Monday, November 30, 2015

Fool-Proof Basic Miso Soup....

I love the simplicity of good miso soup. I've read that there are as many types of miso soup as there are households in Japan-- a recipe that offers a different taste developed over many years in each family. Based on my most-trusted cookbook Recipes of Japanese Cooking, I picked up while in Japan, I share with you helpful information to concoct your own basic bowl of soup to build on. Miso (soybean paste) is said to have hundreds of varieties. Classified in three ways: by ingredients--  rice and soybean-based, barley and soybean-based, and just soybean-basedor by taste-- flavour of very sweet, sweet and salty, and by colour-- white (tends to be sweet), light-coloured (sweet and salty) or red (high in salt). Personally, I prefer red soybean-based miso that has a deep umami flavour for all-purpose Japanese cooking. It can overwhelm mild dishes, but I love it in miso soup and in heartier soups, braises, and glazes. With a few good tips, you're on your way to making miso soup that caters to your favourite flavours...

Photo Credit: Recipes of Japanese Cooking by Yuko Fujita

For miso soup, it's all about the dashi or basic stock. In simmered dishes, soups and many Japanese dishes, it gives it underlying umami depth regardless of what overall flavour was intended. You can use small dried fish such as sardines and anchovies, dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi), kombu kelp, dried shiitake mushrooms or a combination of two. Check out the Japanese aisle or dried vegetables aisle in Asian supermarkets. I've always made miso soup with a stock cooked up with packaged bonito flakes and kelp. 

Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame Seaweed

1 or 2 piece of 4-inch kombu kelp
1 cup of dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi)
4 cups cold water
1/4 cup wakame (dried seaweed), hydrate in water to cover for 1/2 hour
250 g soft or silken tofu, cut into small 1/2-inch dice
3 to 4 Tbsp. miso (of your choice)
green onions, thinly sliced for garnish

For the Kombu and Bonito Dashi stock:

Wipe kombu kelp with a cloth to clean the cloudy residue on its surface. Fill a bowl with cold water, add the kelp and let hydrate for two hours to half a day. Transfer the kelp and its water to a pot. Over medium heat, remove the kelp once small bubbles form on the pot bottom (Do not boil the liquid while kelp is inside the pot or it will make the stock slimy and bitter). NOTE: if you are in a hurry, instant dashi stock sold in granules is a good substitute.

When the liquid begins to boil, add all the bonito flakes. Turn down the heat to simmer for a few minutes while removing foam on top thoroughly. Turn off the heat. Allow the bonito to sink to the pot bottom. Strain the liquid through a sieve of fine mesh or paper towel to obtain a clear soup in a bowl (Do not squeeze liquid from the remaining dried bonito flakes).

Now for the Miso Soup:

Add first the tofu then hydrated wakame to the soup. Turn up the heat to high; bring liquid to a boil then turn down to medium. Add the miso and gradually dissolve into the liquid. Turn the heat up to medium, sprinkle the soup with onions and turn off heat immediately taking care not to let it boil. Adjust seasoning by adding more miso a little at time.  NOTE: Miso has a delicate aroma that is destroyed by boiling. 

You can make the soup vegetarian, by making kombu stock or using cold water to start the soup base.

A nice hot bowl is satisfying sip and savour especially during chilly evenings!

Guidelines for Other Variations:

Fill a pot with the dashi stock or cold water, and place it over medium heat. Add ingredients. Put anything solid that will take time to cook thoroughly (giant white radish, turnip, potato and other edible roots) first. Things like clams, wakame and tofu can go in the last few minutes of cooking as they need less time to cook.

Turn up the heat to high. When the liquid comes to a boil, turn heat down to medium. Make sure the ingredients are thoroughly cooked, and turn down the heat to low. You can soften the miso in a ladle or strainer, and gradually dissolve into the liquid. Turn up the heat to medium again, sprinkle with onions and turn off heat immediately before it begins to boil again.

Look at the amazing variety! Miso soup is truly customizable to your favourite flavours!
Photo Credit: Recipes of Japanese Cooking by Yuko Fujita

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