Miso has long been one of those food-words that I kept coming across but never quite understood. Until SusanV wrote a post about Double Mushroom Miso Soup that said, "Eat Me" rather boldly. It was time to get to know miso a little better. Miso is a traditional Japanese ingredient; a fermented paste of soybeans and grains. Like other fermented foods like idli batter and sourdough starter, it has that peculiar "assertive-yet-not-unpleasant" aroma (or perhaps "funky-yet-good"). For me, there are two reasons to get to know miso: (a) it brings wonderful savory flavor to food (the deep and hearty taste called "umami") and (b) it is known for its healthful properties, including a rich variety of trace minerals and vitamins. Read more about miso here and here.
So I took the plunge- bought a small tub of unpasteurized white miso (shiro miso, the mildest kind there is). Miso can be found in Japanese and Asian stores and in health food stores. I bought mine from the refrigerated section of Whole Foods. Although it is white miso, in practice it looks more brown than white. The trademark recipe that uses miso is Miso Soup and this was the very first thing I wanted to make.
From what I have learnt from books and blogs, here is the simplest way to make miso soup:
1. Heat some stock: it could be the traditional Japanese dashi made with seaweed and fish flakes, or, for vegetarians, any flavorful vegetable or mushroom stock (or made with seaweed alone).
2. Add vegetables of choice (or other ingredients like tofu) and simmer until cooked.
3. Add miso paste: Take some miso paste in a small bowl. Add some of that hot stock and dilute the paste, then add it to the soup pot. Reheat briefly and your miso soup is ready!
One of my favorite cookbooks, Laurel's Kitchen, says that traditional Japanese miso soups are composed of one main vegetable and two garnishing vegetables. The garnishing vegetables can be interpreted to include anything like cubes of tofu or lemon zest. Any vegetables like greens, mushrooms, zucchini will work fine. Unfettered by tradition, miso soups, of course, can be as diverse as the cook is imaginative. Some cooked brown rice or noodles would make the miso soup even more filling.
Mushroom Miso Soup
1. Heat 4 C of your favorite vegetarian stock (I make mine from "Better than Bouillon" stock concentrate) until it is simmering.
2. Add 2 C mushroom slices and 3 minced scallions (white parts) and simmer until the mushrooms are tender.
3. Remove a small amount of the hot stock into a bowl. Add 2 t white miso paste and stir it in to blend. Add the diluted miso paste back into the soup. Reheat for a couple of minutes and serve hot, garnished with scallions (green parts).
This soup is such a treat during winter! A cup of steaming hot miso soup just feels very nourishing and is very effective in banishing the winter blahs. During the cold months, I always feel like reaching for a hot beverage. All too often, that beverage is something caffeinated like tea or coffee. Miso soup can be easily made in single-serving sizes as an alternative hot beverage. Miso does have a fairly high sodium content, so you might want to use lower-sodium stock or dilute the stock with some water.
Want more miso soup?
Maki writes a beautifully illustrated and instructive guide to Traditional Miso Soup, including ways to make vegetarian dashi.
Jaden presents an illustrated guide to 10-minute miso soup.
Kevin has a dozen different variations on miso soup on his blog, including this Tofu and Wakame Miso Soup.
Finally, Elizabeth Andoh's beautiful essay about Mama's Miso Soup
Before December is over, I hope to make 2-3 more miso recipes, exploring it in ways other than soup. If you have a favorite way of using miso, I sure would appreciate knowing about it.
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