The Beautiful Simplicity of Miso Soup
January 12, 2012
While Japanese cuisine is probably best known for sashimi, sushi, and teppan-yaki steakhouses, one of my favorite Japanese dishes is also one of the simplest: misoshiru (miso soup.) At its simplest, miso soup consists of only four ingredients: water, kombu (kelp), kezurikatsuo (dried bonito flakes) which are combined to make a light broth known as dashi, and miso (a paste made from fermented soybeans).
My favorite local Japanese restaurant recently closed, so I've had to start making my own miso soup. While instant dried miso soup packets and dashi mixes are available, they are best avoided because they are often very high in sodium and MSG. The recipe is so simple, why bother with instant mixes? While slabs of katsuobushi (dried, fermented and smoked bonito) and the traditional shaver shown above are probably hard to come by in the Kansas City area, you should be able to find all the ingredients (kombu, dried bonito flakes, miso paste, tofu, dried wakame seaweed) at any Asian market. In a pinch, you can substitute chicken stock for dashi. Also, if you're new to miso, stick with the lighter-colored varieties, as they are less "sharp" in flavor.
Once you have the basic miso soup, you can add just about any other ingredients. The "classic" miso soup features tofu and wakame. Other popular additions are mushrooms, leeks, scallions, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, shrimp, fish, clams, pork or even eggs. Just remember that Japanese dishes are usually simple, so if you want your miso soup to reflect traditional Japanese cooking, limit yourself to 2-3 added ingredients and don't overcook them. My personal favorite is to add a beaten egg and stir until the egg sets up. Top with sliced green onions. You can make a large batch of miso soup base and keep it in the refrigerator for a week or so. Cook your other ingredients separately and add them to the reheated miso soup (be careful not to bring it back to boiling).
どうぞめしあがれ = douzo meshiagare = Bon appetit!soup