You know that game where you give someone a word and they have to make up a story with that word in it? I’m like that, except with food. Give me an ingredient, and magically, as if out of nowhere, an entire recipe (or several!) will appear in my head. I could even give you the amount of salt it needs, how the vegetables should be sliced, the oven temp, and what it should be garnished with. It’s a tad psycho, but my best party trick hands down.
When my friend Christiann Koepke emailed me about coming to visit her in Portland, driving to the Pacific coast, and photographing some recipes together, I was all in. And then when she suggested we put seaweed into something (because ocean) it was like someone had opened the flood gates in my brain and alllll the ideas came rushing to me. Neat! And very convenient.
But what do we really want to eat at the beach when it’s chilly and maybe windy, maybe raining, maybe freezing-raining (it is the Pacific Northwest, after all)? The answer is soup. And I knew it was going to be a creamy, dreamy, sea veggie-kissed broth with all the tasty toppings.
When seaweed is a featured ingredient in a recipe, I tend to channel Asian flavours like miso, ginger, wasabi, toasted sesame, to compliment to the unmistakably briny, salty, ocean-y flavour of seaweed. Eaten as a staple food throughout China and Japan for thousands of years, sea vegetables are rich in essential minerals, trace minerals, chlorophyll, iodine, fiber, and lots of protein. Some sea vegetables even contain vitamin B12 – a rare element for a plant!
Sea vegetables are less complex than their land-dwelling relatives. Without intricate root systems or tissues, seaweeds get their nutrients from the waters they grow in. To survive, they form root-like parts to attach themselves to rocks or other stable elements. There are three categories of sea vegetables; brown, red, and green. Brown algae thrive in cool water at depths of around 50 feet. The most commonly known brown seaweed is kelp, which can grow up to 1,500 feet (500 meters) long! Red algae, like dulse, contain elements that can gel foods. Green sea vegetables bridge the gap between land and sea plants, as they can store food as starch, just like vegetation found out of the water. The most popular kind of green algae is nori, which is what your sushi comes wrapped in.
Seaweeds range in flavours from mild to wild. Some are sweet and nutty, while others are pungent, funky, and an acquired taste. If you’re a seaweed newb (which most Westerners are), I suggest starting out with a less challenging one, like arame. Arame is in the “brown” category of sea vegetables, but when you buy it, it will appear closer to jet black. It has a stringy texture, and almost looks like wiry hair, but will soften into tender, noodle-y strands after being soaked. Before it is packaged, arame must be cooked for seven hours, and then dried in the sun. To use, simply re-hydrate by soaking it in room temperature water for 10-15 minutes until it is soft and has doubled in volume. Arame is very high in calcium, rich in iron, potassium, vitamin A and the B vitamins. And like other brown seaweeds, arame contains sodium alginate, a compound that helps to convert heavy metals in the body into harmless salt, which is easily excreted.
Besides soup, I like to put arame in stews, stir fries, and salads (here’s a great recipe from the archives…check out that incredible food photography!). The flavor of arame is saline and a bit funky, but mostly sweet. The texture is like an al dente pasta, and I think it adds amazing “meaty-ness” to a dish, with its satisfying chew.
This soup is well balanced, and hits all the notes: sweet and creamy from the butternut, savoury from miso, chewy from the arame, warming from the ginger, spicy from the wasabi, and nutty and crunchy from the toasted sesame. You could theoretically use any kind of winter squash here, like a Hokkaido pumpkin, acorn or delicate squash. Scale back on the ginger and perhaps leave out the wasabi if you’re making this for kiddos. And if you don’t have arame, or you’re simply not into sea vegetables, leave it out, or replace with some coconut bacon. It should be noted that once you’ve added the miso to the soup base, it’s important that you don’t let it boil if you reheat it. Miso is contains delicate probiotics and enzymes that will be destroyed by high heat. The soup freezes well, but leave the wasabi out until you serve it since the flavour will fade if once it’s frozen.
Butternut Squash Miso Soup with Wasabi and Arame
Serves 4 (Makes 8 cups / 2 liters
½ cup / 10g dried arame
1 large yellow onion
½ tsp. fine sea salt
4 cloves garlic
2 ½ Tbsp. / 25g minced fresh ginger
approx. 3 lbs. / 1 ½ kg butternut squash
2 Tbsp. expeller-pressed coconut oil
4 cups / 1 liter water, more if needed
¼ cup / 60ml white miso, or more if desired
3 Tbsp. black sesame seeds
1 tsp. wasabi powder
microgreens and wasabi arugula for garnish, if desired
1. Place the arame in a medium bowl and cover with a few inches of water. Let soak while you cook the soup.
2. Roughly chop the onion, peel and mince the garlic and ginger. Peel and cube the butternut squash.
3. Melt the coconut oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and salt, cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and ginger, stir, and cook for another couple of minutes. When fragrant, add the butternut squash, stir and cook for 4-5 minutes with the lid on. Add the water, replace the lid, bring to a boil, and then reduce to simmer. Cook until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes.
4. While the soup is simmering, toast the sesame seeds by placing them in a small skillet over medium heat. Stir occasionally until they begin to pop. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
5. Carefully transfer the soup to a blender (or simply use an immersion blender), and blend on high until completely smooth. Add more water to thin, if necessary.
6. Place miso and wasabi powder into two small, separate bowls. Add a bit of soup to each bowl, stir well, then add just the miso blend to the blender, and blend once again to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Keep the wasabi to the side until serving.
7. Drain and lightly rinse the arame.
8. To serve, place the piping hot soup into bowls, drizzle with the wasabi and swirl, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Top with a handful of the arame, some microgreens, and enjoy.
Christiann and I had such an incredible time at the ocean, pulling this whole miracle off together. The weather – although abysmal every other day that week – was beyond beautiful from the moment we set foot on the sand, to the second we decided it was time to call it a night (and then it started pouring, ha!). We caught an epic sunset by the fire, exhausted and so grateful for the stars aligning in every way possible, to make this day possible. And it was such an honour to work alongside a photographer that has inspired me for years – if you haven’t checked out her genius yet, here is a link to her website and Instagram.
Thank you, Christiann for making this dream a reality! I had such a blast! We have another post coming up in the New Year I cannot wait to share it with you, dear friends.
Big love to all and I hope autumn is treating you well. Happy American Thanksgiving to all my loves stateside!
xo, Sarah B
photo credits: images 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 Christiann Koepke
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