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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Miso soup

Now here is one of the most fundamental recipes from any culinary culture. Miso soup is eaten by some people in Japan with every meal. And for good reason, it tastes good any time of day and  you can vary it every time with different types of miso and different vegetables to keep the same idea constantly varying.

a basic recipe follows:
for each serving
1 cup kombu-shitake dashi (see elsewhere on my blog)
1 tbsp miso
2 - 4 tbsp diced tofu and vegetables
dash sea salt

bring dashi to simmer, add tofu and vegetables and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat. Combine miso with a few tbsp stock from the soup pot in a small cup and blend well. Add to soup, stir and serve immediately
NEVER boil miso.

Now here is where the variety comes in.
There are countless styles of miso made in Japan. These vary in what they are made from and how long they are aged. Number 1 rule in miso is only purchase miso that is naturally brewed and made from organic soybeans. Non organic soybeans are genetically modified in this country (GMO is banned in Japan and Europe) and are grown under the worst ecological conditions imaginable. Soy, along with corn is factory farming at its most horrendous.  The ingredients should never contain any of the following: any preservative or alchohol or msg or flavorings. If there are added preservatives or alcohol, this immediately tells you it is not aged long and thus needs to be preserved. Naturally fermented miso will last by itself for a while if kept refrigerated, thus no added preservatives need to be used.
Miso can be divided into categories such as: white, red , black  with the lighter being sweeter and less aged and the darker being much more saltier and far more aged. White miso are often used in dressings and sauces and are the most commonly used miso in my kitchen. They can also be used to make miso soup, especially for hot weather times.  Red miso are aged longer, slightly saltier and are excellent in soup in fall and springtime. They have a more earthy flavor than white but not nearly as dark and robust tasting as the black miso.  Red miso is also often used in marinade and sauces. Hatcho miso is the darkest miso and also the saltiest. This black miso produces a very strong flavored soup, often favored in dark winter times.  If you can get your hands on the real hatcho miso made by the Okozaki family, you are in for some serious culinary treats.
Within these very broad categories are many other styles of miso. Saikyo miso is another prized type of miso and is the whitest of all miso, being the sweetest and least salty. I use saikyo miso in many kinds of dressings and sauces.

Try out the various kinds of miso and see what you like. There are excellent books about miso in English such as "the book of miso" by William and Akiko Shurtleff.

Now for filling the soup.
usually any kind of miso soup wil have a few cubes of fresh tofu. Other than that use your imagination and what is local and in season. Sliced leeks or green onions are delightful. Wakame, a type of seaweed is another delight. In the summer, corn and daikon and wakame is my personal favorite. In the winter, slices of sweet potato, tofu and leek. Use what you have and you like, there are no limits


  1. Any recommendations on where to buy Saikyo miso in Oakland or SF? Or, Okozaki family hatcho miso?

  2. i have never seen Okazaki miso for sale in the US. Nijiya market in Japantown in SF has saikyo miso and somtimes has hatcho miso