I have often wondered about making miso soup at home - it seemed like such a mysterious thing, with it's swirling, curling, cloudy broth. There's something so comforting about the miso served in Japanese restaurants, simple and warm, the perfect start to a meal.
Last week my brother came to visit, and as I walked him through his first few rolls of homemade sushi I couldn't help but think how nice a bowl of misoshiru would be to go along. Little did I know it would be such an easy thing to make, or else I'd have made a batch right then and there!
(By the way, you can check out my in-depth tutorial on making sushi here: Sushi 101 - Ready Set, Roll!)
The basis of all miso soups, no matter the ingredients you choose to add, is the broth, which is surprisingly simple to make. The primary elements are dashi (fish stock), and miso (fermented soybean paste). Perhaps neither of these things sound particularly appealing on the surface, but when handled correctly they can create flavors ranging from light and sweet, to savory and complex.
Before we get to the recipe, lets take a look at what these things are.
Dashi is a kind of fish stock, typically made from kombu (sea kelp), and bonito (dried and fermented tuna). It can also be made with small sardines, mushrooms, or other ingredients, and can even be made vegetarian. Dashi is used in a wide range of Japanese cooking, and is a common kitchen staple -- think of it as the Japanese equivalent to chicken stock. Despite the all-too-fishy sounding ingredients, the stock is relatively light in flavor, and boasts a subtle hint of Unami, the elusive "fifth taste", meaning savory, or meaty.
Here in the states it may be tricky to get your hands on fresh dashi (unless you plan to make it yourself), but packets and jars of dried dashi are more readily available, and can be found in Asian markets, or the international section of regular stores. You can find dried, or instant dashi in a powder or pellet-like form (think of this as being like buillon - simply add to hot water, and you have dashi stock), or as a teabag-like packet of kombu and bonito, which can be steeped in hot water to make the stock. Either of these will work fine for our purposes, though if you find yourself with a choice I suggest choosing the teabag over the powder, as some brands of powdered dashi may contain MSG or other unwanted ingredients.
Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans (most commonly, though it can also be made from rice, barley, or other grains). The paste can be used in many applications besides soup, including making sauces, spreads, or pickling vegetables. Miso is a culinary staple in Japanese cooking, highly regarded for its high amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
The flavor, texture, and aroma of miso will vary greatly depending on the variety, and the region and method from which it was made. The three most common types of miso, and the ones you're most likely to find here in the states, are Shiromiso (white miso), Akamiso (red miso), and Awasemiso (a mix of red and white). In general, white miso has a lighter, sweeter taste in comparison to the red, which has been fermented for much longer and has a saltier, more savory quality. I prefer Shiromiso in my soup, but you can use either, or a mixture of both, to get the desired flavor.
You can sometimes find miso in the international aisle of stores, in resealable bags that require refrigeration after opening, or in the refrigerated section of most Asian markets.
Because miso paste is a natural food with many live microorganisms, it is important not to cook it, or else many of the beneficial qualities will be lost. Cooking miso also alters the flavor, and can sometimes result in a grainy texture. When making miso soup, it is traditional to dissolve the miso paste in a ladle full of warm broth, then add the mixture back into the pot after it has been removed from the heat.
Misoshiru (miso soup) can be made with most any ingredients you like, and can be made as light or hearty as you want. Once you've got your broth, almost anything goes. In Japan, it is traditional to use just a few, often seasonal, ingredients which contrast or compliment each other in flavor or texture... but it doesn't have to be complicated to be good. Thinly sliced or shaved vegetables such as carrots, daikon radish, or mushrooms are common add-ins, as well as seaweed, tofu, meat, or seafood, among others.
Here I've chosen to use just a bit of tofu, wakame seaweed, and some fresh green onion for garnish, but don't let that tie you down. I also used shiromiso (white miso paste) for a lighter flavor, but feel free to change that as well. Think of this recipe as a starting point for making something unique to suite your own tastes and preferences.
Simple Miso Soup
Makes 4 servings
4 cups of water
1 tsp. powdered dashi, or 1 teabag-like pouch of dashi base
1/4 cup miso paste - white, red, or a combination of the two (I used white, or shiro)
1-2 TBSP dried wakame seaweed, chopped*
1/2 block firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Chopped green onion, for garnish
*wakame can most often be found as long dried leaves, or pre-cut into small pieces. Either will work just fine.
1. Bring the water to a boil. Add the powdered dashi and stir to dissolve, or steep the dashi teabag for ten minutes, then strain it and discard.
2. Chop the dried wakame (if it isn't pre-chopped), and soak in a bowl of warm water for ten minutes to rehydrate. After soaking, drain the wakame and add it to the pot along with the cubed tofu. If you are using other ingredients which require more cooking, such as meat, seafood, or firm vegetables, let them cook in the broth as long as necessary.
3. Turn off the heat, and pour a ladle full of broth into a both. Add the miso paste and whisk with a pair of chopsticks or a fork until thoroughly dissolved.
4. Add the dissolved miso mixture back into the pot, and stir to combine. Do not boil the miso, or the flavor and texture will be off. If you need to reheat the soup, do it slowly over medium-low heat.
5. Serve with freshly chopped green onion for garnish.