Category Archives: Japanese

Classic Miso Soup Recipe: Keep it Simple

Classic Restaurant Style Miso Soup
Japanese cuisine topic is broad and challenging, but quintessentially Japan’s food tradition rests on rice and Miso soup. The Miso soup is a beautiful ode to the Sea and the Earth. Almost 40 years ago, Avelin Tomoko Kushi, the legendary advocate for macrobiotic diet and the ‘moving force’ across the US behind the wave of the health food restaurants back in 70’s, published the book ‘How to Cook with Miso’. I found a copy of it few years ago in a thrift store and have embarked of a wonderful journey of experimenting with miso and myriads of interesting combinations with it.  Kushi poetically described Miso soup as ‘… soup, containing a sea vegetable, can be likened to the ancient sea we have evolved from. As that ancient sea nourished our first beginnings, miso nurtures us as the internal sea of our blood.

Visually, when you look at a bowl of Miso soup it somehow reminds of a cloud of sand suspended in the water under which the treasure of other ingredients is hidden…

Japanese Miso Soup & Kombu Seaweed

Although I’m quite sure no one remembers that great activist woman of a Japanese origin, we all know that as of today, Japanese cuisine has officially conquered the world with its food culture intangibles.  In a nutshell, to me it’s a story of the Japanese Chef Nobuki Matsuhisa, who came to the US via Peru, opened his first restaurant in Beverly Hills back in 1987 and was convinced by the rich admirer, Robert De Niro, to open one in NYC 7 years later (celebrity Hiroshima-born Iron Chef Morimoto used to be a head chef there as well). Today Chef and restaurateur Matsuhisa celebrates his 66th anniversary. ‘Nobu’ is all over the world, including US, UK, Italy, Greece, Russia, UAE, Hungary, Hong Kong and, of course, his native Japan…

Chef Matsuhisa and his Miso Soup Images from Nobu’s Vegetarian Cookbook by © Nobu Matsuhisa
What started as an exotic personal or professional travel to Japan few decades ago by selected chefs, food critics and writers has now turned into a massive food tourism pilgrimage to the land of samurai and cherry blossom.  It’s not just the exotic atmosphere, steamy bowls and sultry paper lanterns that lure foodie tourists from all over the world to this destination. With 267 Michelin starred restaurants under its belt Tokyo became the global gourmet capital where food is perceived as SUPER-HEALTHY and ATTRACTIVE; and Japanese chefs known for their stiff upper lip work ethics have become an example of a professional EXCELLENCE to be judged against.

Most of us however can’t afford to hop on a plane and fly to Japan to explore its rich culinary map and this is when the classic simple Japanese recipes come in handy. This post is my tribute to the humble Miso soup, a simple traditional Japanese concoction with exotic flavors of umami, sea and earthy and tangy taste of fermented soybeans. The mentioning of it instantly brings most of us to the sushi restaurants, where miso is a staple to begin the feast.

Unfortunately, the Internet is riddled with pseudo-classic miso soup recipes (missing kombu, using roasted nori instead of wakame, chicken stock or soya sauce for the stock base, firm tofu instead of soft, etc.) which can repulse you fast and make you forget about trying Miso soup DIY forever (this is how my first pack of miso paste ended up in garbage in a first place). But may be this fool-proof recipe will hook you on it without a problem.

The vegetarian version of Miso soup is made of primarily two basic ingredients: dried kombu seaweed-based stock called ‘dashi’ and ‘miso’, fermented paste from cooked salted and aged soybeans.

