The Miso Soup Project, Part 1 (54 Miso Soups)

The Miso Soup Project, Part 1 (54 Miso Soups)


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):

  1. Daikon and shiro miso
  2. Daikon, mochi and shiro miso
  3. Daikon, taro and shiro miso
  4. Daikon, taro, mochi and shiro miso
  5. Daikon, carrot and inaka miso
  6. Daikon, potato and awase miso
  7. Daikon, potato, taro and awase miso
  8. Tofu, potato, onion and awase miso
  9. Potato, wakame, enoki mushrooms and awase miso
  10. Spinach, tofu and awase miso
  11. Spinach and awase miso
  12. Spinach, tofu, abura age and awase miso
  13. Eggplant, sweet potato and awase miso
  14. Cabbage, sweet potato and awase miso
  15. Onion, kabocha pumpkin, eggplant, string beans and awase miso
  16. Eggplant and inaka miso
  17. Onion, kabocha pumpkin, eggplant and awase miso
  18. String beans, abura age and awase miso
  19. Daikon, thin-sliced pork, burdock, carrot, taro, atsu age and awase miso
  20. Daikon, daikon leaves and inaka miso
  21. Daikon, carrot, taro and awase miso
  22. Daikon, carrot, taro, natto, daikon leaves and awase miso
  23. Daikon, abura age and awase miso
  24. Daikon, abura age, atsu age and awase miso
  25. Shiitake and aka dashi
  26. Dried shiitake, wakame and aka dashi
  27. Wakame, negi and awase miso
  28. Onion, wakame, potato and awase miso
  29. Shiitake, wakame and awase miso
  30. Nameko, tofu, shiraga negi ("gray hair" negi -- the white part cut into thin strands) and awase miso
  31. Nameko and aka dashi
  32. Tofu, negi and awase miso
  33. Myoga, eggplant, string beans and awase miso
  34. Myoga and awase miso
  35. Myoga, wakame and awase miso
  36. Tsumire (sardine dumplings), negi and awase miso
  37. Komatsuna, abura age and awase miso
  38. Komatsuna and inaka miso
  39. Japanese turnips and shiro miso
  40. Japanese turnips and awase miso
  41. Japanese turnips, abura age and awase miso
  42. Bamboo shoots, wakame and awase miso
  43. Rape shoots and awase miso
  44. Tiny clams (Manila clams would work) and aka dashi
  45. Tiny clams and awase miso
  46. Asari clams and awase miso
  47. Shrimp heads and shiro miso
  48. Cabbage, corn and awase miso
  49. Cabbage, corn, onion and awase miso
  50. Napa cabbage, shiitake, carrot and awase miso
  51. Natto and inaka miso
  52. Natto, negi and awase miso
  53. Tai head, nila and awase miso
  54. 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!!)

Posted by Harris Salat in Soup | Permalink | Comments (12) | Email | Print

Comments (12)

Thank you for sharing this wealth of information. I've always loved miso, and now I have 54 ways to have my soup and eat it too.
Great post, I look forward to more detailed instructions. What kind of miso is the one in the photo? Pork? It looks delicious.
Thanks for your comment -- The miso soup in the picture is pork, abura age, burdock, taro root and carrot with Sendai miso (an inaka miso). It was going to add onion, too, but forgot! It was great, especially on that chilly day in NYC. I'll be back soon with more miso soup related instructions... Harris
This is just too good to believe. Fantastic idea for the Miso Soup Project. When I was growing up, my Belgian mother always made sure there was soup as part of dinner. She believed, as do I, that Americans don't eat enough soup. It is one of the most incredibly easy and adaptive dishes you can find. (Alright, just short of a donabe, that is!) Soup is soul-satisfying and nourishing and speaks to the fundamentals of great cooking.
Is there really that big of a health difference between unpasteurized and pasteurized miso? Because I think pasteurized miso is all they have in most U.S. stores.
Hi, unpasteurized miso has more of the healthy bacteria still alive, but you still get plenty of health benefits from pasteurized miso. Either way, miso's good for you! -- Harris
Hey Harris, I'd like it if you could go deeper here - I'm unfamiliar with all these different kinds of miso (never mind the different soup veggie and meat combinations) - I think the miso in our fridge is shiro miso. I used to work in a health food store and we stocked about four kinds of miso - one was barley, one was rice, one was plain, I forget the other. I've had light white miso that's really sweet, and salty dark misos. And I know the macrobiotic people recommend different misos according to the season. But when I get to the store I can never remember which is which. My kids love a good miso soup. We usually make it with onion, carrot, spinach, tofu, and wheat pasta. Lately we've tried using buckwheat soba, instead.
Find more Miso Soup in my recipe blog search: HERE
Hi Harris, the site's looking great! I was searching for pumpkin carrot miso soup (do I roast the pumpkin first?), and now I have ideas for at least... 100 bowls a month.
Hi Emily, Thanks for your comment. Cut the carrot and kabocha pumpkin into bite size pieces and simmer in dashi until tender. Turn off the head and dissolve miso until you reach the consistency you like. No need to roast... -- Harris
Do you recommend the miso soup with Dashi already in it? I see that there is a lot of MSG in it. Is there a particular brand you recommend?
I really like Miso soup. In my recipe, I discard the wakame. What I would like to know is when Miso soup is presented in a meal and what follows.

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