by Heidi Nestler
Even though it’s not really a big deal to pull together, a Japanese breakfast is an impressive spread: rice, pickles, some broiled fish, maybe some natto (sticky fermented soybeans), maybe a raw egg and, at the heart it- a bowl of miso soup. Miso soup is enjoyed daily in my house and as the seasons change, so too does this soul satisfying staple. As the weather gets cooler, I lean toward older, darker miso. I love Portland’s own Jorinji Miso! Their deep and flavorful dark red miso is aged three years. Often I use this in combination with a lighter miso. One important point with Jorinji Miso is that it is not pasteurized, so if you prepare your miso soup properly, you’re getting all the beneficial enzymes and live cultures of the miso. Another good unpasteurized brand is South River Miso.
Good miso soup starts with good dashi! Dashi, the soup stock that is the basis for so many dishes in Japanese cooking, is easy to make. Here’s how.
Basic no fuss directions for making dashi
Fill a 2 quart saucepan with water about 3/4 of the way full. Add about 3 or 4 pieces of konbu (sea kelp).
Bring to a boil
As soon as you reach a boil, remove konbu with tongs. (Vegetarians, you can stop here. This is konbu dashi)
Add a generous handful of katsuo flakes (dried fish flakes)
Return to a boil, then remove from heat
Wait a few minutes, then strain.
THE MISO SOUP RECIPE
1. Start by heating up enough dashi for the amount of servings you want to make (a typical serving is 3/4 cup)
2. Add any ingredients that need to be cooked ahead of time such as:
-Japanese sweet potato
-tofu (I’m loyal to Ota tofu)
3. Then add any ingredients that only need to be lightly cooked or merely heated, such as:
-Japanese mustard greens
4. You could add chopped green onion at this stage, or just portion out in serving bowls
5. The last step is adding the miso:
With a rustic miso, such as Jorinji, dissolve the amount to add (about a tablespoon “scoop”) in with a little of the hot dashi. Then add to the soup pot, OR
With a standard mass produced miso, you can add miso directly to the soup pot through a strainer, so that it’s nicely dissolved without chunks.
Less is more. As free as I am in the kitchen, I stick with the two ingredients plus green onion rule.
- The two ingredients should complement each other in terms of color and flavor. For autumn, try cubes of Japanese sweet potato. You don’t even have to peel them. Some chopped shungiku (edible chrysanthemum leaves) or wakame (seaweed) would complement the sweet potato beautifully.