I have finally found a Japanese grocery store. It’s a cute, tiny place about the size of my living room that is stocked full of most Japanese staples and – best of all – is within walking distance of my apartment. Although there are still numerous Japanese items on my “To Make” list, this first one was a no-brainer: I’ve recently caught a bug (Murphy’s Law: you can never begin school without being at least moderately sick) and nothing screams healthy like a piping hot bowl of Miso Soup.
These days miso soup is not as foreign in the West as it once was. You can find instant, watered-down versions accompanying most meals in Japanese restaurants across the States. Some dedicated Japanese and even Pan-Asian restaurants will make theirs from scratch, and – if your lucky – offer varieties of the soup itself. Once I learned just how easy it is to make a basic miso broth I have a hard time understanding why folks bother with the instant versions at all. Making your soup from scratch is not only simple, but it gives you the added health benefits this soy bean paste is known for having. There’s even a “Japan Miso Promotional Board” dedicated to spreading awareness of this wonder-food. If you’re curious about miso’s history, varieties, and usage there’s a very informative online-book from the JMPB. Here’s an example page below:
味噌汁 (Miso Shiru) (slightly adapted from Let’s Cook Japanese Food! by Amy Kaneko)
* serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as the main course *
4 C dashi*
4 T white miso paste
2 whole shiitake mushrooms sliced (if dried, reconstitute first)
1 generous pinch dried wakame, reconstituted
5 oz. soft tofu cut into small cubes
2 green onions, minced
* Note: Dashi is a traditional Japanese fish stock that is used as a base in many Japanese recipes, but does not have a very strong “fishy” taste as you might think. Most Japanese home cooks today use varieties of “instant dashi” which come in several forms. The easiest to find in the West, I think, is hondashi: granules that resemble instant yeast and work as a sort of bouillon. Unfortunately, the only hondashi I’ve found so far has MSG in it – which I refuse to use. If you can’t find instant dashi or if you’re like me and can’t find any without MSG, I found that I can replicate a dashi stock fairly well using dried bonito flakes, two pinches of salt, and a pinch of sugar. Add those three ingredients to 4 Cups of boiling water, let soak for 5 – 10 minutes, and strain out the bonito flakes: ta da! …a milder form of dashi stock. Pick up the procedure below at Step 2 and proceed as normal.
1) Bring dashi to boil in a small saucepan. If you are using dried shiitake and prefer a strong mushroom flavor you may want to add them in here to reconstitute as the stock is heated. Dried wakame can be reconstituted this way as well, just keep an eye on it – it will soften faster than the mushrooms and it shouldn’t be overcooked as it will get mushy (alternatively, the shiitake and wakame can be reconstituted separately by soaking in warm water for 30 minutes for the seaweed and up to an hour for the mushrooms).
2) Reduce the heat to Medium-low and begin incorporating the miso the following way: put 1 Tablespoon of the paste in a large spoon and, holding the spoon in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other, dip the edge of the spoon into the hot stock. Scoop up a bit of liquid onto the spoon and use the chopsticks to stir the paste into the liquid to dissolve the miso before adding the mixture back into the pot. Repeat with the remaining 3 Tablespoons of miso. Careful: once the miso is in the pot the soup must never boil!
3) When the miso has been mixed into the stock, add the tofu cubes and heat through – about 1 minute. If you haven’t already done so, add the wakame and sliced shiitake next and cook for an additional 30 seconds or so. Sprinkle green onions into the soup before serving.
I have made two batches of this soup in the last 24 hours, if that tells you anything, haha. Even Brad, who isn’t the biggest fan of seaweed or Japanese food in general, slurped down three bowls after I had agreed to dice the tofu into tiny cubes. White miso gives the soup a sweet earthy flavor that is also quite delicate. I increased the stock to 4 Cups where the source recipe called for 3 and used my bonito-flake dashi substitute for the base, so I think my version is a bit milder than the original. If you are using the bonito flakes and want a stronger soup, it’s an easy fix: just add an addition Tablespoon or more of miso. I also love to use miso paste as a spread on sandwiches or a glaze on fish. Now that I know where to buy several varieties, I hope to share some more miso recipes with you in the future!
Overall Enjoyment: ♥ ♥ ♥