Kenchin jiru is a traditional Japanese soup with an origin in Buddhist temples where monks sustain themselves with vegetarian meals. My mom used to make it vegetarian, too. However, I like to add a tiny bit of meat or chicken to add that satisfying savoriness to the soup. Kenchin jiru is easy to make with almost any root vegetables you happen to have. It doesn’t require a long list of esoteric sauces or spices, either: You just need soy sauce and salt. That’s it! You’ll be amazed how much complexity the vegetables and a teensy bit of meat or chicken can give to this comforting soup. In this regard, it’s very similar to the pork miso soup with root vegetables and shiitake mushroom that I posted recently: It’s a super-simple recipe with BIG flavors.
Kenchin jiru with a bowl of rice (and maybe a side of quick-pickled cucumbers) could be a perfectly satisfying, if humble, DASH diet meal for someone who likes Japanese home cooking. (Me and Hubby!) Other times, we treat kenchin jiru like a simpler miso soup, accompanying a spread of main dish like a broiled fish, rice and a couple of veggie-leaning sides. You can even have this hearty soup with a hunk of baguette–which we did the other day. I have to admit, I was surprised by how well this odd combo worked!
Other common ingredients in kenchin jiru includes daikon, lotus root, shiitake or enoki mushrooms, spinach and fried tofu. I’d have used daikon if I had one on hand. Alas, I was out of daikon, so the trusty turnip stepped up and filled in the gap. If you want to make the soup vegetarian and more traditional, omit the beef. In that case, I’d stir-fry the ingredients in a bit of sesame oil before adding water. The sesame oil adds the extra kick that a vegetarian version probably needs.
Kenchin Jiru: Japanese Tofu, Root Vegetables & Maitake Mushroom Soup
DASH diet considerations: Kenchin jiru is a wonderful addition to your DASH diet soup repertoire. It’s full of vegetables, plant-derived protein from tofu and only a tiny bit of meat, maybe ¼ serving per person. It’s also oil-free. Some recipes call for stir-frying the ingredients before simmering them in the soup, but this step really isn’t necessary, thanks to the surprisingly robust broth from the little it of beef.
Place the water, along with carrot, turnip, taro, maitake and gobo, in a pot. Bring to a boil on high.
Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium so it keeps boiling gently. Cook for 15-20 minutes until all the vegetables are cooked through.
Add the beef strips to the soup.
Add the soy sauce to the soup. Stir, taste, and add salt as needed.
Divide the soup into serving bowls and garnish with the sliced scallion.
*Gobo is a (somewhat absurdly) long, thin, fibrous root that is chock full of toasty, earthy flavor with a slight bit of sweetness that develops when cooked. Also called burdock root, you can find gobo in Japanese, Chinese and Korean grocers.
**I buy thinly sliced meats from a Korean or Japanese grocer. They are sliced almost paper-thin and high quality (i.e., a small amount lends a huge amount of flavor). If you don't have access to this kind of meat, a small amount of ground beef or chicken might work instead.