Spring Miso Soup
Everything is coming to life, waking up, blinking in the weak spring sunlight, and having a little stretch. At least, I am. I took a trip out to one of my favourite foraging spots at the weekend, and it never disappoints. It’s a beautiful place, where I have found all kinds of edible and delicious plants and fungi in a pretty small area. At this time of year, the wild garlic is really coming into its own. The leaves are at their best around now, before the flowers start to appear. There is also one of the few mushrooms to appear this early, the scarlet elfcup. So! To business.
Wild garlic Allium ursinum
Easy to spot (it’s broad, dark green leaves smell of garlic when bruised), easy to pick (Just snip off handfuls with a pair of scissors), easy and versatile to use, wild garlic is our culinary friend. Although I suppose if I had a friend who smelled quite so strongly of garlic, I may have to say something. It is fascinating to watch the life cycle of this plant, and the flower buds, then the opened flowers, and then the seeds can all also be used in the kitchen. A great success of last year’s crop was pickled flower buds, although this recipe is, for now, a closely guarded secret (bribes may be accepted).
Scarlet elfcup Sarcoscypha austriaca
This spectacular, look at me fungus can be found growing on dead wood and mossy twigs from early winter to early spring. They are, as their evocative name suggests, bright red and cup shaped, and used by elves at tea parties (I may have made up the last bit). There is little they can be confused with, but as always make sure you know what it is before feeding the family or yourself. Roger Phillips in his invaluable book Mushrooms say they are ‘Edible but not worthwhile’. I find myself disagreeing with him, for the first time. They have a mild, slightly earthy, mushroomy flavour (is this a useful description? Not sure, but it is true), a firm texture and a splendid appearance, all of which are retained with gentle cooking. It is said that they have been used medicinally when dried and powdered to help heal cuts and wounds, although I have not tried this. I just eat them.
In the woodland I mentioned earlier, the forest floor is a carpet of wild garlic, dotted here and there with the startling red of scarlet elfcups. So taking the cook’s adage of what grows together goes together, I came up with this take on a Japanese miso soup. Nourishing, warming and deeply savoury, this makes a great quick spring-time lunch or light supper, and looks impressive enough to serve to guests, should you be a more sociable and hospitable soul than I.
Ingredients Serves 4
4 tsp good vegetable stock powder
1 ½ pints water
2 tbsp white miso paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp mirin
300g silken bean curd
100g pak choi
100g wild garlic
100g spring onion
20 scarlet elfcups
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
(You should be able to find the bean curd, miso paste and mirin in an Asian food specialist, or on the ‘world food’ aisle of a good supermarket or healthfood store).
In a saucepan, bring the water to the boil. Put the miso paste in a bowl, and add a splash of the hot water. Mix well until it forms a smooth paste, then add back to the pan of water, whisking (furiously, should you wish) all the while. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Finely shred the pak choi and wild garlic, and finely slice the spring onion. Set aside.
Thoroughly clean the scarlet elfcups of any dirt and moss using a stiff brush. Add the olive oil to a frying pan and cook them on a medium heat, with a pinch of salt and pepper, until just starting to soften. Remove from the pan and place on a piece of kitchen towel to absorb any excess oil.
Gently cube the silken bean curd (this can be fiddly and frustrating as it is so soft – keep wine at hand) and add, along with the elfcups, to the miso in the pan. The liquid may have separated as it cools, don’t worry, a quick stir will bring it back together. Warm gently, but don’t boil. Taste and correct the seasoning if needed.
Portion the shredded pak choi, wild garlic, and spring onion into bowls, and ladle over the hot miso. Serve immediately, and feel instantly healthier.
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Edited By Alison Jane Reid