It will soon be National Vegetarian Week, (15th – 21st May) – time to be kind to you, kind to animals and kind to the planet.  For advice on diet and nutrition consult with our nutritionist Melanie Smith or Naturopaths Sarah Burt & Marjo Algate.  If you would like to see if you’re intolerant to any food Marjo Algate can test you using a simple finger prick blood test, more information can be found on this on The Clinic’s website here.

French/Japanese Onion Soup (vegan,gluten free)

I was combining styles of cooking long before “Fusion” cookery became fashionable.  This quick recipe draws on two cultures – classic French onion soup with a Japanese input.  The Japanese input uses two ingredients that should be standard components of a vegetarian’s larder; seaweed and miso.  Seaweed comes in many different types: dulse, kelp, arame, khombu.  I tend to use arame – it is easy to crumble up and I often add it to soups or casseroles for extra flavour and good nutrition, especially iodine, (essential in the function of the thyroid gland).

In Western culture we talk of there being four flavours: sweet, sour, salt and bitter.  From a flavour viewpoint miso gives a boost to the Japanese “fifth” flavour – umami – this is often described as savouriness and helps give food a fullness of flavour.  Other foods strong in umami are fungi, cheese, especially parmesan.  Monosodium glutamate is good for umami, but not good for us.  Worcestshire sauce is a excellent example of umami, but is not good for strict vegetarians or vegans as it contains anchovies. A useful alternative is Henderson’s relish from Sheffield, South Yorkshire.  This is a spicy, fruity condiment that can be used to help flavour food.  Some adherents favour it because of its unique flavour and others out of regional loyalty.

Miso is fermented soya bean paste.  There are several varieties available, dependent on what is fermented with the soya beans, different types of grain, eg rice, barley and others.  I prefer mugi miso, which uses barley.

In Japanese culture miso is called the “food of the gods”.  It is certainly a good source of protein, iron and B vitamins.  The longer the miso is fermented the better it is meant to be.  Some types are fermented for over a year.  There are some authorities who have indicated that some of the health benefits of miso help deal with radiation sickness.  Following the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombs it would appear that those who had a diet with a high component of miso in it fared better than those who had a lower input.


To cut the onions evenly and finely I thought a metal comb would be helpful. Called “onion combs” I found these on Amazon but they were out of stock.  I then had a brainwave – an Afro pick.  This has worked amazingly well and I would thoroughly recommend one of these as essential kitchen equipment.  After you have peeled the onion pierce with the comb with the line of prongs along the top-to-bottom axis of the vegetable.  Put a thin knife through the prongs to slice the onion.

4 Onions sliced very thinly
2 tbspns extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
1 tspn black pepper – ground
2 pints vegetable stock
1 handful crushed arame
1 tbspn dried mixed herbs
2 bay leaves
1 tbspn Miso, (I prefer Mugi)

Chopped parsley and chives

Lightly fry onions in oil with black pepper until soft and limp in heavy based pot.  I think the key to this recipe is the length of time the onions are cooked for.  Slowly cooking them for at least 10 minutes brings out the sweetness in the onions.  Add vegetable stock, arame, (I just crush the arame up with my hands), mixed herbs and bay leaves.  Bring to boil, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.  In a soup bowl place 1 tbspn miso and pour soup on top. Stir miso into soup until dissolved.

Sprinkle top of soup with grated cheddar cheese, chopped parsley and chives.  With the cheese it is obviously no longer vegan.  I always serve this with fresh baked bread containing sunflower, sesame, pumpkin and poppy seeds.  Try to avoid cooking with miso.  Above 40 C protein is denatured.  This means it will reduce the benefits of the live enzymes in it.  With most soups the flavours develop if left for a day.  This soup tastes a lot better when freshly cooked.