Sunday, October 17, 2010

Miso Soup

This isn’t a 100% traditional, authentic Japanese recipe, but it makes great soup and takes about 20 minutes. It’s also incredibly adaptable and can be modified into a heartier soup that becomes an entire meal (but those modifications make it even less traditional).

The basis of miso soup, and arguably of Japanese cooking in general, is dashi, a stock made from kombu seaweed and dried bonito flakes. Obviously the vegan version drops the bonito flakes but that makes the recipe easier and doesn’t require two pots or straining the dashi. Unlike traditional European stocks, dashi is a quick stock. You likely will need to find a Japanese grocer for the kombu. Different types of kombu are available and I normally buy flat sheets designated as dashi kombu (sometimes spelled konbu).

Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans and grains (usually rice or barley). It’s a living food (like yogurt) and needs to be refrigerated. It’s been widely studied for health benefits in Japan and it’s said to treat everything from radiation sickness to high cholesterol. It’s also high in B vitamins and can be used to add a richness to soups, stews, and dressings. There is a wide variety of miso available and it can be confusing to decide which one to get. The most widely available are shinsu (medium), white, red, and brown. Shinsu is the most like an “all purpose” miso, but I’d encourage you to experiment with them all.

Buy the best miso you can afford because there is a great difference in quality. Here in Portland, we’re lucky to have Jorinji which is a small producer of traditional miso. I don’t believe it’s shipped outside of the immediate area. It is about twice the price of other brands, but worth every penny since they use long fermentation times and non-GMO soybeans, which gives it an incomparable flavor. (Sorry they don’t seem to have a website, but their miso is available at Uwajimaya.)

Miso Soup

Makes 6 cups (4-6 servings)

6 cups of water
4x4 inch piece of kombu
4-6 tablespoons of miso (I use half white and half red, but use whichever kind you like)
6 oz. firm or extra firm silken tofu, cut into cubes
1-3 green onions, finely sliced (try to find smaller, tenderer onions)

1. Wipe the kombu with a damp paper towel but don’t wash it since it will remove much of the flavor. Add the water and kombu to a pot and put over medium high heat. Just before the water comes to a boil, pull the pot from the heat and let it sit for 3-5 minutes. Remove the kombu.
2. Put the pot back over medium low heat. Add the cubed tofu and green onions and heat through.
3. Remove about a cup of the stock in a bowl or measuring cup and mix in the miso. Stir with a fork or whisk until it’s completely smooth and dissolved. Add to the soup and stir the pot.
4. Ladle into bowls and serve.

- Add more vegetables to make it more substantial. Julienned carrots, sliced shitake or other mushrooms (or soy pickled shitakes), wakame seaweed, julienned blanched spinach, or sliced bok choy.
- Cook some noodles (soba, somen, rice noodles, etc.) and place them in the bottom of a bowl, ladle the soup over the noodles. You can also double the amount of tofu to make it a one bowl meal.
- Add sliced ginger to the dashi stock (which is totally untraditional)

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