Wednesday, September 8, 2010

250 Servings of Soup

My Significant Other and I have been on a diet since last November.  To be more accurate, last November we decided to permanently change our eating habits for the sake of our health.  We've been more successful than we ever anticipated; so far Barry has lost 50 pounds and I've lost 25, and we both feel healthier and more energetic than we have in years.  So what does this have to do with soup?  Hang on, I'll get there.

Our new and improved diet includes eating more fruit, vegetables, seafood and whole grains; less sugar, salt, and saturated fat; and fewer processed foods.  Now when I go to the local library, I browse the cookbook section for healthy and interesting recipes that fall within those guidelines, and last week I happened upon a great little book on Japanese home cooking - Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat, by Naomi Moriyama (most of the recipes in the book came from her mother).  Naomi's writing style is very engaging, little tidbits of Japanese history are sprinkled throughout the book, and the recipes look yummy - I think.

I'm not 100% sure because, while I can generally read a Western recipe and know roughly how the final product will taste, these recipes are full of ingredients I've never heard of before.  I'm familiar with miso, nori, and mirin, but shiso?  Kombu?  Bonito flakes??  The author blithely assured me that most of the ingredients she mentions are available in the Asian section of my local supermarket.  Well, this is Arizona, and they're not.  However, this book was the impetus for us to finally visit an establishment we had heard rumors about but never seen:

Lee-Lee Asian Market.

Imagine the biggest supermarket you've ever seen.  Put a fish market (with live seafood, even!) in the back and a Boba stand and Chinese restaurant in front.  Stock each aisle with edibles from a different Pacific rim cuisine and throw in departments for cookware, tableware, and "hot liquor."  That's Lee-Lee's.  It's about 20 miles from our house, but that's a short distance for a trip to wonderland.

For almost an hour I reeled from aisle to aisle, throwing amazing stuff into my cart.  (Barry gave up halfway through and parked himself with a glass of Boba.)  Since I love Thai food, I bought fresh lemon grass and galangal.  Do I have any Thai recipes?  No, but that's what the Internet is for.  I bought little bowls for dipping sauce.  I stocked up on curry supplies in the Indian aisle, one of the few where I could actually read the labels.  And then there was the Japanese aisle...

My local supermarkets do carry instant Japanese soup, and we eat a lot of it.  It's lo-cal, easy to prepare, and delicious, but it runs about $4 for a packet containing 3 small servings.  Not exactly cheap.  That's why I was excited to see recipes for from-scratch soup in Japanese Women...  However, they all start with dashi, a soup stock made with seaweed (kombu) and dried fish flakes (bonito).  After scrutinizing the English labels pasted on the backs of numerous mysterious packets, I finally found both, but right next to the dried bonito was a largish box clearly labeled "Bonito Flavored Soup Stock (Dashi No Moto)."

OK, dashi from scratch undoubtedly tastes better, just as homemade chicken soup is far superior to bouillon cubes, but soup made from dashi powder and fresh tofu and vegetables is probably still tastier than the entirely powdered version we have been eating, and the whole box was the same price as one of those little 3-serving soup packets from the supermarket.  I pounced.

So now I'm home and examining my treasures more carefully, and I realize that the fine print on the back of the soup stock box says it makes 250 servings of soup. 250!!  How on earth are the two of us going to eat all that before the expiration date in March??  We may have to start throwing soup parties for our friends.  Of course, the back of the box says the stock can be used for miso soup, soup for Japanese noodles, dipping sauce for Japanese noodles, suimono, nabe, and oden.  I have no clue what simono, nabe, and oden are, but I'm going to find out.  As I said before, that's what the Internet is for!

"Good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living.  For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish." - Louis P. De Gouy (Waldorf-Astoria chef), 'The Soup Book' (1949)

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