A good miso soup, not essentially Japanese but it does owe a lot from that cultural cuisine, AND definitely tasty!
Back mid-May, our Blue Zones study group took a field trip to the South River Miso Company, where the owners (on a drop-dead gorgeous site) produce around ten varieties of fermented miso, using old fashioned methods inspired by the traditional methods in Japan in making this east Asian staple. It took me a while to post this as I got distracted by other things in life, and there are a LOT of photos here.
They ferment the miso for 3 weeks, 1 year, or three years in vats, depending on the type they wish to make. Tamari is a by-product of this process., which South River Miso Company also sells. (Gluten-free, as that is not part of this process.)
This is a small-scale operation, typically involving 15 people or less on premises. (If you do want to take a tour, CALL to make arrangements — they’re not able to schedule you in at the drop of a hat. It is a SMALL operation.)
I’ll further discuss our tour after the recipe.
Miso: paste made from fermented soybeans and barley or rice malt, used frequently in Japanese cooking. As with the sample I bought, it may also be made with chickpeas instead of soybeans. Typically, it is also salty, but you don’t use a lot at any get-go. At least here, the longer it ferments, the more salty it gets, which is why I bought a one-year culture instead of a three-year one. Koji cultures are typically used to bring on authentic fermentation.
For this recipe, use whatever quality or style of miso strikes your fancy. Start at 1 tablespoon, but taste and add another if the soup seems to merit it. Note also that some miso pastes are more full-bodied than others, so take this into account, as well. To retain full nutritional value, do not boil your miso, but add it in at the end of the cooking, after you’ve turned off the heat. Once the soup stops bubbling, add in the miso to your desired amount, tasting as appropriate.
For the dashi, should you use it, see this blog post, where I provide recipes for three different methods of making it (one of which is vegan). I recommend dashi, but you can do this without it, and indeed, for this particular occasion, I decided to do without (I’m not sure where I put my kombu seaweed… moving does that!) Hey, I also wanted to investigate flavors for the blog for those who just have miso and not the other arcane ingredients… (Um, an excuse???)
For the seaweed, I like to use wakame flakes. I’ll note not all wakame flakes are created equal, some are tough, depending on the brand. An alternative is to use nori, obtained in the form of flattened sheets at most supermarkets. (This is the stuff sushi rolls are rolled in, and is found in nearly all supermarkets these days.) Using scissors, cut fine strips of about an inch or so in length, perhaps an eighth of an inch in width. Experiment around. Some seaweed is truly hard to love… I’m not at all fond of hijiki seaweed (fortunately not readily found), but I’ve loved most of the rest. DO SEE A NOTE AFTER THIS RECIPE REGARDING POTENTIAL SEAWEED ISSUES.
You can omit any of the veggies or tofu if you don’t have, although I like to have at the very least some seaweed and some scallions.
This is supposed to be a light soup, not a heavy winter soup. It would seldom be served as a meal in itself, but I could see doing this for a stand-alone lunch if one has had a heavy brunch and it is a long way until dinner, especially if one includes more vegetables.
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Rest Time: No.
Leftovers?: Yes, re-heat in a stovetop pan until it reaches a very light simmer, but leave off green onions and cilantro leaves until re-serving. Immediately remove and enjoy.
A Miso Soup with Veggies
- 2 cups / 475 mL of water or dashi. If you don’t have dashi, add an optional teaspoon of fish sauce (or soy sauce if you are vegetarian/vegan/just not doing fish) to the water. See my dashi recipes, one of which is vegan… For this recipe, I used water and fish sauce (Red Boat brand).
- 1 ounce / fresh shiitake mushrooms, weighed without stems. Finely sliced. OR use white button mushrooms, also finely sliced but you can leave the stems,
- 1 ounce mung bean sprouts.
- 2 teaspoons, lightly packed, dried shredded wakame seaweed or 2 teaspoons shredded nori. I find that wakame has more flavor, so if you can, go with this. If you can get nori instead, this works well, too. Some people will roast their nori. Eh.
- 1 Green onion/scallion, sliced very thin.
- 2 tablespoons fermented miso paste. The milder white miso paste works best for this recipe but feel free to experiment as your tastes may differ. The chickpea miso contains no soy, but does contain rice and, well, chickpeas (which are also a legume).
- 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil.
- A sprinkle of red pepper flakes, perhaps 1/8th teaspoon, as optional garnish.
Get everything prepped and chopped and ready to hand.
Bring the water or dashi broth to boiling, and reduce to a low boil.
Toss in the tofu, mushrooms, bok choy, and let simmer around 5 minutes.
Add in the mung bean sprouts, simmer another three minutes. Add the wakame flakes. (If your wakame is thicker, add that in when you add the mung bean sprouts.)
Remove from heat, and add in your miso, and stir, about 30 seconds, and at least until the miso paste incorporates into the soup proper. Taste, and adjust miso as needed. (Don’t boil the soup once you’ve added the miso — and if you need to re-heat, bring it just to a simmer.)
One trick I saw on YouTube (don’t recall where) is that the cook put the miso paste in a sieve, and used chopsticks to mix it in the sieve while it was in the soup. You aren’t sieving things out, just making it easy to dissolve the miso into the soup.
Add green onion/scallions, red pepper, a splash of sesame oil.
Ladle out and serve, adding cilantro as an optional garnish.
The Fukushima thing and seaweed and iodine: I’m still working off of my stash of kombu and wakame seaweeds bought back in February or March of 2011, although I admit my nori is now much newer. These both remain perfectly dry because I keep them sealed that way. I don’t know what guided me to buy up as much as I did; at the time I thought it was because good seaweed seemed to be a barely-findable commodity in my neck of the woods, and so I went nutso in purchasing.
A positive benefit of seaweed is the high iodine concentrations therein, which helps make up for the fact I don’t cook with iodized salts (I use sea salt or Himalayan pink salt, which don’t have added iodine, an essential mineral nutrient welcomed by your thyroid). BUT… radiation in the seas around Japan means that now one should source seaweed, especially considering iodine, from locales such as Iceland — Icelandic seaweed can duplicate the health and taste benefits once found in Japanese seaweed, and I believe some of the species of seaweed once entirely associated with Japan also now are grown there. (I now have Icelandic-grown Wakame, and I still have the remnants of my ancient stock of Kombu.)
Touring the South River Miso Company:
And, we step into the tour, although I don’t photograph every last stage:
The entire environs are beautiful, and the buildings are old with lots of positive charm.
The South River Miso Company has started up a rice paddy out back — no way will this be enough rice for their needs, but they’re interested in trying the growing of it. I’d not been aware that rice would grow well in Massachusetts, but hey!
It’s slurping down some good miso at What’s For Dinner? Sunday Link-Up, too.