Thursday, 8 May 2014

Miso Soup





First and foremost, I need to apologize for the lighting in most of the photos in this post. The light above my stove burnt out and I have yet to replace it. I was able to use a lamp but there are dark shadows because of the position of it. 

Moving right along, miso happy and excited to be sharing this recipe today! Miso soup is a staple in Japanese cuisine and is commonly eaten on a daily basis to accompany a meal or even as breakfast. I love Japanese food but I have very little experience making it. To be honest, I find it a little intimidating because there are so many ingredients in it that I didn't grow up with and have yet to familiarize myself with. The same could be said about Asian cuisine in general because there is so much to learn. Miso soup is a great place to start because it's very simple and doesn't take long to put together. 

Bear with me because I'm going to be going over a few ingredients that you may not be familiar with. The first one is actually not a part of this recipe, but it is commonly found in miso soup. I just didn't have any at the time. It's konbu, which in English is referred to either dried kelp or dried sea cabbage. It's used as an aromatic for it's sea-like, mildly salty flavour. If you can get some konbu, simmer a long piece of it in the water for about 5-10 minutes. Then remove the konbu and discard it. Then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Another ingredient you may not be familiar with, but is vital to miso soup, is bonito flakes. Bonito are flakes of dried skipjack tuna. They are the base for the fish stock or dashi as it is called. Ideally you would use both konbu and bonito for your dashi broth, but you could use one or the other (obviously if you are vegetarian you would just use the konbu). You can find bonito at most Asian specialty markets or even online. Bonito can also come in powdered form. There are different brands of it but here is the brand that I was able to find (flakes):


      

Another ingredient you may not be familiar with is wakame. Wakame is dried seaweed. It is very dense in nutrients and also has a sea-like flavour. Wakame comes in a package in tight, small dried up crunchy bits but once hydrated they soften and expand like you wouldn't believe. Always keep that in mind when you add them to your miso soup. At first it should look like you're not adding enough but in no more than a minute they will grow at a remarkable rate. Wakame can be found in Asian specialty markets or online and there are a few brands out there. Here is an imported brand that I was able to find here in Toronto.





As for miso paste, which is a little more common nowadays, there are two varieties but you can use either of them to make miso soup. There is white (shiromiso) and red miso paste (akamiso) . You could use either or a combination of the two (awasemiso). In this version I'm using white miso. Miso paste is made from mashing up fermented soybeans. The flavour is typically quite salty but it is packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. Although miso soup is a savoury dish there is usually no salt or pepper added to it. Most of the seasoning comes from the miso paste, which as you've probably guessed, is the star ingredient in miso soup.

Here I'm making a very basic but comforting miso soup. This is the kind that you would normally find at sushi restaurants here in North America. All that I'm adding to my dashi and miso will be wakame, silken tofu and chopped scallions. That's pretty standard. It's light but balanced. You could always take this recipe to higher levels and add more ingredients to make it a heartier dish. Some good ideas are shitaki mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, daikon radish, leeks, carrots, baby corn, water chestnuts, bean sprouts, sliced hard boiled eggs, and seafood. There is no limit, really. You are the commander in chief of your miso soup!


Ingredients 

4 cups of water
4 tbsp of bonito flakes
200 grams of soft or silken tofu, cut into small cubes
2 tbsp wakame
4 tbsp miso paste
3 scallions, thinly sliced


All miso soup must start out with a dashi. Add 4 cups of water to a pot and let it simmer gently over medium low heat.

** Very important: Never boil miso soup at any stage. It will muddy up the flavours and is one of the very few ways to mess up this recipe.**




 

    
Once you've obtained a very gentle simmer, add the bonito flakes. Keep the liquid at a gentle simmer and cook for five minutes. If you prefer a fishier flavour you could let it simmer for up to 10 or even 15 minutes, but personally I think 5-7 is best.




Now that we have the base of our dashi, we need to remove the bonito. Use a small mesh strainer to scoop them out, or strain the whole batch through a mesh strainer and return the liquid only back to the pot. Add the wakame and the cubes of tofu to the dashi.




Allow the tofu and wakame to cook gently in the dashi for about five minutes. During this time, you will notice the rapid growth of the wakame as it hydrates.




Now it's time to add the miso paste. You won't be able to add the miso paste directly to the soup. It takes a little coaxing to dissolve and you'll just end up breaking your tofu into a million pieces. There are two ways you can do this. One, Use a ladle to remove about a cup of the liquid and add it to a medium sized bowl. Add the miso paste to the bowl and whisk it into the liquid until it dissolves and thickens the dashi. Then pour it back into the pot and stir it gently until incorporated. 

The second method I'll show you now in photos. Take a mesh strainer and submerge it in the soup.




Add the miso paste into the mesh strainer.





Whisk the miso paste in the strainer. It will dissolve into the liquid and incorporate itself into the rest of the soup. Whisk until all of the paste has dissolved.




When all of the paste has dissolved, remove the mesh strainer from the pot. Stir the soup, gently as not to break the tofu. Allow the soup to simmer (still over medium low) for about five minutes.




Add the chopped scallions to the soup and stir gently. Allow two minutes to heat through before serving. 







Boom! That's literally it. Pretty fail proof and as you can figure, takes less than half an hour to make. Then you can reap the rewards of your very own comforting, homemade miso soup at home. Taste it for seasoning before serving. It's not traditional but you can add a little more salt if you prefer, but you shouldn't need to.

I hope that this has inspired you to take a trip to a specialty Asian market to pick up a few new ingredients and try making this at home. I would love to hear about different variations that you may already make of miso soup. I encourage you to leave your feedback in the comment section below.

Thanks and see you next time,


B

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