DIY Miso Soup

I’ve argued for years that if children’s books can have illus­tra­tions, why shouldn’t nov­els for adults? When Jonathan Safran Foer pub­lished Extremely Loud and Incred­ibly Close I felt vin­dic­ated. It has draw­ings, typo­graph­ical exper­i­ments, pho­to­graphs, a flip-book …and it’s magnificent.

Safran Foer has just out­done him­self. I’ve spent the even­ing read­ing his latest work Tree of Codes. It’s a start­ling and phys­ic­ally beau­ti­ful book, a rework­ing of Bruno Schulz’ 20th Cen­tury story The Street of Cro­codiles. Even the new title is a vari­ation on the ori­ginal — slice ten let­ters from The Street of Cro­codiles and Tree of Codes is the result.

The die-cut book is a work of del­ic­acy and ingenu­ity. Turn a page too briskly and it will tear. Words glim­mer through the gaps so that each read­ing of the novel pro­duces a new story.

It’s a novel that expects effort, but the reward is that it becomes one’s own. As I explored Tree of Codes this even­ing, I ate a bowl of DIY miso soup, some­thing I’ve been eat­ing most days since Janu­ary 1st. DIY soup demands that the eater works at it, cre­ates it at the table. And just like Tree of Codes, it’s dif­fer­ent every time.

DIY MISO SOUP

Serves 2

20g dried shi­take mushrooms

2 table­spoons miso paste

3 table­spoons soy sauce

3 table­spoon fish sauce

1 litre water

2 cm chunk of fresh ginger

2 cm length of lemongrass

2 nests of fine egg noodles

Half fresh red chilli

Hand­ful cori­ander leaves

2 spring onions or scallions

2 cloves finely chopped garlic

200g raw King prawns

Pour a little boil­ing water over the mush­rooms and put to one side. Peel the ginger and grate it into a sauce­pan large enough to hold 1 litre of water. Chop the lem­on­grass roughly and add to the pan, along with the miso paste, and the soy and fish sauces. Bring to a gentle sim­mer, take off the heat and allow the fla­vours to develop.

Finely chop the chil­lis and spring onions and put into two serving bowls. Put the washed cori­ander leaves in a third bowl. Rinse the softened mush­rooms and add to a fourth bowl. Line these up on the table with a serving spoon in each. Place the uncooked noodle nests into two soup bowls, bring the soup back up to a sim­mer. Strain it and divide equally between the two bowls, pour­ing it over the noodles to soften them while you cook the prawns. Saute the prawns in a little olive oil with the finely chopped gar­lic. When the prawns are pink, tip them into a fifth serving bowl and take to the table. By this time the soup liquor will have cooked the noodles. Just add gen­er­ous help­ings of all or some of the extra ingredi­ents to your soup and start to eat.

I made DIY soup for twelve people yes­ter­day and the choos­ing and the eat­ing made a simple meal into an event. It would have been even bet­ter if all twelve of us had had our own copy of Tree of Codes to read aloud from as we ate.