Butternut Squash Zosui (Japanese Soup)

Seaweed has mystified me. Growing up, it was the gross slimy stuff that made me want to wear shoes while swimming in the lake. Now, I keep hearing about its fabulous nutritional profile, especially for vegetarians. Protein is rarely a concern for vegetarians. Iron and the B vitamins are notoriously more difficult to incorporate into a meatless diet. Seaweed is conveniently high in both. Additionally, it is high in magnesium, which is particularly important during these cold winter days. Magnesium supports a healthy nervous system and can help alleviate common symptoms of depression like anxiety and low energy. 

Yet, cooking with seaweed is uncharted territory for me. Some sea vegetables have a strong "fishy" scent and flavor that I just can't get past. But, my mother always says that we have to try a new food at least seven times before our taste buds get used to it. So, I'm experimenting with some sea vegetable recipes, and I'm happy to report that this Japanese soup is fantastic!

The recipe calls for kombu, which is a type of Japanese sea vegetable. I couldn't find it at my local co-op, so I used kelp instead since the package said "similar to Japanese kombu." I really have no idea. All I know is that the kelp worked and tasted great in the soup. 

Sea vegetables are usually sold dehydrated. The kelp I used needed to be rehydrated for 15-20 minutes, which worked out great. I added it to the soup while the squash was cooking, so it could season the soup and rehydrate at the same time. Perfect.

I made several adjustments to the original recipe simply because I used what I had on hand. So, don't worry about sticking to the recipe to the letter; like with most soups, it has room for creativity. This is a creamy, satisfying soup. However, I was hungry after only an hour or two, so it works best to use this soup as a light lunch or a first course. It warms up beautifully.

Butternut Squash Zosui
6 servings, 60 minutes

2 teaspoons peanut oil
2 leeks, thinly sliced
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 1/2 cups frozen edamame (I used corn)
1 3/4 cup vegetable broth
2 1/4 cup water
1 4-inch piece kombu (or use kelp)
3 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoon minced ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon ground; I also added 4 teaspoons minced garlic)
3-6 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon pepper

  1. Heat the peanut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook 2-3 minutes or until soft.
  2. Stir in the squash, edamame (or corn), broth, water, and kelp. Bring to a boil and then lower the temperature to a steady simmer. Cook until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes depending on the size of the chunks.
  3. Remove the kelp from the soup and chop it. At this point, I had about 1/3 cup chopped kelp. Stir it back into the soup. Stir in the rice.
  4. Pour about 1 cup of the soup into a small bowl. Add the miso to the bowl and stir until dissolved. Pour this mixture back into the soup and heat gently. 
  5. Make the relish: heat the sesame oil over medium-high heat in a small skillet. Add the ginger and green onions (and garlic, if desired) and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the onions are wilted and bright green and the ginger is fragrant. Remove from heat and stir in pepper.
  6. To serve, ladle the soup into a bowl and top each serving with a dollop of the relish.
Adapted from Vegetarian Times, January/February 2011 edition.
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