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A bowl of magic on Converting day: miso soup with vegetables, seaweed, tofu, and shitakes

A few days ago, at the request of students, I posted on Facebook a recipe for miso soup I always make during a baking class.

The class, Converting Practicum (about which I’ve written before), is an all-day laboratory for our Chef’s Training students. Working in pairs, students take a conventional baking recipe (with white sugar, refined flour, and processed ingredients) and convert it step-by-step to a more whole, vegan alternative. It’s a brilliant exercise in how minimally refined sweeteners, whole grain flours, and natural additives work.

Each student group makes 6-8 batches of their cookie, cake, or muffin recipe in the course of a day. By a rough, conservative estimate, we make 700 portions of dessert. Heaven knows the students try their best to taste judiciously, but all that sugar and flour (even the “healthier” choices) eventually gets to them. Imagine the challenge of remaining intellectually focused with starches and sugars as your mind’s only fuel.

The Converting day process

That’s where the miso soup comes in. Making a big pot of this Asian elixir is – and has always been – an integral part of the Converting class. It’s our chosen antidote to expansive, acid-forming sugar and flour. A bowl of alkalizing miso soup, chock-full of vegetables, live with digestive enzymes and rich in minerals from seaweed, is the perfect balance for a sugar high. When the students eat it, I actually see them “come down” almost immediately and re-focus on the task at hand. And they consume the soup greedily throughout the day.

So when a student asked for the recipe last week I decided to post it on Facebook for other students who asked too. I was more than a little surprised when 62 people quickly “liked” it and 26 people enthusiastically commented on it. There was a lot of waxing sentimental over some simple miso soup among those comments.

Now I didn’t invent miso soup – and I didn’t even re-invent it. Students remember my recipe fondly, yes. And yes, I’ve gladly accepted the unstinting praise it garnered. But I rather think what students really remember is how the soup worked its magic to soothe sugar-induced nausea and confusion.

This reminded me of a simple, profound truth that is the foundation of our work at NGI: whole foods have a power to restore balance, to heal – if we know how to use them. Ask any Chef’s Training student how to cure an upset stomach, nausea, bloating, a headache, a hangover, insomnia, a sugar binge, and they can give you an effective food remedy. Food and healing – it’s our thing.

Elliott’s Miso Soup Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons sesame oil (NOT toasted)

1 onion, saute slice

1 carrot, matchstick

2 ribs (pieces) celery, diagonal slice

8-10 shitake mushrooms, sliced

6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 piece of kombu

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup wakame, soaked 15 minutes and drained

¼ cup arame, soaked 15 minutes and drained

½ lb. tofu, diced

2 quarts (8 cups) water

ginger juice to taste

lemon juice, to taste (not traditional) (a student of mine suggested rice vinegar – awesome too)

1 cup (or more) miso of choice scallions, sliced, for garnish

1. Heat oil in a 3-quart pot. Add onions, carrots, celery, shitakes, garlic, kombu, and salt. Sweat for approximately 15 minutes on low heat, covered.

2. Add wakame, arame, and tofu. Continue to sweat for another 10 minutes.

3. Add water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn off heat. Let broth stand for 5-10 minutes. Add ginger and lemon juice.

4. Temper miso mixing with 2 cups of the broth. Add tempered miso back into the soup. Serve, garnished with scallions.

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