October 24, 2013

Beet Soup with a Japanese Subtext

The red tones in this picture make me think of Matisse's "The Red Studio":
rich, mysterious and satisfying. 

This beet and potato soup was one of the most delicious dishes I had at a dinner that Japanese chef, teacher and cookbook author Hiroko Shimbo made not too long ago. The recipe for it, featured in her most recent cookbook, Hiroko's American Kitchen, includes a medium-sized Yukon gold potato, beets, and leeks. They're simmered in kelp stock, pureed, and then enriched with miso, mustard powder and spiked with minced parsley. The weather was still hot then (yes, I'm a slow and lazy blogger, I admit that) and the chilled soup completely charmed us with its silky texture, a flavor much milder and more subtle than Russian borscht, and as one guest said, without the metallic aftertaste that beets can sometimes bring to the party. The version Hiroko served us was topped with a small torpedo-shaped scoop of homemade shiso sorbet, It's probably more than most of us can muster at home on a weeknight, but was a total treat.

There was more to come, too: a Vietnamese-style squid dish stuffed with ground pork in an umami-rich European-style tomato sauce, and salmon baked in a salt crust, wrapped in a cherry leaf with a cherry blossom hidden within, both of which perfumed the fish. Each guest was called forth to wield a little hammer and crack open the salt shell and smell the fragrant steam that wafted up. There were potatoes roasted in miso with bacon, and simply steamed okra as well. We finished with an amazing cantaloupe sorbet with fresh watermelon and cantaloupe, which paired surprisingly well with the green Mifukuan yuzukosho (preserved citron and chile) liquid and powder that I brought back with me from Saga, Japan.

Virtually everything we ate that night came from the Union Square Greenmarket, only steps away from Hiroko's loft. It was the greenmarket that inspired Hiroko's American Kitchen, which teaches you how to make six simple sauces (including that kelp stock and several versatile and super-handy miso sauces) and use them as the base for a Japanese-accented seasonal cuisine, heavy on fresh produce found in American markets. As with the soup, the sauces aren't always detectable, yet add depth and mystery to each dish.

If you get a chance, stop by the Union Square Greenmarket this Saturday -- Hiroko will be there, selling and signing copies of Hiroko's American Kitchen. You, too, can make her beet and potato soup!