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You too can cook washoku / Homemade pork soup is comfort food

Courtesy of Mari Nameshida

Tonjiru, front, goes well with a bowl of rice, rear right, and lightly pickled cucumbers.

By Mari Nameshida/Special to The Japan NewsDo you think miso soup is too light, even boring? Then try this complex and satisfying comfort-food version — it’s a signature home-cooked dish of this chilly season, which will warm you up and refresh your mind.

Tonjiru (or butajiru) literally means “pork soup” and refers to miso soup with pork and many kinds of root vegetables like daikon, carrot, onion, potatoes and more. To shorten the cooking time, we usually use thinly sliced pork and cut all the vegetable into small or thin pieces. This soup has a rich, complex flavor and plenty of body, a result of its many ingredients, including the meat.

If you’re familiar with Japanese food, you’ll have noticed that regular miso soup usually contains only vegetables or seaweed. We sometimes use clams or shrimp for a burst of flavor, but we usually don’t use meat, except in tonjiru.

In this soup, we use gobo burdock root. Some people say it looks like a branch due to its color and its long, thin shape. It has a beautiful earthy flavor and goes great with meat and oily foods. It’s pretty nice when deep-fried as gobo chips, for example.

When you prepare burdock, wash it well first, because it is usually covered in dirt. Then scrape off the skin with the back of a knife or rub with a tawashi-type scrubbing brush. Don’t use a peeler to remove the skin completely, otherwise you will lose its beautiful flavor, which is right under the skin. This is the same reason it’s better to scrape the skin off ginger with a spoon. Once you scrape off the skin, burdock will quickly oxidize. After slicing it into pieces, immediately soak in water that is slightly acidified with vinegar and leave until you are ready to use it.

When you cook miso soup of any kind, blend in the miso at the last moment and don’t boil the soup any further, otherwise the miso flavor will disappear. Dashi can be boiled, so make sure you cook everything in the dashi first and then add the miso after it’s all cooked.

Since tonjiru is made with so many flavorful ingredients, you can cook it without dashi, using water instead, a point of difference from basic miso soup.

Clearly, tonjiru is a very nourishing and hearty soup; served with just a bowl of rice, it’s a perfect meal for winter.

Mari’s recipe for tonjiru

Ingredients (Serves 6):

300 gram pork belly (thinly sliced)

20 centimeter burdock

1 potato

1 onion

1 carrot

10 centimeter daikon

½ pack silken tofu

15 centimeter green onion or 5 scallions (banno-negi)

1 tbsp sesame oil

5 cups dashi (or water if you don’t have dashi)

About 4 tbsp miso

Directions:

1. Cut pork into about 2½ cm pieces. Chop burdock into thin diagonal pieces and thinly slice onion. Cube potatoes, slice carrot rounds into halves or quarters, and slice daikon into thin quarters.

2. Place sesame oil in a pot and saute pork. Add all the vegetables, except the green onion, and cook a few more minutes.

3. After pouring in dashi or water, add tofu cut into cubes, and simmer about 15 minutes or until vegetables are cooked. Turn off heat, add chopped onions, then blend in miso. Miso’s level of saltiness depends on the brand or color, so start with 3 tablespoons and add more if needed.

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