shiitake, miso and ginger broth with soba noodles

Have you heard the saying, healthy gut, healthy life? You might not, because I just made it up. Or it might exist, who knows, but its absolutely, without a doubt, TRUE. An astonishing 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, and if your intestinal bacteria is out of whack, with the bad guys overriding the good, you’re in for a slew of health problems. You need the good guys to produce antibodies to nasty invaders, and help the body distinguish between the harmful pathogens and not-so-harmful antigens, because overreacting to the latter can result in allergies, and I know firsthand how frustrating that is. So, let me introduce to you another gut-loving recipe with miso, because I can’t (and you shouldn’t) get enough of the stuff. It’s a simple broth, topped with omega 3 and calcium-rich wakame. Oh, and wakame contains fucoxanthin, a compound shown to burn fatty tissue in mice. So, if you skipped this morning’s spin class, don’t feel bad, just make this soup.

shiitake miso ginger broth sobaThis can be thrown together in minutes – literally. It can even be one of those ‘clean out your fridge’ meals, when you’re on the cusp of a new food-shopping cycle. Most of the basics you would (and should) have in your pantry, especially as they form the basis of many other quick and easy meals, like stock, soba noodles and miso. I’ve made this with tofu, with mixed mushrooms, with double ginger, with no ginger (unfortunately)…the list goes on, so just remember the base essentials and you’re sweet. Light yet filling, and with a nice warmth from the ginger and chilli, this broth is beautiful.

Imageshiitake, miso and ginger broth with soba noodles – serves 2 – can be modified to be gluten-free

you’ll need…

  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 3-4cm piece of ginger, grated finely with microplane or box grater (I love ginger – if you don’t, maybe dial it back a notch)
  • 150g shiitake mushrooms, sliced (occasionally, I come across a fab little pack of mixed Asian mushrooms – these work wonderfully)
  • 90g soba noodles (these are a mixture of buckwheat and wheat, but you can find 100% buckwheat noodles at health food stores, to make them gluten free)
  • 2 teaspoons miso paste, divided between two bowls
  • 1 spring onion, sliced finely on diagonal
  • wakame/nori sheets sliced thinly, to garnish
  • chilli flakes, optional
  • roasted (black) sesame seeds
  • optional additions: tofu (slice and add with the noodles)

here’s what you do…

  1. Bring the stock to the boil, add ginger and mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Add noodles, and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until tender
  3. Pour hot broth over miso (miso should never be boiled – this is to keep the good bacteria in check) and stir to dissolve.
  4. Top with spring onions, wakame/nori, sesame seeds and chilli flakes, if using. Add more miso, if you wish, as most of the flavour will come from there.

See? Told you it was easy.

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barley, tofu + spinach salad with miso dressing

barley tofu spinach salad miso dressing

I often get stuck in between meals during the transitional months, not quite sure whether its warm enough for a bowl of leafy greens or cool enough to slurp soup. Autumn is funny that way, with its crisp, cool mornings. You’re fooled into thinking you’ll be needing your trackpants all day long, before the sun peeks its nose out from behind that cloud and suddenly you’re sweating underneath all that fleecy clothing. That’s why I welcomed this dish, brimming with warm barley and cool greens – the perfect combination for an autumn evening.

ImageDon’t let the word ‘salad’ deceive you. I was positively satiated once finished, with not one bit of room for anything else (except maybe a piece of chocolate). The barley is packed with both soluble and insolube fibre, the former of which is linked to reducing cholesterol and therefore reducing the risk heart disease. The insoluble fibre keeps your bowels healthy by feeding the good bacteria that live within the gut, and I know you want a healthy bowel. You’ve got your good fats from the avo, protein from the tofu (although I’d recommend not to go crazy on soy-based products unless they are fermented – think miso, soy sauce, tempeh & natto – see more here) and gut-friendly miso for more healthy insides, plus detoxifying asparagus. What more could you want in a midweek meal? Oh, and don’t be shy with the ginger – especially if its cold, as ginger can increase your blood circulation, helpful on those cool evenings.

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What I particularly loved about this salad was the saltiness of the miso balanced with the acidity of the rice wine vinegar, and how it all blended seamlessly with the fattiness of the avocado and the crunchy sesame seeds. A lot of texture in this dish, a lot of flavour. Absolutely worth it, thanks Chrissy Freer. You’ve got to get a hold of her Supergrains book – even if you’re not gluten intolerant, but simply need a bit of a shake up when it comes to your tried and tested recipes. I’ve placed the modifications I made to the recipe in brackets after the original suggestion. This is perfect for vegetarians, or if you simply want a meat-free meal. Enjoy!

barley tofu spinach salad miso dressing

barley, tofu + spinach salad with miso dressing (adapted from Supergrains by Chrissy Freer) – serves 4

you’ll need…

  • 1.5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed in colander
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used chicken)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, halved lengthways and cut into 3cm lengths
  • 250g (or thereabouts) of marinated tofu (I used plain), sliced
  • 1 firm, ripe avocado, halved, pit removed, peeled and sliced
  • 120g spinach leaves
  • 1.5 tbsp sesame seeds (I used 2tbsp black sesame seeds)

miso dressing

  • 3 tbsp white miso paste (or whatever colour you can find – just don’t use the sachet soup stuff, its not the real deal)
  • 3 tbsp mirin/Japanese cooking wine (I didn’t have any – I used more rice wine vinegar instead)
  • 2 tbsp tamari (I used soy sauce)
  • 1.5 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sugar (I used raw sugar)

here’s what you do…

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the ginger and garlic, stirring for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add barley and stir for 2 minutes, then add stock and 2 cups of water, bringing to the boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 25 min or until barley is soft but still with a slight firmness. Drain and rinse under cold water, then transfer to large bowl.
  2. Blanch asparagus in saucepan of boiling water (I boiled water, threw in asparagus and left in there for 5 min). Refresh under cold water, then drain well.
  3. For the dressing, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
  4. Add the asparagus, tofu, avocado, baby spinach and half of the dressing to the barley, gently tossing to combine. Divide the salad between serving plates/bowls, drizzle with a bit more dressing and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. You may want to season and pan-fry the tofu if you choose the plain one if you’d prefer, but I felt the miso dressing lent enough flavour to the tofu anyway.