Monday, December 10, 2007

Me So Therapeutic!

One of my favorite things about living in the United States is the accessibility of ingredients from all corners of the globe. If the home cook so wishes, their pantry can be stocked with everything from chipotle to capers, tahini to tamari. I am taking my own sweet time getting to know and love some of these seasonings- and the joy that comes from hearing a distinctly foreign word, then taking the plunge and bringing a container home, picking it up and turning it around in my hands a little fearfully (hoping that the mere act of holding it will give me clues about how best to use it); until one day, when a recipe using this strange new thing becomes a "keeper" and the ingredient is now an old friend and certified pantry staple.

Miso has long been one of those food-words that I kept coming across but never quite understood. Until SusanV wrote a post about Double Mushroom Miso Soup that said, "Eat Me" rather boldly. It was time to get to know miso a little better. Miso is a traditional Japanese ingredient; a fermented paste of soybeans and grains. Like other fermented foods like idli batter and sourdough starter, it has that peculiar "assertive-yet-not-unpleasant" aroma (or perhaps "funky-yet-good"). For me, there are two reasons to get to know miso: (a) it brings wonderful savory flavor to food (the deep and hearty taste called "umami") and (b) it is known for its healthful properties, including a rich variety of trace minerals and vitamins. Read more about miso here and here.

So I took the plunge- bought a small tub of unpasteurized white miso (shiro miso, the mildest kind there is). Miso can be found in Japanese and Asian stores and in health food stores. I bought mine from the refrigerated section of Whole Foods. Although it is white miso, in practice it looks more brown than white. The trademark recipe that uses miso is Miso Soup and this was the very first thing I wanted to make.

From what I have learnt from books and blogs, here is the simplest way to make miso soup:
1. Heat some stock: it could be the traditional Japanese dashi made with seaweed and fish flakes, or, for vegetarians, any flavorful vegetable or mushroom stock (or made with seaweed alone).
2. Add vegetables of choice (or other ingredients like tofu) and simmer until cooked.
3. Add miso paste: Take some miso paste in a small bowl. Add some of that hot stock and dilute the paste, then add it to the soup pot. Reheat briefly and your miso soup is ready!

One of my favorite cookbooks, Laurel's Kitchen, says that traditional Japanese miso soups are composed of one main vegetable and two garnishing vegetables. The garnishing vegetables can be interpreted to include anything like cubes of tofu or lemon zest. Any vegetables like greens, mushrooms, zucchini will work fine. Unfettered by tradition, miso soups, of course, can be as diverse as the cook is imaginative. Some cooked brown rice or noodles would make the miso soup even more filling.

Mushroom Miso Soup

(makes 3-4 servings)
1. Heat 4 C of your favorite vegetarian stock (I make mine from "Better than Bouillon" stock concentrate) until it is simmering.
2. Add 2 C mushroom slices and 3 minced scallions (white parts) and simmer until the mushrooms are tender.
3. Remove a small amount of the hot stock into a bowl. Add 2 t white miso paste and stir it in to blend. Add the diluted miso paste back into the soup. Reheat for a couple of minutes and serve hot, garnished with scallions (green parts).

This soup is such a treat during winter! A cup of steaming hot miso soup just feels very nourishing and is very effective in banishing the winter blahs. During the cold months, I always feel like reaching for a hot beverage. All too often, that beverage is something caffeinated like tea or coffee. Miso soup can be easily made in single-serving sizes as an alternative hot beverage. Miso does have a fairly high sodium content, so you might want to use lower-sodium stock or dilute the stock with some water.

Want more miso soup?

Maki writes a beautifully illustrated and instructive guide to Traditional Miso Soup, including ways to make vegetarian dashi.

Jaden presents an illustrated guide to 10-minute miso soup.

Kevin has a dozen different variations on miso soup on his blog, including this Tofu and Wakame Miso Soup.

Finally, Elizabeth Andoh's beautiful essay about Mama's Miso Soup

Before December is over, I hope to make 2-3 more miso recipes, exploring it in ways other than soup. If you have a favorite way of using miso, I sure would appreciate knowing about it.

*** *** *** Menu for Hope *** *** ***

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  1. The soup says "drink me" for sure. I have heard so much of miso, time to take the plunge!

  2. Soup looks delicious. Loved the pun (Me So!) too!

  3. I have had Miso Soup only once and that was not a good exp. Your Miso-Mushroom soup looks way better than the soup I had.

  4. Hi Nupur!
    Miso soup looks wonderful! pic is very nice!

  5. thanks for the shoutout!

    i lovelovelove the knitted food!

    xo, jaden

  6. The soup looks divine! I am such a miso fanatic that I will eat it straight off the tub/packet - it is so saltily and puckeringly delicious!
    I discovered something a few months back which I am now in love with, and I thought I would suggest it to you for one of your future projects: pomegranate molasses. Try it, and you will be hooked! If you want a suggestion for a recipe, do let me know, and I'll be happy to pass one along to you.

  7. We discovered miso soup recently, too! I haven't ventured to make it at home yet - I haven't found miso paste anywhere and I am not brave enough to battle the crowds at Whole Foods in Boulder - so we just go to our fave restaurant that insists you have to order it by the large bowlful and come home totally satiated!

  8. yum yum...i love miso soup but i generally tend to avoid it
    (and other soups) outside for the fear of chicken broth:( good to have the recipe to try at home:)

  9. I love miso. However, in a store visit similar to what you described, I bought three packets of fermented soybeans, or natto. They have a slightly icky smell and a horrible sliminess. I have researched google, and tried vinegar, soy and mustard, but these look doomed. Any ideas?

