Miso is a paste of fermented soybeans, sometimes with barley, rice or wheat mixed in. It is fermented for up to three years. Miso can be purchased at any natural foods store or Asian specialty market. It may even increasingly be available in local grocery stores. Numerous brands and types of miso can bring an exciting variety to any table. Another important specialty ingredient is the dried bonito flakes or katsuobushi to make the dashi stock. Vegans can make a seaweed-only stock. Other than that, a variety of fresh ingredients from tofu to green onions to delicately sliced carrots liven up the basic broth.
One of the best features of miso soup is its healthy profile. As a fermented food, miso can be a source of beneficial probiotic bacteria, depending on the brand. The fermentation process deactivates phytates which can interfere with mineral absorption in other soy foods. Miso contains soy isoflavones, which may have benefits that prevent breast cancer, osteoporosis, and menopausal symptoms, including menopausal weight gain, high blood sugar and cognitive function difficulties.
Miso soup is also traditionally eaten as a staple breakfast food in Japan. Japanese people find the idea of eating sweet foods for breakfast unhealthful or displeasing. Borrowing from their manual and using a delicious, freshly made miso soup to help transition away from a carb-laden, sweet breakfast might be the best health benefit of all.
There are three main types: white (shiro) miso, red (aka) miso and black (kuro) miso. White miso is usually sweeter than the red or black, so slightly more can be added. The soup should never be boiled after the miso is added, as this diminishes the flavor. The consistency of the tofu also becomes rubbery if overcooked.
Simple miso soup with tofu and wakame
1 tbsp dried wakame
1/2 block tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 quart dashi (See recipe below)
1/4 cup miso
2 spring onions, finely chopped (as optional garnish)
Soak the wakame in water for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch squares, removing any ribs or tough veins.
Bring the dashi to a boil. Soften the miso in a small cup with about 1/4 cup of the broth.
Reduce the heat to low and add the miso preparation to the pan. Adjust to taste.
Add the wakame and tofu and increase the heat.
Just before the soup comes to a boil again, add the spring onions and remove from the heat. Do not boil.
1 4-inch square piece of konbu
1 qt. water
1 cup dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
Soak the konbu in a saucepan with the quart of water for 1 hour. Heat to near boiling, then remove from the heat. Remove and discard the konbu.
Add the bonito flakes to the pan and heat on low. When the stock fully boils, remove the pan from the heat. Let it sit for a minute to allow the flakes to settle.
Strain the stock through a sieve and discard the fish flakes.