Kombu Vegetarian Dashi Stock
KOMBU VEGETARIAN STOCK (called KOMBU DASHI) + MISO make a powerful healing and detoxifying soup packed with fiber, probiotics, proteins, enzymes, rare vitamins (like K and B12), microelements and scientifically proven anti heart disease and breast cancer properties. Truly, this soup is a wonderful dish to kick-start a day, have a healthy lunch, break or a quick dinner. While the spring is trying to break through and the Lent has started back in February, this soup DIY recipe can’t be more timely in my point of view.
Miso Paste

The RESTAURANT STYLE, NON-VEGETARIAN classic version of dashi stock is called awase dashi and has an extra ingredient in it: dried fermented and shaved skipjack tuna flakes called KATSUOBUSHI, which you can buy at any major Asian grocery like Kim Phat:

Katsuobushi Flakes (Bonito)
Equally, and more on a budget, dashi stock can be made of dried baby anchovies and is called the iriko dashi:

Dried Anchovies

The sushi restaurant-style version also usually includes:
– soft silken tofu (never firm tofu);
– shitake mushrooms;
– wakame seaweed;
– minced scallions

Other Miso Soup Ingredients
If you are a Miso Soup lover, its exotic ingredients will not cost a fortune and have a very flexible shelf life. Here is what you need to to stock on (requires one single trip to the big Asian supermarket like Kim Phat,Tai Food (smaller places would be more expensive) – don’t forget to bring this list with you:
– DRIED KOMBU SEAWEED (can last well-sealed in a pantry indefinitely) – the 100g/$3.99 pack lands me with around 20 batches of 4 cups dashi stock;  
– BONITO FLAKES (can last well-sealed in a pantry indefinitely) –  the 30g/$5.99 pack is enough for 4-5 batches of 4 cups dashi stock; 
– MISO PASTE  (can last in the fridge for up to 12 months) – the 500g/$9.99 pack of uber-healthy white non-pasterized miso paste by Hanamaruki brand (my preferred) makes 8 to 10 batches of 4 cups miso soup and can be used in tones of other recipes (NOTE: as a general guide, the darker is the miso, the longer fermentation it went through, so begin with white type of miso to gradually get used to the taste and proportions);
– SILKY/SOFT TOFU – the 200g/$1.99 pack is found in most major groceies, enough for 1-2 batches of 4 cups of soup;
– DRIED WAKAME SEAWEED (can last well-sealed in a pantry indefinitely) – the 100g/$2.99 pack lands me with around 40+ batches of 4 cups dashi stock; 
– DRIED SLICED SHITAKE MUSHROOMS (can last well-sealed in a pantry for up to 12 months) – the 100g/$4.99 pack lands me with around 20+ batches of 4 cups dashi stock;
Follow the recipe below for the few simple steps:

 And voila, your restaurant-style miso is ready!

Enjoy your first real miso! I will come back with more takes on it.


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Yields: 3 to 4 portions
Ingredients for the dashi stock:
4 cups water, OR rainbow vegetable broth without beets
5-6 of 2-inch pieces of kombu (dried kelp)
4 tbsp (1/2 cup) loosely packed bonito flakes (katsuobushi), optional
Ingredients for the miso soup:
2 tbsp dried sliced shitake mushrooms (optional), soaked in cold water to reconstitute 
½ to 1 pound silken/soft tofu, cubed
2 tbsp wakame seaweed
4 tbsp white miso, OR mix of red and white miso paste
3 scallions, minced
To make the dashi stock combine water/broth and kombu in a saucepan and bring the mix to boil. Simmer for 10 to 40 minutes (depending on how strong you want the flavor of seaweed)* Remove kombu and add bonito flakes, if using. Bring the stock to simmer, remove from heat and let bonito flakes steep for 5-20 minutes. Strain the stock through the mesh and discard bonito flakes.  Add some boiled water or stock to bring the quantity back to 4 cups.
Bring the broth to simmer and add shitake mushrooms. Simmer for 1 minute. Add tofu – don’t boil, because it will ruin the distinct flavor of dashi.
Dissolve miso paste in a cup of hot broth separately. Pour the miso mix back into the stock, add wakame and scallion, warm through (don’t bring the stock to boil) for 1 minute. Ladle into bowls and serve hot.
*Please note that restaurant chefs prefer to cook kombu longer for more intense flavor.