Tonjiru, sometimes called butajiru, is essentially a hearty pork miso soup. It’s associated with autumn and winter as it utilizes many of the seasonal root vegetables. Despite being a dish regularly made at home, it seems to be one of those dishes people never tire of. For much of their history, the Japanese abstained from eating meat, which, according to its Buddhist traditions, saw flesh as unclean. Yet when Japan opened up to international trade around the turn of century, meat consumption steadily increased. Interestingly, the fat produced by the pork in the broth helps the liquid to retain heat, making it a dish that stays warm while warming people. It’s commonly served at shrine and temple festivals and at ski slopes or other outdoor locales for a hot, hearty, energy-supplying pick-me-up. (Serves 3-4)
5 to 6 cups water
2 tablespoons dashi granules
½ onion, sliced into thick slivers
Vegetable oil for sautéing
½ carrot, peeled and cut into medium-thickness half moons
1 burdock root, peeled and sliced into diagonal slivers
½ sweet potato, cut into medium-thickness half moons
1 handful green beans, cleaned with the ends cut off
¼ lotus root, peeled and sliced into medium-thickness quarters
½ teaspoon fresh minced ginger
1 ½ teaspoons sesame oil
4 to 5 slices pork belly
2 to 3 patties aburaage (or ½ block firm tofu, cut into bite-size pieces)
2 to 4 tablespoons miso
Chopped green onions (for garnish)
1 large pot, 1 medium saucepan, 1 frying pan, small bowl
1. Bring water to a boil in the medium saucepan. Once the water reaches a boil, add the dashi granules, and reduce the heat to low.
2. Meanwhile, sauté the onions in oil in the large pot. Once they become transparent, add the carrot, burdock root, sweet potato, green beans and lotus root, and mix until all vegetables are coated with oil. Continue to sauté for a few minutes longer, until slightly softened.
3. Add the dashi broth to the vegetables, and bring to a boil.
4. Meanwhile, heat the pan over medium-high heat, and sauté the ginger in the sesame oil until fragrant. Add the pork belly, and brown until the mixture is almost cooked through. Remove the pan from heat, and set aside.
5. Once the vegetables have reached a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. When the vegetables are cooked through, add the meat mixture and aburaage. (If you choose to add regular tofu, allow the tofu to set slightly in the hot liquid before stirring. When you do stir, be sure to do so carefully so that the tofu does not break apart.) Simmer a few minutes longer, and then turn off the heat.
6. In a bowl, mix miso with a small amount of water so it turns into a pourable liquid. Add this to the soup.
7. Serve in bowls, and top with green onions.