Tonjiru: Japanese hearty miso soup with burdock root and pork

Tonjiru, a chunky and hearty miso soup, is my favorite one out of traditional Japanese miso soups.  In Japanese, tonjiru translates literally into “pork broth”. It is not only served popularly at home but can also be found served at outdoor gatherings such as barbeques or festivals (served in little paper cups or paper bowls), and also at skiing destinations (more commonly so than hot chocolate/cocoa!)

Traditional tonjiru ingredients are sliced pork, burdock root (gobo), Daikon white radish, carrots, konnyaku  (a gelatin-like slab made from konjac flour, water and limewater), negi onion, deep-fried tofu (abura-age), and taro root (satoimo) in a soup base of miso and Japanese soup stock dashi made of bonito flakes and kelp.

konnyaku

Do not let the long and exotic-sounding ingredient list deter you from trying this. These ingredients can be found at Asian supermarkets. Also, due to laziness and lack of ingredients at hand I have replaced/left out some ingredients before and the soup still turned out great as long as you stick to the  burdock root and pork.  Burdock root is the key ingredient, it gives the soup a rich taste and has the flavor enhancing effects of MSG (gives the soup stock “umami” or deep fresh flavor – think of the lobster bisque in terms of richness). I always omit the taro root just due to the time it takes to prepare them but do not think it affects the flavor because the vegetable is a mild-tasting one anyway.

Ingredients (for 4)

  • 300 grams of fresh pork slices
  • 1 burdock root
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 slab of konnyaku
  • 1/2 daikon white radish
  • 1 large piece of fried tofu (approximately 10cm x 7cm x 1 cm). In Japanese supermarkets, it is a readily available product called abura-age, and also in Chinese supermarkets called tofu pok. If you cannot find either, you can make a substitute by frying or pan-frying a piece of firm tofu in oil until golden brown.
  • 1 negi onion (if n/a, use a regular onion, it will add the same “sweetness” to the soup
  • 2.5L water
  • 2/3 tablespoons dashi powder (if n/a, use vegetable buillion cube, or replace water with vegetable stock)
  • 4 heaping tablespoons of miso paste

Method

  1. Prepare burdock root: Wash off soil, peel using vegetable peeler, cut off both ends and cut into long thin pieces julienne style (or use knife to shave into long thin pieces).
  2. Prepare carrot: Peel and cut into long thin pieces.
  3. Prepare daikon white radish: peel with vegetable peeler, cut first into 1 – 2 cm slices, then cut each slice into quarters
  4. Prepare negi onion: wash, remove and discard end and green part (only use white part). If using regular onion, peel and cut into bite-sized pieces
  5. Cut pork, tofu and konnyaku into bite-sized pieces.
  6. Put all the vegetables and konnyaku into large pot. Add water and dashi powder (or buillion cube) and heat over high heat until boiling. Lower heat and continue to heat until vegetables become soft.
  7. Add pork and fried tofu, and continue to heat 20 minutes
  8. Using a strainer, scoop out any white froth /oil from the top of the soup.
  9. Turn off heat. Add miso paste, one tablespoon at a time, by putting miso into a soup ladle, lowering into the soup, and stirring with chopsticks/fork to dissolve it into the soup.

Sounds like a lot of work but actually once you get the vegetables prepared it is quick and easy! I love making a large batch and having it as a lazy weekend comfy-food dinner.

Points to remember are that you must scoop the froth/gunk/oil (which comes from boiling the pork and the vegetables) from the surface of the soup and discarding it. Also, it is necessary to turn off the heat before adding the miso paste.

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