To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yummy Miso Soup

Have you ever had that strange experience where you're drinking some miso soup at a restaurant and it's a) too mild, b) too bland, or c) makes you feel like you rubbed your tongue with sandpaper? Never have these problems again! Make your own miso! It's ridiculously easy and - can I just say without humility - totally and incredibly tasty.

Yummy Miso Soup
(makes 4-5 servings)

~3 oz kombu (dried seaweed), was about a sheet for the brand I bought, cut into thirds to fit into my pot
3 tbsp miso paste
2 shiitake mushrooms
4 green onions, chopped
1 block extra firm tofu

Place the kombu in a pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Remove the kombu just as the water reaches its boiling point and save it. (I used my boiled kombu again and made a whole extra batch for the fridge). This is what you call 'dashi stock' - sort of a salty broth.

Ladle out a goodly amount of the broth into a separate bowl and stir in the miso paste so that it melts.

Add your chopped green onions to the pot of stock. Stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and tofu. Stir for an additional 2-4 minutes.

Last, add the melted miso to the main pot. Stir until its well combined.

Yes. That's all folks. Prepare for the silky smooth awesomeness of homemade miso.

*And because you get to make it all for you, if you want more or less of any ingredient, or different mushrooms, or whatever - you can have it! Pretty neat, eh?

Forgo a spoon with this. Slurp with pride and use chopsticks to pick out the veggies and tofu. Slurping is a sign you're enjoying yourself. :)

[P.S. There is a version of this where you can stew some hijiki seaweed in when you add the green onions in the beginning. If you like the taste of sea weed and its enormous nutritional value, try this for an added flavor.]

[Note: I have changed this recipe. Adding the miso paste last prevents the boiling process from destroying the beneficial bacteria in the paste and keeps it from forming those clumps that are so common in miso soups!]

Q & A: What is miso paste and are there any substitutes for miso paste?

Miso paste is a sticky paste made from soy beans and/or grains that have been fermented. (This is the process used to make soy sauce, btw.) It aids in the digestion and assimilation of nutrients from food and also has antioxidant properties and contains an alkaloid called "dipicolinic acid", which bonds to heavy metals and helps the body get rid of them.

Miso paste is used for its distinct flavor and I'm pretty sure there aren't any exact substitutes for it. It comes in a variety of different ratios and subtle flavors, but there are three main categories: white, black, and red. White and red are the most easily located in the US.

Some of the versions:

Black miso paste [hat-cho miso or mamemiso] - a very strong salty variety - is made with soy beans, fermented, and aged for up to three years.
Red miso paste [akamiso] is usually made from barley or rice (not soy beans - I did not know this) and put through a fermentation process, then aged anywhere from 4-8 months depending on the brand. [If you do have a soy allergy, this might be a good alternative - double check this somewhere else before you try it though. This information has come from two different sources, but when dealing with food allergies, it's best to actually consult a physician!] *I use the red, because it's what I found when I went to Little Tokyo, and I really enjoy it. It has a full, rich flavor and lacks the tangy sharpness I've experienced with some misos.
Barley miso [mugi miso] is reddish brown and a little sweeter than some other misos.

Cold Mountain Brand Variations:
Light Yellow [shinshu shiro miso] is made from soy beans and grains, fermented, and aged 10-12 weeks. It has a light flavor and a gentle aroma.
Mellow White: "rich, natural flavor...delicate and subtly sweet". Aging time 2-3 weeks.
Kyoto Red: 60% less sodium, "dessert like sweetness". Aging 2-3 weeks.
Kyoto White: 60% less sodium, "rich and... sweet". Aging 5-6 weeks.

Now, I stand corrected from my previous comment. According to the Cook's Thesaurus, you can substitute soy sauce (1 tsp soy sauce for 1 tbsp miso paste) or a bouillon cube (1 vegetable or beef bouillon cube for 1 tbsp miso paste).

I have not tried any of these variations, so I cannot vouch for their tastiness factor or how they combine with the other ingredients. Unless you have a soy allergy, I strongly suggest trying the miso paste. I mean - it's "miso" soup. Can't have real miso soup without miso in it, right?

You can find miso paste in the refrigerator section of some supermarkets, all asian supermarkets, Whole Foods, or purchase it online from an asian grocery - I posted a link to one I've used under Bento Box 1. Buy a box, keep it in your fridge. It stays good for months.

