Time for a miso soup primer: You may recall a post on miso soup I wrote last winter, where I lamented the lack of variety of this most fundamental of Japanese dishes here in America. Yes, we know tofu and wakame seaweed with white miso, the default soup of sushi joints coast to coast. But there's so much more. In Japan, miso soup reflects the full bounty, breath, spontaneity and endless creativity of the cuisine -- the varieties are mind boggling and delicious. Case in point, the list that follows, sixty six miso soups that a Japanese cookbook editor and fabulous cook named Nobuko-san just sent me. It's a list of her favorite ingredients and combinations of ingredients for miso soup, soups you've got to try.
As I did in my earlier post, I'm going to simply list the combinations of main ingredients and type of miso that Nobuko-san thinks work great together. But fret not -- at the end of the list, I'll include a bunch of helpful notes to assist. Also, check out my interview with cookbook author Hiroko Shimbo that delves even deeper into miso soup (you can never go deep enough!).
I love miso soup. It's delicious, wholesome and healthy, and a terrific way to kick start the day. It's also so fast and easy to prepare. I hope you make miso soup a part of your life, too -- with so many kinds, you'll never get bored! Here now, the list:
- Spinach with abura age, white miso
- Spinach with atsu age, white miso
- Spinach with tofu, white miso
- Spinach with swirled eggs, white miso
- Spinach with Japanese taro, white miso
- Daikon with carrot, red or white miso
- Daikon with cabbage, red or white miso
- Daikon with daikon leaves (leaves first chopped and stir fried in vegetable oil), red or white miso
- Daikon with abura age, red or white miso
- Tokyo negi grilled, red or white miso
- Tokyo negi and wakame, red or white miso
- Komatsuna with abura age, red or white miso
- Komatsuna with tofu, red or white miso
- Komatsuna chopped and stir fried with sesame oil, red or white miso
- Dried shiitake (reconstituted) with tofu, red, white or awase miso
- Fresh shiitake with tofu, red or white miso
- Fresh shiitake with negi, red or white miso
- Fresh shiitake with atsu age, red or white miso
- Potato with onion, red or white miso
- Potato with wakame, red or white miso
- Potato with abura age, red or white miso
- Potato with carrot, red or white miso
- Potato with daikon, red or white miso
- Sweet potato, red or awase miso
- Sweet potato with tofu, red or awase miso
- Sweet potato with onion, red or awase miso
- Burdock with onion, awase miso
- Burdock with Japanese taro, awase miso
- Burdock with thin sliced pork, awase miso
- Burdock with tofu, awase miso
- Kabocha , red or awase miso
- Kabocha with onion , red or awase miso
- Kabocha with wakame , red or awase miso
- Kabocha with burdock , red or awase miso
- Natto, red miso
- Natto with Tokyo negi, red miso
- Natto with grilled Tokyo negi, red miso
- Asari clams, red or awase miso
- Asari clams with fu, red or awase miso
- Asari clams with wakame, red or awase miso
- Asari clams with abura age, red or awase miso
- Asari clams with atsu age, red or awase miso
- Asari clams with spinach, red or awase miso
- Nameko mushrooms, red miso
- Nameko mushrooms with tofu, red miso
- Nameko mushrooms with Tokyo negi, red miso
- Napa cabbage with tofu, red or white miso
- Napa cabbage with abura age, red or white miso
- Napa cabbage with atsu age, red or white miso
- Shiozake (salted salmon) with tofu, white miso
- Shiozake with cabbage, white miso
- Cabbage, red, white or awase miso
- Cabbage with abura age red, white or awase miso
- Cabbage with swirled eggs red, white or awase miso
- Cabbage with spinach red, white or awase miso
- Cabbage with onion red, white or awase miso
- Tofu with wakame, red or white miso
- Tofu with abura age, red or white miso
- Tofu with fu, red or white miso
- Myoga with abura age, white miso
- Myoga with atsu age, white miso
- Myoga with tofu, white miso
- Myoga with wakame, white miso
- Snow peas with abura age, red or white miso
- Snow peas with atsu age, red or white miso
- Nira with swirled eggs, white or awase miso
Notes on miso soup: Miso soup is cooked from dashi (stock), main ingredients, and miso. As you can sense from the list above, the trick is to keep it simple -- for the most part, use just a couple of main ingredients. Nobuko-san paired these ingredients because they taste great together, they're classic seasonal combinations, or offer delightful flavor, texture and/or color contrasts.
For general proportions, to serve 4, cook with 3 cups of dashi, a handful of ingredients, and 3 tablespoons of miso. But this is a general ratio; make sure you taste your soup as you add miso. Also, keep in mind that miso soup isn't clam chowder. In other words, you don't want the bowl to be stuffed with ingredients like a chowder. A good proportion is, say, a third of the bowl ingredients, the rest broth.
