Bento Box Soup

The Japanese are renowned for their longevity, as in their average life expectancy as of 2011 was 82.3 years (the US came in 50th at 78.4 years). Researchers often credit their diet; this soup was my way of cramming as much of their healthy cuisine into a bowl as possible. It’s called Bento Box soup because of the traditional Japanese take-out lunch, which is not only yummy but nutritious. The Bento Box is full of compartments, each of which usually contains some fish or meat, a pickled veggie, rice, and other goodies. My inspiration to turn the Bento concept into a soup was my incredible recipe tester, Catherine McConkie. She has an amazing palette and attention to detail, and created the first incarnation of this soup. We kept noodling with it (literally; we added Soba Noodles), and built it around a miso stock. Miso soup is as ubiquitous in Japan as Chicken Soup is here, miso being a fermented soy that aids digestion and improves immune function. We kicked that up by infusing some green tea into the broth for an extra immune booster, then in went the shitakes, spinach, kombu, scallions, and tamari. It’s love—and perhaps life—in a bowl.

Serves 6

4 ounces soba noodles
4 cups MMB 2.0 or prepared organic vegetable stock
4 cups water
1 six inch piece of Kombu
3 green tea bags
1/4 cup white miso
2 tablespoons Tamari
1 carrot, peeled and grated
½ cup shitake mushrooms, stems removed, thinly sliced
¾ cup firm tofu, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 scallions, green and white parts, sliced diagonally
1 ½ cups fresh spinach, washed
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil or hot pepper sesame oil — divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a 4-quart pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Add a pinch of salt and the soba noodles and cook until al dente approximately 5 minutes. Drain and rinse very well under cold water to remove the starch. Drizzle ¼ teaspoon of toasted sesame oil over the noodles and toss carefully.

In the same pot, bring the broth to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer and add one six inch piece of kombu and 3 green tea bags. Simmer for 4 minutes and remove the kombu and tea bags with a slotted spoon. Add carrots, mushrooms, tofu, tamari and simmer covered over low heat for five minutes.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the hot broth with the miso, stirring with a fork until the miso is dissolved. Stir the miso mixture to the broth, then add the lemon juice, scallions and toasted sesame oil to the pot.

Distribute the soba noodles and spinach among 6 bowls and ladle the soup on top.

Variation: No soba noodles in the house, substitute udon noodles or add ¼ cup of cooked brown rice to each bowl and ladle the soup over.

Photo Credit: Leo Gong

Reprinted with permission from The Longevity Kitchen: Satisfying Big-Flavor Recipes Featuring the Top 16 Age-Busting Power Foods. Copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson, Ten Speed Press, a division of the Crown Publishing Group, Berkeley, CA.