There is also the option of buying the powdered versions of miso for soups, but I recommend the paste. I've tried both, and there's just more flavor to the paste.

A note on soy:

There was a lot in the media a while ago about how eating too much soy product (they were talking about people eating mostly tofu) leads to serious iodine deficiencies. Asian diets compensate for this by also consuming seaweed, which is rich in iodine. The main message is this: too much of any one thing is bad. The more colors on your plate (green is important and food coloring doesn't count), the more likely you are to get all the nutrients your body needs.

Q & A: Are there any substitutes for seaweed?

If you're not a huge fan of seaweed, don't let this frighten you away. The Kombu is dried when you add it and you never even have to touch it once it's been boiled, so you don't experience the "slimy factor" I hear people complain about. The stock does not taste "fishy" the way I've heard some of my less seaweed enthusiastic friends describe seaweed. Boiling the kombu releases natural salts that give the broth a delicious flavor.

Another alternative for homemade dashi stock is called "katsuo dashi", which is a variation that involves boiling katsuoboshi (dried bonito flakes). Bonito flakes are dried tuna flakes, basically. I did try this and I actually kind of liked it - although I prefer the kombu stock. Recipe for katsuo dashi.

Here are some other alternatives that I haven't taste-tested: niboshi dashi (made from dried sardines) and hoshi-shiitake (made from dried shiitake mushrooms).

Q & A: How do you use pre-made dashi stock?

If you decide to skip the (really easy) process of making your own dashi and use the pre-made kind... You can buy dashi stock - the name for the stock that results from boiling the kombu - pre-made or powdered from asian groceries. Just be aware it usually comes in smallish bottles or one serving packets.

Dashi powder: You use about 1 tsp for every 3-5 cups of water, depending on how strong a flavor you're looking for. The package will have instructions on it (hopefully in English).

Bottled dashi stock: I actually bought a bottle of this at the asian market before I realized how easy and delicious it is to make this stuff from scratch. (If you're at the store that has this, you will easily find the ingredients needed for making the stock.) What you want to do with this is taste test. Take 3 cups of water to start with and add 1/2 tbsp of the bottle dashi to the water, tasting until you find the right ratio. I never found one that I was completely happy with in the way I was with the homemade stock; you might.

Please be aware that most of the pre-made dashi stocks have extra salt in them. I'm not a big sodium hound, so I don't like them as much, but... que sera sera.


  1. Are there any substitutes for seaweed or miso paste?

  2. This looks so good. So does the sesame chicken, which is also my favorite. Your version does look good despite being "healthified".

  3. I don't think there are any substitutes on those... But they are both readily available at local markets and by going to one of the asian grocery stores online. I have a link to one under Bento Box 1.

    If you're not a huge fan of seaweed, don't let this frighten you away. The stock does not taste "fishy" the way I've heard some of my less seaweed enthusiastic friends describe sea weed. Boiling the kombu releases natural salts that give the broth a delicious flavor.

    Actually. Now I think about it - you can buy dashi stock pre-made from some of the asian groceries. Just be aware it usually comes in smallish bottles.

  4. Yummmmmmy! Miso soup is something that if I made it at home I'd have it all the time - but you're right, restaurant Miso soup isn't always a slam dunk.

    Thanks for the recipe, darlin'!

    PS Are you free the evening of June 30th for a free acting class? I'm going and Lira thought I should invite you :)

  5. Pardon me - did you miss my question under "bento 4" -- what is mirin?
    And now I have a new one to add: can you explain how to use the dashi stock instead of seaweed? I might try the seaweed but having another option sounds safe.

  6. Hello! I did miss your question; my apologies. I have updated Bento Box 4 to answer your question about Mirin.

    I have also added answers to the questions about seaweed and miso substitutes into the above post.

    I hope this helps. :)

  7. Today, I added a 1/2 cup of dried hijiki and a 1/4 cup of dried squid to this soup and it was deeeee-lectable. :) Just in case anyone wants to try something new.

  8. I have been looking for a substitute too since it's not healthy eating fermented products such as miso. I have Raw Food for Real People and they use Miso Paste alot. I haven't tried it yet, but one site said Tahini. I'm off to the kitchen now to give it a whirl. I'll let you know How it went.