I've been doing a lot of thinking these past couple of days about what makes a recipe dirt cheap. It couldn't just be the cost of the ingredients, or the time it takes to put together (usually in inverse proportion). There had to be something more. The answer came to me yesterday morning when I pulled in to the gas station to fill up the car -- $57!! For a Honda Civic!! Wow. Those 40-mile round trippers to Whole Foods or the Asian market or Williams-Sonoma in search of a single ingredient or a new pot can really add up. (Let me go all caps here: You New York City dwellers are SO LUCKY to have public transportation!) Anyway, I turned around, went home, tore apart the pantry and dug deep into the fridge, and this is one of the things I came up with. I had the kelp and the bonita flakes for the dashi (very cheap) and the dried mushrooms (not so cheap, but they go a long way) from testing other recipes, and the ginger, scallions, carrots and cabbage were sitting in the crisper, looking lonely. OK, I had to get the tofu, but I walked to the store for that. —wssmom
handful of green onions, sliced thinly
a small chunk (about half the size of your thumb) fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a big knife
1 1/2 quarts of water
3 square pieces dried kelp (kombu)
1/3 cup bonita flakes
1/2 cup (or more if you have it) assorted dried mushrooms
1/4 head cabbage, sliced thinly (as for cole slaw)
Heat a large, heavy pot and film the bottom with the grapeseed oil. Toss in half the green onions (mostly the white part), the ginger and the garlic and saute over medium heat for a minute or so, or until beginning to soften.
Rinse off the kelp to remove stray sand or bits of shell. Add to the pot along with the water and the bonita flakes. Turn up the heat and watch carefully - just before it hits boiling, turn down the heat. Let it sit on a low flame for about 5-7 minutes.
Put the dried mushrooms in a large bowl, and strain the broth over them. Discard the fixings, and let the mushrooms rehydrate for 20 minutes or so. Strain the soup back into the pot and dice up the mushrooms. Add to the pot along with the miso, cabbage and carrots (if you have some fresh mushrooms handy, you can add them too) and let simmer for 10 minutes or until the veggies are tender
Divide the tofu into serving bowls, ladle the soup over, and top with the remaining scallions. (David Lieberman has a lovely recipe for Asian Mushroom Soup in which he calls for a bit of dark sesame oil to be drizzled over the top. I didn't have any, and I stopped myself from driving to the store to get some, but if you have some, go for it!)