I read somewhere that at one time, Japanese consumed a hundred bowls of miso soup a month, on average. A whole lot of soup! But for good reason, because miso is truly a remarkable food: Fermented from soybeans, salt and rice or barley, or just soybeans and salt, it's loaded with nutrients, lactic acid bacteria (like yogurt) and easily absorbed protein -- fermentation basically "predigests" the protein before it reaches your gut. It's also incredibly tasty, brimming with umami and complex, savory flavors and aroma. So it's not surprising that Japanese have traditionally eaten so much of it.
What is surprising -- to me, at least -- is that here in America what we usually see of this soup is the same combination of tofu and wakame seaweed, the workhorse broth of sushi joints from coast to coast. Delicious, yes, but oh so tired. What a shame, since in Japan there are hundreds (daresay thousands?) of delightful varieties of this comforting food. I think of this every time I travel to Japan and go to town on a mind-blowing bowl of miso soup! (Like the four kinds I enjoyed a couple of weeks ago in Tokyo.)
So I've decided to do something about our unfortunate "soup gap." Starting with this post, I'm launching an occasional series where I ask friends in Japan to share with me -- and you -- their favorite miso soup combinations. Call it the Miso Soup Project.
What I'm going to do is simply list combinations of main ingredients and types of miso. I'll leave it up to you to work out the proportions to suit your individual taste, and the kind of dashi you like (for dashi, see this post and this one).
I hope you try these soups! When you do, please let me know in the comments what you thought of them, your favorites and any tips and suggestions we can learn from.
(Come to think of it, why don't I soon post a detailed miso soup primer with a Japanese chef here in New York, to give you a better idea of proportions and cooking techniques. Stay tuned…)
Okay, first up, I've asked my wife's best friend Tomoko and her mom to share regional miso soups from their home province of Niigata, a breathtaking area in the north of the country along the Sea of Japan. Here are the delicious combinations they sent me (some helpful definitions to follow):
- Daikon and shiro miso
- Daikon, mochi and shiro miso
- Daikon, taro and shiro miso
- Daikon, taro, mochi and shiro miso
- Daikon, carrot and inaka miso
- Daikon, potato and awase miso
- Daikon, potato, taro and awase miso
- Tofu, potato, onion and awase miso
- Potato, wakame, enoki mushrooms and awase miso
- Spinach, tofu and awase miso
- Spinach and awase miso
- Spinach, tofu, abura age and awase miso
- Eggplant, sweet potato and awase miso
- Cabbage, sweet potato and awase miso
- Onion, kabocha pumpkin, eggplant, string beans and awase miso
- Eggplant and inaka miso
- Onion, kabocha pumpkin, eggplant and awase miso
- String beans, abura age and awase miso
- Daikon, thin-sliced pork, burdock, carrot, taro, atsu age and awase miso
- Daikon, daikon leaves and inaka miso
- Daikon, carrot, taro and awase miso
- Daikon, carrot, taro, natto, daikon leaves and awase miso
- Daikon, abura age and awase miso
- Daikon, abura age, atsu age and awase miso
- Shiitake and aka dashi
- Dried shiitake, wakame and aka dashi
- Wakame, negi and awase miso
- Onion, wakame, potato and awase miso
- Shiitake, wakame and awase miso
- Nameko, tofu, shiraga negi ("gray hair" negi -- the white part cut into thin strands) and awase miso
- Nameko and aka dashi
- Tofu, negi and awase miso
- Myoga, eggplant, string beans and awase miso
- Myoga and awase miso
- Myoga, wakame and awase miso
- Tsumire (sardine dumplings), negi and awase miso
- Komatsuna, abura age and awase miso
- Komatsuna and inaka miso
- Japanese turnips and shiro miso
- Japanese turnips and awase miso
- Japanese turnips, abura age and awase miso
- Bamboo shoots, wakame and awase miso
- Rape shoots and awase miso
- Tiny clams (Manila clams would work) and aka dashi
- Tiny clams and awase miso
- Asari clams and awase miso
- Shrimp heads and shiro miso
- Cabbage, corn and awase miso
- Cabbage, corn, onion and awase miso
- Napa cabbage, shiitake, carrot and awase miso
- Natto and inaka miso
- Natto, negi and awase miso
- Tai head, nila and awase miso
- Salmon, daikon, carrot, taro and awase miso
Some helpful definitions:
- Shiro miso is basic savory white miso, like Shinshu miso from the Nagano area.
- Inaka miso is "countryside" miso, that is, red miso ground coarse, farmhouse-style. Sendai miso is a terrific inaka-style miso.
- Awase miso is a combination of red and white miso, which you can do yourself (start with 1-to-1, but try other proportions).
- Aka dashi is dense Hatcho miso cut with red miso.
Questions? Please ask in the comments. Okay, I want to see everyone eating a hundred bowls of miso soup a month!
(Thank you Tomoko and her mom!!)