Miso kabocha soup

In my yard the other day I was reminded, as I looked at lichen and wet leaves through the lens, how much I like grays and browns and bright yellows.

But walking into my front yard forces an admission: we don’t keep up with the amount of work it requires. Leaves are still on the lawn and the sidewalks around our house. The vegetable beds are uncovered, with giant bamboo stalks from a neighbor lying across them. A pile of faded marigolds is still on the ground, waiting to be tossed in the compost bin. The hosta leaves are turning translucent, wrung out from a season of growing and the mess of heavy, damp leaves around them.

Ah, well. The leaves will eventually be raked and the suckers clipped from the crabapple tree. Even if the yard is decomposing, inside there is cooking and eating and togetherness to be had today.

For us, it’s a low-key day here in town with family. When this post goes up, I’ll be shopping for a few items and pulling together our side dishes just before we leave the house.

I love to celebrate Thanksgiving with a houseful of people, the counters messy with nonstandard ingredients. But sometimes I feel content to gather around a table of warm staples and top it all off with a piece of pie. It’s the kind of quiet celebration I feel like I need. While the rest of the world watches football, I’ll be napping or snuggled in the corner of a couch with a book.

On the blog today, we’re having a celebration that isn’t so quiet: Chie is back! Hooray! I’m thankful to once again be connecting with her over food, sampling her cozy cooking and gleaning wisdom from a mindful, lighthearted and discerning friend.

For this, our second week on winter squashes, we bring you the kabocha. The skin of this hard winter squash becomes soft during cooking, as I learned when I watched Chie chop it up. Knowing I can leave the peeler in the drawer, this will be my go-to squash for future curries and soups. And here’s another fun discovery. My daughter, who was helping prepare this recipe, asked if she could try a little raw squash. Chie cut a few thin slices and – wow. It’s sweet and nutty, a perfect vegetable to eat raw. I rustled up a citrus zester and soon we had bright orange strings for a garnish. (There was talk of adding the raw kabocha meat to a slaw or salad…the wheels are turning.)

The kabocha, so I read, came to Japan from Cambodia by way of Portuguese sailors. There’s also talk of  a savvy California grower who introduced the crop to Japan and the U.S. (or perhaps popularized it) when he started growing the unusual squash in the 1990s.

The squash has caught on because it’s a beauty – the classic kabocha has a deep green, striped skin and bright orange flesh (this orange-skinned one made its way to my house because it was grown locally, by Newaukum Valley Farm).  It’s sweeter than a butternut – one writer describes the flavor of a kabocha as a cross between pumpkin and sweet potato. That’s a pretty apt comparison and a pretty great way to get a bunch of beta carotene, vitamin C, iron and potassium, among other nutrients.

Have a beautiful day, whether you’re having a traditional feast, a table full of new-to-you foods or a walk in the woods. Celebrate and contemplate well, friends. We’ll see you next week.

Miso Kabocha Soup
by Chie

Recently, I lost someone who is very dear to me. She was known, among many other
talents, to be a wonderful and creative cook. I remember her making a brothy miso soup to share
with family.  It had some bold sardine flavors – bold like she was. My son tells stories about how
he would go on adventures when I wasn’t around. When I asked, did you go with anyone? I would
usually hear “Grandma Fran” as the answer.

I think about her every day, more than I ever have. Through our grieving process, my family realized
some basic but essential things – to make priorities straight, spend time with those who are important.

Once a year Fran threw a huge party for her birthday, a fish fry that would gather many friendly faces.
With family, we are planning to throw a grand celebration of her life in the summer in that same spirit.
Food will be a central part of it.

I am happy to be back to The Plum after going on hiatus for a few weeks. A huge thanks to Jenni who took
it on single handedly so graciously and beautifully.

This is a soup I make regularly in my household. It was inspired by a friend who lived in Miyazaki
Prefecture, Japan where they make a broth out of kabocha squash, a Japanese orange-fleshed meaty
winter squash with green skin. Another common kabocha squash variety has an orange skin called
Kuri (chestnut) kabocha which I used in this one. The ginger makes it extra warming, daikon aids in
digestion and phelm, the burdock makes it nourishing as a liver aid and to help cleanse the blood.

I hope this gives you as much comfort as it does me.

4 inches kombu seaweed
1 c packed Bonito flakes (Katsuobushi)
about 8 c filtered water
⅓- ½ medium kabocha squash, skin on and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1-inch nub ginger, sliced (add more if you like it spicy)
1 small burdock root, cut into small rounds
1 small daikon radish, root and greens*, root cut into quartered rounds; greens chopped
⅓ c wakame, rehydrated; chopped if needed
4 Tbsp white brown rice miso
3 Tbsp red miso **
½ bunch green onions, chopped

* if daikon greens are not attached to the root, chose a mild flavored green such as baby bok choy to add at the end.
For this batch, I used spinach.
** You may choose just one type of miso, but I like to combine the milder white with the saltier red for more dimension.

Place the kombu in medium pot with the water over medium heat. When it comes to a boil, add a cup
of bonito flakes and simmer for a minute to release the full flavor of the bonito but not to get it too fishy.
Strain through a fine mesh sieve and return back to the pot. This is your dashi – Japanese base broth.

Simmer the kabocha and onions (we also used a shallot) in the dashi for about 10 minutes.

Add the burdock and daikon roots. Cook until tender.

Place the miso in a glass or ceramic bowl. Add some of the hot broth from the pot to dilute it and prevent
it  from clumping. Whisk vigorously and return to pot.

Add the rehydrated wakame, daikon greens, and green onions. Adjust to taste with more miso if you like.
It’s important not to bring the miso to a boil after adding it to preserve its flavor and nutrients.

Occasionally, I add kale and leftover salmon from the night before for a hearty breakfast.
It can be a nourishing addition to any meal with broiled fish, salad and a whole grain. Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Miso kabocha soup

  1. Wow, this looks lovely. I can tell by the care you take in making this that you transform a humble soup into something more majestic. You had me at “miso”!!

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