Make tonjiru, a hearty comforting pork soup perfect for rainy weather

Tonjiru goes well with a bowl of rice and lightly pickled cucumbers.
Tonjiru goes well with a bowl of rice and lightly pickled cucumbers.PHOTO: THE JAPAN NEWS

The soup has a rich, complex flavour and plenty of body

(THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK)  - Do you think miso soup is too light, even boring? Then try this complex and satisfying comfort-food version — it is a signature home-cooked dish of winter, which will warm you up and refresh your mind.

Tonjiru (or butajiru) literally means “pork soup” and refers to miso soup with pork and root vegetables such as daikon, carrots, onions and potatoes. To shorten the cooking time, we usually use thinly sliced pork and cut the vegetables into small or thin pieces. The soup has a rich, complex flavour and plenty of body, a result of its many ingredients.

If you are familiar with Japanese food, you would have noticed that regular miso soup usually contains only vegetables or seaweed. We sometimes use clams or shrimp for a burst of flavour, but we usually do not use meat, except in tonjiru.

In this soup, we use gobo burdock root. Some people say it looks like a branch due to its colour and its long, thin shape. It has a beautiful earthy flavour and goes great with meat and oily foods. It is tasty 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. Do not use a peeler to remove the skin completely, otherwise you will lose its beautiful flavour, which is right under the skin. This is also why it is better to scrape the skin off the ginger with a spoon. Once you scrape off the skin, the burdock will quickly oxidise. After slicing it into pieces, immediately soak in water that is slightly acidified with vinegar and set aside until you are ready to use it.

When you cook miso soup of any kind, blend in the miso at the last moment. Do not boil the soup any further, otherwise the miso flavour will disappear. Dashi can be boiled, so make sure you cook everything in the dashi first, then add the miso after it is all cooked.

As tonjiru is made with so many flavourful ingredients, you can cook it without dashi, using water instead.

Clearly, tonjiru is a nourishing and hearty soup. Served with a bowl of rice, it is a perfect meal for winter.

Ingredients

300g pork belly (thinly sliced)

20cm burdock

1 onion

1 potato

1 carrot

10cm daikon

1 Tbs sesame oil

5 cups dashi (or water if you do not have dashi)

½ pack silken tofu

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

4 Tbs miso

Method

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

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

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

Serves six