How many times have I been rescued by miso soup? So many times! When life is busy (and the weather cold), this is my absolute favourite way to make a warm meal that's full of vegetables and ready in minutes. I love its savoury umami flavour and I love the fact that seaweed, which i base the stock on, is an amazingly nutrient rich food. Add noodles or leftover rice to your soup, and / or a protein like tofu or egg and you have a complete, satisfying meal. Miso soup the hero.
Both miso and seaweed are easy to find in organic food shops or oriental supermarkets and will keep for years if stored right. So with miso and seaweed in my kitchen I'm prepared for whatever life throws at me – I will face it with a steaming bowl and a happy tummy!
Here I will go through how I make my Essential Miso Soup and explain a little more about the ingredients.
NOTES ON HOW I MAKE MISO SOUP
The type of miso soup in this recipe would be called Gu ippai = 'Full of filling' in Japan. I love making mine like this and eat is as a 'one pot meal'. Traditionally this is not typical – miso soup is normally one of many small dishes eaten together.
I always use the same two basics and then I vary my 'fillings'. The two basics are 1: 'starting stock' made by simmering kombu seaweed, dulse seaweed and leek (optional) for 5 minutes, and 2: miso paste.
Once I've made my soup, I have a few options to make it more substantial if desired. I may add some leftover, cold rice to our bowls before drenching it in soup. The rice will refresh and soften. If I've cooked fresh rice I prefer to eat it on the side, maybe with some nori seaweed or other rice condiments. Or I may cook a couple of portions of noodles – soba, udon or rice noodles – drain them and add to our bowls before ladling soup on top.
For protein I may add tofu, always towards the end of cooking not to spoil its texture. Or boiled eggs, halved and placed on the filling once the soup is served. If I make a smaller soup which will all be eaten right away, I may add a raw egg to the pot – once the soup is ready and taken off the heat – close the lid and leave for 10 minutes to make a kind of slow-poached egg. Yummy!
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
Kombu (Kelp) seaweed – A thick, leathery ribbon of deep olive green seaweed which is the core ingredient for making dashi – soup stock. It gives that special Japanese umami flavour, and like all seaweeds it is brimming with minerals and other essential and beneficial nutrients. Many dashi recipes call for kombu to be removed after 5 minutes of boiling but I always leave mine in – I don't want to miss out on all its goodness! When you buy it look for a thick, dark quality – the one shown in the photo is great.
Dulse seaweed – In addition to kombu, soup stock (dashi) is traditionally made with katsuobushi, thin flakes of dried skipjack tuna that has a deep, smoky savoury flavour. I’ve found that dulse, a pretty purple seaweed native to Europe’s Atlantic coast, works great as a plant-based alternative with it's beautiful ‘fishy' sea-flavour. The best quality dulse I've had came from a small-scale Irish producer. Look for a dark, even colour without many blemishes. The one shown in my photo is a medium quality dulse – you can see it has a lot of little flecks and ‘sea stuff’; pieces of shell etc.
As mentioned, seaweed adds lots of flavour and nutritional value so I recommend using at least one of the two types above. Best to use both! If you’re not used to seaweed taste, start by using a smaller amount and gradually build up your palate.
Leeks – Optional but I always use leeks if I have them as they add a savoury depth and complement the seaweed / miso flavours beautifully. I use all of the leek – the green part has lots of nutrients and flavour!
Sweet roots – I like adding a little natural sweetness to my soup and carrots are my favourite vegetable for this. Any kind of beetroot, radish, sweet potato or pumpkin/squash (not roots I know..!) or even a little bit of apple is good too.
Brassicas – my favourite miso soup filling! Brassicas is the vegetable family that includes all varieties of cabbages, kales, mustard greens, cauliflowers, broccolis, kohl rabi, spring greens and collard greens. Brassicas are widely used in Japanese cuisine and with good reason – they're flavourful, fast to cook and have so many health benefits!
‘Hard’ vegetables (carrot, squash) go in the soup first as they take longer to cook, and thin greens at the very end. You can reduce cooking time by cutting your veggies thinner, just make sure not to overcook!
Miso paste – A traditional, fermented soya product – a little wonder of flavour and versatility. There are countless varieties of miso, usually a mix of soya and other grains like rice, barley, buckwheat etc., but all made with a fermentation culture called koji. At the moment my favourite miso is an organic rice/soy miso from the brand Hikari Miso called Maru-yu Yuki Miso – it's the one you can see in the photos.
