miso soup

miso-soupI always liked miso soup, but when I got back from a summer in Japan, it became a regular part of any meal – breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Miso, a paste traditionally made out of fermented rice, soybeans, or barley, comes in many variations of strength, earthiness, and sweetness. Miso is incredibly high in protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals, has little-to-no fat, and is very easy to make.

You’ll find miso paste in the refrigerated section of health food stores, grocery stores with wider selections, and Asian supermarkets. The kinds that I’ve found at Asian markets sometimes have fish products in them, so if you are a vegetarian, you’ll want to read the ingredients carefully. I am a big fan of (bias alert) my friend’s family’s miso, South River Miso. Price varies by brand and type of miso within brands – it’s not cheap, but you only need about a tablespoon for a serving, and it never goes bad, so it’s quite economical.

At its simplest, you can just add miso paste to hot water and call it miso soup. I’m not a fan of this version, but the point is that you can make this with limited ingredients, or alter it to suit your tastes. Don’t feel like slicing scallions? Don’t worry about them. Can’t find dried wakame? No problem. I’m just posting my favorite way to make it.

The key thing to remember is that miso paste has live enzymes that die in extreme heat, so do NOT boil the liquid once you have added the miso if you want to retain the full nutritional benefits. Make sure you have turned off the heat before you add it.

Ingredients, per person:
10 oz water*
1 tb soy sauce, more or less to taste*
a few drops rice wine vinegar
a few drops sesame oil, preferably the dark, roasted kind with a lot of flavor
a tiny pinch of sugar
1 tsp dried wakame seaweed (not the strips of rubbery-looking wakame that I find at my coop, but this stuff); this allows it to taste fishy while still being vegan. If you prefer, and aren’t vegetarian, you could use actual fish broth instead of the water to get the same effect.
1 scallion, sliced thinly
1 tb miso paste, more or less to taste*
small cubes of tofu, very optional
any diced vegetables, like daikon radish, carrots, mushrooms, etc, very optional (must do the stove-top version)

(items with a * are those necessary for the most pared down version of the soup that still tastes good)

For one or two people, boil water in a microwave, kettle, or pot (perfect for a packed lunch at work):
1. Put all ingredients, except for water, into a mug or bowl.
2. Heat water to nearly boiling.
3. Pour in a few tb of the hot water and mash everything together to create a runnier paste (this prevents clumps of miso). Then add the rest of the water, stirring well. Wait a few minutes for the seaweed to unfurl. Stir again and enjoy. (When I’m at work, I carry everything but the water in a small tupperware container, and heat the water in a mug in the microwave. I create the runny paste in that small tupperware, and then pour the paste into the mug with the rest of the hot water.)

Stovetop method, easier for larger proportions:
1. Create the broth: Put water, soy sauce, oil, vinegar, sugar, wakame, and optional tofu and veggies into a pot, and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat.
2. Add scallions (if you add them earlier, they get slimy and overcooked).
3. Put the miso in a ladle or mug or other container that can hold water. Add just a little of the broth, and mash with a spoon to create a runny paste out of the miso (avoid clumps. Then pour the runny paste into the pot and stir well.

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