To give you an idea of ingredient quantities, for 4 servings of the sweet potato-onion miso soup pictured above, I used a medium (1/2 pound) sweet potato and a small (1/4 pound) onion. You can always add more or less of anything. If you'd like, too, garnish your miso soup with sliced scallions or slivered ginger. Finally, check out this good overview on miso soup in Wikipedia for additional info.
Notes on miso: There are hundreds of kinds of miso in Japan, so which should you use for miso soup? Here are a few things to keep in mind: First, miso is fermented from soybeans, rice and salt, or soybeans and salt, or soybeans, barley and salt. So when you look for miso in a store, check the label - you want it to have just those two or three ingredients listed. Now, you'll notice I list the miso above as "red," "white" or "awase." In its broadest strokes, miso can be characterized as "red" or "white" (yellowish, actually), depending on the length of fermentation. Red (called "aka miso" in Japanese) is fermented longer than white ("shiro miso"), which gives it a more intense flavor profile. Miso fermented with rice is perfect basic miso to keep in the fridge. A tasty aka miso I like is called Sendai miso, from the northern city of Sendai. A good basic shiro miso is Shinshu miso from the Japanese Alps. Both are available in Japanese markets here. Finally, awase miso means blended miso, so mix shiro and aka to create yet another flavor profile. Start with 50/50 then adjust as you like. Try other miso, too. I love mugi miso, for instance, which is miso fermented with barley.
Notes on ingredients:
- Fu is wheat gluten
- Komatsuna is a leafy Japanese vegetable
- Myoga is a fragrant relative of ginger
- Abura age (pronounced "abura-ageh") are thin slices of tofu deep fried in very hot oil while atsu age are thick slices of tofu deep fried so the outside turns golden but the inside remains white tofu, for both, place in colander and pour boiling water over to remove excess oil before slicing and cooking
- Asari are small Japanese clams you can substitute with Littleneck clams
- Tokyo negi are Japanese onions that resemble leeks (but are not leeks), with long white stalks
- Nira are garlic chives, also called Chinese chives
- Natto is fermented soybeans
- Wakame is a type of edible seaweed; soak in water to reconstitute
- Burdock, or gobo in Japanese, is an earthy root that you must first clean by scraping with the back of a knife, then cut into shavings like you're shaving the end of a pencil (a method called sasagaki)
Slicing ingredients: Remember that you want all your ingredients to be cut small enough so they can easily be handled with chopsticks. A couple of classic cuts for veggies are half moons, gingko leaves (quarter moon) and thin rectangles. In the miso soup pictured above, I cut the sweet potato into gingko leaf shapes and thinly sliced the onions.
How to cook miso soup: Peparing miso soup is a very simple three-step process:
- Cook dashi, or stock. You can prepare a basic kombu-katsuobushi dashi or iriko dashi for miso soup (by the way, niboshi are similar to iriko). Alternatively, you can take the expedient route and use dashi packs. Dashi packs look like oversized tea bags filled with freeze-dried dashi ingredients. Stick them in water and bring to a boil, cook for 5 minutes, then remove, and you've got dashi in a snap. I use all-natural dashi packs I buy at Japanese markets all the time.
- Poach your ingredients in boiling dashi until they just cook through. Be careful not to overcook. Think about the nature of your ingredients. If you're cooking with roots or potatoes, add those first, then the other, faster-cooking ingredient (like a leafy green).
- When your soup ingredients are ready, turn off the heat (so the miso doesn't cook). Now it's time to dissolve the miso into the soup. Submerge a wire strainer into the broth and stir in spoonfuls of miso, pressing them against the strainer to combine with the hot liquid. Taste and see if you want to add more miso. Now the soup's ready to serve!
How to swirl in eggs: For variations that call for swirling in eggs, here's how you do it: beat a couple of eggs in a small bowl (or mug). After you add the miso, heat the soup again to just about boiling. Now, rest a pair of chopsticks on top of the bowl with the eggs. Lift the bowl over the soup and tilt it while holding the chopsticks, so the chopsticks are vertical. Pour the eggs so they trickle down the chopsticks and into the soup. Make a circular motion while you do this, so you swirl in the eggs. Don't mix, let the eggs set on their own. Serve immediately.
Finally, I'd love to hear from all of you: What kinds of miso soups do you like to cook? What are some of your favorite varieties? What questions do you have about cooking miso soup? Unclear about anything? Please let me know in the comments.
(Thank you, Nobuko-san!)