I can remember my mom making me miso soup for breakfast when I was little. I didn’t eat cereal very often due to my allergy to dairy products. I think she was looking for ways to sneak in added calcium any way she could. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, this soup is eaten as breakfast in Japan as well.
WHAT IS IT?
Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting rice, barley and/or soybeans, with salt and the fungus kōjikin, the most typical miso being made with soy. The result is a thick paste high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals, with incredible immune system boosting, anti-cancer, and anti-aging health benefits.
I find that it is one of those fabulous cooking staple items that can be used in oh so many tasty ways. It can flavor sauces as a seasoning, be its own sauce, the base for a soup, make a nice salad dressing… it’s very versatile.
Miso played an important nutritional role in feudal Japan, and is still very widely used in Japan, both in traditional and modern cooking. The taste is typically salty, but its flavor and aroma depend on various factors in the ingredients and fermentation process. Different varieties of miso have been described as salty, sweet, earthy, fruity, and savory.
Miso soup is so easy that it is virtually impossible to mess up. It can be made with whatever seasonal vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, meat or seafood is at hand. Miso soup can be as light, (with just a few blocks of tofu and some green leafy vegetable or seaweed), or heavy which is almost like a stew.
The other good news is it skirts out of the soy controversy because it’s fermented. Just make sure it’s non-GMO soy, (genetically modified organism) is not healthy. Miso is very easy to purchase in little tubs in the refrigerated section at most regular grocery stores.
4 cups filtered water
1 strip of dried kombu* (*You can do with kombu, or without)
3 tbs miso (white is recommended to start, it’s light)
1-2 sprigs of green onion/scallion (chopped)
1/2 block of tofu cut into bite size cubes the size of dice (firm, non-GMO – also in the refrigerator area of most grocery stores)
1/2 cup wakame another seaweed (also optional, purchase from health food store or Japanese food shop)
I’m going to share both the traditional miso soup recipe first, and then a creative version I made (depicted below).
Dashi option – a kombu stock which serves as a basis for so much of Japanese cuisine, is loaded with glutamates, and infuses everything it touches with a savory deliciousness. Kombu (kelp) is low in calories and high in calcium, minerals and iodine. It can be found in most health food stores, or definitely any Japanese food shops.
*WITH KOMBU TO MAKE “DASHI” – The Broth Base for Traditional Miso Soup
Place the kombu (a seaweed) in the 4c water, and place on a burner set to medium. The longer the water takes to get to hot, the better. Watch the pot carefully, as the kombu should be taken out when it floats to the surface and before the water boils. You’ll notice little bubbles forming at the rim of the pot. After removing the kombu and just as the dashi starts boiling, take the pot off the heat.
Tip: As an alternative, you can also use powdered dashi as a shortcut. Many of Japan’s modern home cooks do! Powdered dashi comes in little foil packages, and has quite a strong flavor. Simply add the powder to anything you are cooking.
While you are making the dashi, (or bringing your plain water to a boil) – Soak ½ cup wakame in lukewarm water for 10 minutes. Rinse the reconstituted wakame, roughly chop it, and then add it, along with the tofu, to your 4 cups of hot (dashi, or) water.
Then take a 3 tbs. of your miso of choice and dissolve with just a tablespoon or 2 of the just heated dashi/or water in a bowl. Stir until it’s dissolved completely. You don’t want to boil miso, because it can kill the live beneficial microflora and enzymes.
Then add the tofu, wakame, and rest of the the boiled water (or dashi liquid) to the bowl with your dissolved miso. Garnish with chopped green onions. Serves 4
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The soup creation depicted below: I didn’t use dashi, nor did I use any of the above ingredients. I made a shitake mushroom broth from boiling some dried shitakes* for a few minutes, added it to the miso broth – no kombu this time – just red miso, which you use less of because it’s stronger tasting and more salty and pungent.
Then I added left overs: chopped broccoli (1/3-c blanched), baby peas (1/3-c blanched), an amazing super grain called quinoa (1/2-c already cooked), and a few cubes of an non-GMO soy cheeze (this is very mild and sweet tasting variety). Voila!
*Shitake mushrooms are packed with flavor but surprisingly low in calories, they also are high in fiber and vitamins B and D. While available fresh, the dried variety has a concentrated, rich mushroom flavor, and a little goes a long way.