkin/squash that has a very different texture than any other squashes I have tried, so I would say that finding this particular squash is pretty essential to the dish. I found my kabocha at an asian grocery store near my house, a 1.75 lb pumpkin was around $1.50 so it should be fairly affordable. I have also seen it at my local farmers market so it shouldn’t be that hard to find. Since my home stay mother left the skin on the kabocha, I am leaving the skin on. I believe some recipes choose to take the skin off, but if simmered properly the skin should be fairly pleasant to eat, and it prevents the pumpkin from disintegrating.
Lastly, a lot of recipes call for dashi stock in the simmering liquid but after making this recipe multiple times, I find that I prefer it without dashi stock. I was never able to use the dashi without the pumpkin being overwhelmingly fishy, so this recipe excludes it. If you want to add it in, simply mix ~1/4 – 1/2 tsp of dashi into the 2 cups water before adding the pumpkin. Other than that, salt generously and enjoy ~
BEET MISO SOUP:
- 3 golden beets (medium sized)
- 1 Tbs ginger garlic paste or 1 clove garlic & 1 in. piece ginger, minced
- 1-2 tsp vegetable oil
- 4 cups water
- 1.5-2 cups roughly copped red spinach/greens
- 2 Tbs miso paste
- salt to taste
- Peel and chop beets into 1 in. cubes.
- Add 1-2 tsp vegetable oil and ginger garlic paste to a large pot. Cook for ~1-2 min taste to cook of raw garlic flavor.
- Add beets, stir to coat with ginger garlic paste, and cover with 4 cups water.
- Simmer for 35-40 minutes on medium heat, covered. Broth will turn a deep yellow color and the beets will be fork tender.
- Turn heat down and add chopped greens. Cook until greens are wilted but remain bright green color. 3-4 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, whisk 2 Tbs miso paste with ~1-2 tbs water until miso paste is completely dissolved into a thick liquid.
- Turn off heat and stir in miso liquid. Salt to taste after miso is added.
KABOCHA NO NIMONO:
- 3 cups chopped kabocha pumpkin
- 2 cups water or enough to cover
- 2 Tbs soy sauce
- 1 Tbs mirin
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- Salt generously to taste
- Add chopped kabocha to a large pot. Do not overcrowd pot.
- Cover chopped kabocha with water. About 2 cups. Cook for ~10 mins or until simmering, covered
- Add soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, and ~ 2-3 tsp salt. Stir and cook uncovered until pumpkin is tender. (fork should be easily inserted into flesh). The squash will absorb the color of the broth and be a darker, burnt orange.
- Turn off heat and cover when done.