The art of miso soup
A bowl of miso can be a labour of love or a convenient pick-me-up.
Making miso soup from scratch is one of those things I'd always meant to do but never quite got around to. There’s a certain ceremony and mystique to it which sounded to me like lots of fun but perhaps not what everyone would do on a Monday night.
I believe it can be considered an art and taken to extreme lengths if one is that way inclined, searching out the finest handmade miso from old wooden barrels and being careful never to boil it so you don’t destroy the nutritional benefits of the natural fermentation. I got all inspired after reading up on some food blogs and went to a specialist Japanese shop to buy kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes), and red miso paste (fermented soy beans).
So, for those who are keen, here’s a basic version of doing it the proper way:
Soak 3 pieces of dried kombu in cold water overnight to soften it and extract some flavour. Next day, bring it gently to just simmering over about 15 minutes, being careful not to boil it (which makes it taste bitter and harsh). Remove kombu then stir in 1 cup of bonito flakes, allowing to steep for 5 minutes before straining. This is now called dashi stock (ichiban dashi to be precise — first fish stock) and is full of natural glutamates, giving a rich umami flavour. To finish, just stir in miso paste to taste — I enjoyed it with about 2 tablespoons. The result? A delicious miso soup and an ambition realised for me.
Going from this labour of love straight to the ultra pragmatic end of the spectrum, you gotta love those little sachets of instant miso soup paste at the supermarket. They’re zero effort and they taste pretty good. This week’s dish is my way of taking that convenience and adding lots of fresh vitality using thinly sliced raw veges.
Miso fresh bowl
Slice the cabbage and mushrooms nice and thin so the hot miso soup can soften them and warm them just by being poured over the top. This gentle method retains more nutrients than bringing everything to a boil and gives a nice variety of textures in the bowl. When it comes to the toppings, I find it much more interesting to sprinkle the lime juice, fish sauce and sesame oil on right at the end. This keeps the flavours in different little areas of the soup so you get lovely surprises as you work your way around the bowl, choosing which veges you feel like in each spoonful.
1 cup mung bean sprouts
½ cup finely shredded white cabbage
½ cup finely shredded red cabbage
2 mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 small tomato, sliced into small sections
½ cup coriander, chopped
2 sachets miso soup paste
1½ cups boiling water
1 sprig mint leaves, chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced
¼ red chilli, finely sliced (to taste)
Juice of ½ lime (to taste)
1 tsp fish sauce (to taste)
¼ tsp sesame oil (to taste)
Place the sprouts, cabbage, mushroom and tomato in separate mounds around the outside of a bowl, with the coriander in the middle.
Add the miso soup paste to the boiling water in a small pot and stir to dissolve, then pour over the veges in the bowl. Top with the mint, spring onion and chilli.
Just as you start to eat, sprinkle the lime juice, fish sauce and sesame oil (use more or less to taste) over the top of the soup.