I always look for miso paste without additives. Many standard misos have different types of preservatives (alcohol is one of them and it alters the flavour I find), some have monosodium glutamate, katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes) or even sugar so check the ingredients before you buy!
Miso is a live, fermented food and should never be boiled as this damages its beneficial micro flora as well as its delicate flavour. I’ve seen recipes where the miso is boiled – a big no-no for me. Always add it at the end, and if you need to reheat your soup, do it gently without boiling.
RECIPE: ESSENTIAL MISO SOUP “FULL OF FILLING"
SERVES 2 HUNGRY
(Plus a portion of leftovers for tomorrow)
All measurements are flexible.
1000 - 1500 ml water
A handful dry dulse seaweed (4 - 6 g) washed in running cold water and roughly torn / chopped
3 cm piece of dried kombu seaweed (2 g) washed in running cold water
1 small or 1/2 a big leek (120 g) cut in 2 - 3 cm diagonals
1 medium carrot (80 g) cut in 5 mm rounds or sticks
Around 400 g of your choice of brassicas or other veggies. Cabbage in thin slices (3 mm), cauliflower and broccoli in florets. Kale and spring greens are nice in thin strips (2 mm) and should be added right at the end.
The amount of miso depends on what kind you use as all have different level of strength / saltiness but start with 1/2 tablespoon per person and build up to 1 1/2 tablespoon or more per person
A few leaves of kale or other greens (optional)
Toasted sesame seeds to garnish (optional)
HOW TO MAKE
Put the water, the washed seaweeds and chopped leek in a big pot. This is your 'starting stock' which will give depth to the soup's flavour. Cover with a lid to keep the flavours in! While it heats up and simmers for for 5 minutes, wash and chop up the rest of your veggies.
Add your carrots or other hard vegetables after the stock has simmered for 5 minutes and let simmer for another couple of minutes. If I'm in a rush I may add the hard vegetables from the start together with the seaweed and let it all simmer for 5 minutes.
Add your brassicas. I tend to pack the pot as full as I can at this stage – with the veggies still being covered by water. Cook for a few minutes until they are as done as you like them – be careful not to overcook.
If your veggies release a white ‘foam', carefully scoop it off with a slotted spoon. The foam is basically stuff you don’t want to eat (that's how it was explained to me in Japan .. the word for that white foam, 'aku' means 'demon' too .. it convinced me!)
Turn off the heat. Pick out the kombu seaweed - it is now lighter in colour and have has swelled and become ‘rubbery’. Cut in fine strips (1 mm) and return to the soup.
With the heat still turned off, get your miso paste, a big ladle (serving spoon) and a small whisk or fork.
Miso paste takes a few moments to dissolve in hot water and you need to help it by placing it in the ladle, in the soup – a little 'bath tub' for the paste. Use your whisk or fork to dissolve the miso safely inside its bath – this way it doesn’t escape in lumps and sink to the bottom of the pot undissolved. Check for flavour – add more miso if it's not savoury enough.
Now that your miso is in the soup it's a good moment to add some thinly cut kale or other greens in as well. These greens don’t need boiling, just wilting in the hot soup and will give a lovely splash of colour – as well as some extra nutrients just in case there weren't enough in there already! It's also a good time to add firm tofu if you want to use that. Soft tofu is better straight into the serving bowls as it is very delicate and may break otherwise.
Cover your soup and leave it to rest for a few minutes before serving. If needed, reheat carefully just before serving.
If you are using rice or noodles, add those to your bowl then serve the soup on top.
If you want to garnish with sesame seeds I warmly recommend toasting them for a few minutes in a dry, medium hot frying pan. It will bring their flavour to whole new level! I usually toast a whole frying pan full and keep them in a airtight jar for sprinkling on anything and everything.
Apart from sesame seeds, you can top your soup with many different things to vary its style. I love:
Red chili flakes or Shichimi (Japanese spicy 'Seven spice' mix)
Nori seaweed, torn in pieces or cut in thin strips
A drizzle of toasted sesame oil
A few drops of citrus juice (if you have over-misoed your soup, adding lemon juice is a way to balance the saltiness out)
Serve up your soup and enjoy!
Miso soup tastes even better the next day – I often make a big pot and have leftovers for lunch or dinner. I like adding a few fresh greens when I reheat it. Just remember not to let it boil ;)