Sunday, January 29, 2012

Miso Soup for the Soul

Chickpea miso is mellow, tasty and made without soy.
Freshly harvested immature daikon radishes.
I spent some time in progressive Japanese home kitchens with women cooking thoroughly excellent traditional cuisine with an experimental twist. They all explained that miso soup is the best for anyone recovering from anything. This recipe is the result of what I learned in Japan synthesized with my tastes and ingredient availability. Though this miso soup recipe is not traditional, the freshness of the ingredients and the basic, naked flavors are aligned with the Japanese culinary tradition

Miso is a fermented soy paste from Japan traditionally used to flavor a brothy soup. There are actually thousands of different types of miso in Japan, much like cheeses or wines in France. In this country, we only have a few available to us. Experiment with a few different brands and types to see which is your favorite, as each has a distinct flavor. My favorite type of miso is a red miso that I get at an Asian grocery in Seattle called Uwajimaya. It’s organic, and made in Japan. Be sure to check the ingredients, which should not be more than; soybeans, salt, koji, rice, and aspergillus oryzae. There are some adulterated products out there.

Miso itself is a great long-term health tonic. Miso is a high-quality protein that comes with a great amount of other nutrients. There was a study in Japan after the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings that showed people with a diet high in natural miso were less effected by the radiation. Vital stuff.

Traditional miso soup uses a soup stock called “dashi”, made from fish. I was taught this method of making vegetarian broth by the chef at a natural foods restaurant I stayed at in Kyushuu. I really love this method because it incorporates seaweed and shiitake mushrooms, which are two incredibly healing foods.

Miso Soup

2 cups filtered or spring water
1 tsp or a piece of a seaweed*
4-6 fresh shiitake mushrooms**

1/2 cup daikon radish, diced (or the same amount of potato)
one small carrot, diced

3 cloves garlic
½ inch piece of ginger
¼ cup chopped cilantro (coriander)
¼ cup chopped green onion

1-2 Tbsp miso (depending on taste preference)***

Put two cups of water in a pot on med-high. Add seaweed. Slice mushrooms and add. Let the seaweed and the mushrooms simmer together for 5 minutes to develop a good flavorful broth base. Dice sweet potato and carrot to about a cm thick and add to pot. Simmer until they are cooked through (probably about 5 minutes).

Meanwhile, mince the garlic, chop the parsley and green onion and get your grater out to grate the ginger directly into the soup. It should be boiling by the time you are done with that. First things first- grate the ginger (probably equivalent to about a tablespoon) directly into the pot. Ginger lovers can do more, ginger haters less. At this time, test both daikon and a carrot for doneness by sticking your fingernail in gently. Look for a nice give- but don’t let it get mushy. We are going for minimal cooking here to retain nutrients.

When they are done cooking, turn the heat off and add the garlic, parsley and green onions to the pot and let sit. Get a soup bowl out and add the miso to the empty bowl. Add about ¼ cup of just the soup broth to the bowl with the miso and mix in with a fork. This is to keep the miso alive† and to incorporate it most easily. Then, add the rest of the soup and enjoy. Avocado is a wonderful addition to the soup at this point- try it out, you may never be the same.

*Seaweeds that work best: dulse (flakes or strips), nori (loose, not formed into sheets for sushi), kelp (kombu in Japanese), arame all work

**A note on mushrooms: Dried mushrooms work also, but need to be boiled in the broth for 10 minutes before adding other ingredients to ensure their softness. Dried mushrooms have the benefit of imparting more flavor to the broth, though fresh mushrooms have a more enjoyable texture. Maitake mushrooms are wonderful in addition or instead of shiitake. If fresh beech mushrooms or enoki mushrooms are available, these also are a tasty addition, though maitake and shiitake should still be used because of their strong flavors.

*** A note on miso: For subtle misos like chickpea or mellow white miso, you may need to add a little more, or spot it with a splash of wheat-free tamari (soy sauce made without gluten) to live up to your tasty desires. However, some people prefer the subtler flavors. When it comes to hatcho miso or barley miso (very dark brown in color and sharp to taste), you may want to combine it with a mellower miso. Basically- experiment and feel free to tailor the recipe to your own tastes.

† Never add miso directly to the boiling water because it contains beneficial organisms and enzymes that will die if overheated. Always add it after the soup has been taken off the heat. 

1 comment:

  1. Well-put SuperHerb. Glad you remembered to mention the heat factor.