Miso soup is a traditional Japanese comfort food that has gained popularity throughout the world. Here in the United States, it entered the zeitgeist along with sushi and sake when Japanese cuisine became popularized in the 1980s. In Japan, miso soup is eaten by everyone everyday and is as popular as tea. Most Westerners tend to find it difficult to appreciate miso soup, to say the least. It's just one of those foods that is either loved or hated. But for me it's a soup I've been trying to come to terms with for many years. Whenever I've had miso soup I've always hated it, but sometimes I've almost liked it. I've learned that depending on the restaurant and depending on the preparation and the paste used, miso soup can be very different.
There are three to four main types of miso paste used to make the soup including red, white, yellow, and a mixed paste. They can be made of soybeans, wheat, barley, rice, or a combination. The flavors range from very strong and salty, of red miso, to more delicate and refined, of white miso. I've become very fond of yellow miso, which is the one I use for this soup recipe. I use a brand that makes a low-sodium version, which is just how I prefer the taste. Most miso pastes are very high in sodium. I do love the umami flavor of miso, but do not like the overpowering salty taste of many miso paste brands. That's what turned me off in the first place. But making miso soup is mostly about personal taste.
I'm slowly adding miso to my diet and am developing a taste for the unique flavor profiles. But what makes me come back again and again to trying different miso pastes and eating soups in particular is because of the health benefits. Miso paste is full of minerals and vitamins. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. And like certain species of fish, miso is high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Adding the traditional ingredients of tofu and wakame seaweed to the miso soup also increases the health benefits of miso soup.
Keeping with tradition, I start the miso soup with dashi, a stock made of kelp and dried tuna flakes. The stock also adds many minerals to the end product. After adding the miso paste, ingredients such as wakame, tofu, thinly sliced vegetables, mushrooms, or noodles can be added. It's all about personalization.
4-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup loosely packed katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
3-inch piece kombu
3 tablespoons miso paste
1/4 cup wakame
1 8-ounce package silken tofu, drained and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 scallions, sliced on the bias
Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Lower to a simmer and add katsuobushi and kombu. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes off from heat. Strain dashi broth into sieve lined with cheesecloth placed over a bowl.
Return dashi to saucepan and bring back to a simmer. Add miso paste to a small bowl and pour over with a ladle of dashi. Whisk until the miso is dissolved into liquid. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and whisk to combine. Add wakame, tofu, and scallions. Divide into bowls. Yield: 4 servings.