Potato Miso Soup

When I was a kid I hated potato soup. My Czech grandmother, rosy-cheeked and rotund, with her sparse, gray hair pulled back into a neat bun, any unruly wisps reined in by a near-to-invisible hair net, and with tiny ruby-red earrings studding her earlobes, used to make it for me and the rest of the family occasionally. I found it insipid, grainy, and downright nasty. I think it is the one and only dish that my grandmother made that I didn’t like at all. Her usual repertoire included delicacies such as Hungarian goulash soup, savory stuffed cabbage, and tender and tasty sauerbraten–with a gravy just begging to be sopped up by homemade dumplings–not to mention the myriad of desserts replete with butter, ground nuts, and poppy seeds, all sprinkled in icing sugar. Her potato soup showed up on the table like a watery alien being that had no place amongst the culinary delights that usually emerged from her kitchen.

I was well into my thirties before I ever considered trying to make anything even approaching a potato soup. It was a great surprise when, experimenting with leek and potato soup, I found I actually enjoyed it. Since giving up animal products and learning more about wonderful properties of the supposedly lowly potato, I have begun to incorporate it into practically any soup or stew that I make.

Following is an experimental recipe combining my new love of potatoes in a liquid base with the traditional Japanese flavors of miso and seaweed: a shocking discovery that made me end up craving more–so much so that, once I finished the first pot the first day, I just had to make (and eat) a second pot the next day. It is simple and tasty yet hearty and heart-warming, combining the good things of both the Oriental and eastern European cultures.

Potato Miso Soup

1 large potato, washed and cut into 1″ cubes
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1/2 of a small onion, finely chopped, plus
2 scallions, chopped (optional)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3-4 cups water
2 T shiro miso (light miso)
1 handful of fresh coriander leaves, stems removed
1 handful of dried hijiki or wakame, or as desired

“Saute” the chopped onion and celery in a tablespoon or two of water until soft. A little oil can be used instead, but I find fat is not necessary in this recipe at all. Add the crushed garlic and cubed potatoes and stir for a couple of minutes. Once the water is almost evaporated, add the rest of the water, cover the pot and simmer until the potatoes are soft but still more or less intact. More water can be added if the soup looks too thick.

Once the potatoes are done, remove the soup from the heat, throw in the seaweed, chopped scallions, and coriander. Dissolve the miso in a few tablespoons of the hot soup and return to the pot. Once the miso is well incorporated, enjoy.

An interesting variation on this is to blend the soup before adding the coriander, scallions, seaweed, and miso to make a thicker creamy-type base, then reheat and add the final ingredients just before serving.

This is not the prettiest of soups, but it sure tastes good, provides a lot of stimulating energy, and is much more satisfying than a traditional miso broth.