  10. soup looks perfect for this cold weather delecious

  11. love the invitating!!!

  12. I used to believe that chicken soup cured all ailments, until I fell in love with miso soup. Now I'm convinced that miso cures everything -- the winter blahs, colds and sniffles. Thanks for your informative post.

  13. Hi Nupur, I have only used white miso and if your fridge is cold, it keeps quite a long time. If it gets hard, you can soften it in warm water. As long as it's not moldy (can fermented food turn moldy!?) it's good -- that's what I've read in Japanese cookbooks. Your mushroom miso soup looks delish -- a perfect bedtime snack for a cold night like tonight :)

    Also thanks for the link to Menu for Hope. Not sure how I've missed that in the past.

  14. Is this telepathy or what? I just bought a tub of white miso, inspired by Susan's post. She has so many recipes that use miso. I was hesitant for a long time and I took the plunge too, finally :).

  15. hi
    Here in India i am not exposed to all the ingredients mentioned by you..
    I am sure if i was there i would feel the same , can you tell us about ingredients which are not available in india but can be used in indian dishes . I think you get tomato pieces canned in various dimensions right? i.e chunks,paste,chopped etc here we get only tomato puree.
    Is it true that you can get browned i.e fried onion too.
    let us know

  16. Indosungod, it took me a couple of hearing to take the plunge :D but it has fun to try this stuff.

    Meera, thanks :D

    Sandeepa, I have never eaten miso soup in a restaurant, actually. In the end, I guess miso may be an acquired taste for some folks. Still worth giving it another shot :)

    Usha, thank you!

    Jaden, yes, that knitted food is adorable :)
    thanks for stopping by!

    Kamini, seriously??!! You sound like a serious miso fan. What do you use it for, other than eating out of the jar :D?
    Pom molasses...another ingredient that I keep hearing about. I am definitely going to look for some and try it out! Will e-mail you for a recipe.

    Manisha, you would be able to find miso paste in small-time health food stores as well, if you have any close to where you live. If course, if someone else is making it for you in the restaurant, all the better! :)

    Smita, yes, more than chicken broth, it is about the fish flakes that go into making the broth for traditional miso soup which can be a problem if one does not eat fish. It is so easy to make at home!

    Nehaj, Ah, yes, natto is something I have heard of often, and always in those funky, slimy terms that you mention! From what I know, natto is simply eaten as a condiment with rice porridge for breakfast. It sounds like the kind of food that is strictly an acquired taste! So unfortunately I have no ideas :( Tell me something, why did you buy three packets of the stuff?? You are braver than I am. When I am trying something for the first time, I try to find the teeniest-tiniest package possible :D I would have cut this tub of miso in half if they let me.

    Sagari, yes, it is very soothing in this weather.

    Remya, thanks!

    Lydia, oh yes, I am convinced of that too. Miso soup comes in that same "food as antibiotic" category as chicken soup, matzo ball soup, and my favorite rasam!

    Linda, yes, I am certainly hoping that this will keep for a long time! Fermented foods certainly can get moldy if some unwanted bug decided to join the party :D but most mold (if it grows) can just be scraped off and the miso used up, I think. The menu for hope is so much fun...this year, I am going to buy tickets and indulge myself (did not find a good prize to put up)

    Suganya, it is culinary telepathy all right! :D I can't wait to see what you do with it.

    Mahek, well, in India, you have access to dozens of amazing ingredients that I can only dream about, so it all evens out :)
    About ingredients that can be used in Indian dishes, they are mostly convenience products. In most parts of India, fresh ripe tomatoes are available year-round. Here I get them only for a month or so in the peak of summer. So these canned tomato products (puree, paste, chopped and whole peeled) are very convenient but completely unnecessary if you have fresh tomatoes on hand. Yes, I have seen bags of fried onions in the store, but again, it is just as easy to fry your own. Same for coconut milk in cans and ginger-garlic paste in jars. It is certainly helpful for quick cooking but not necessary if you have access to the fresh stuff.

  17. I know, I know..the three tubs were packaged together. They are Very small tubs, though. But more about works great as a marinade for baked tofu. I like to mix it with some rice vingegar, water and soy sauce, and rub it tofu or anything else that needs baking! Another way to use up the Big package..:)

  18. Yes, after trying (and loving) fermented bean paste I now need to get some miso and tamari. This seems such an easy soup to make, and you're right, a bowlful of hot soup is just perfect in this cold weather!

  19. looks gr8!! very healthy treat too...

  20. Looks lovely. I've heard of Miso, but never tasted it in any dish! Will try it out soon.

  21. i have never had miso soup....looks delicious...will try it but with something other than mushrooms since P doesnt like them. the chocolate cake is droolworthy Nupur:)

  22. Your mushroom miso soup looks really good. Sometimes when using mushrooms in miso soup I like to roast them in the oven first to concentrate their flavour.

  23. that's why am so J of all u food bloggers outside india. the ingredients u guys use to cook with is just so exotic and rarely available here. all i can do most of the time is just sigh..

    btw, thats a beautiful pic, the mushrooms pieces look divine.

  24. just what I need for my cold now.

  25. Nehaj, ah, that figures then! :) Yes, the next miso dish I am planning does involve miso being used as a marinade. Your miso rub sounds wonderful!

    Anita, it must be really cold in Delhi too, at this time! I think you will enjoy miso soup, if you enjoy clear watery soups.

    Swaroopa, thanks!

    Seema, it may taste a little strange at first, but the taste grew on me. quickly!

    Priyanka, oh yes, plenty of veggies would taste good in this soup.

    Kevin, I can imagine how roasting the mushrooms would really concentrate the flavors! Got to try that!

    Nags, girl, you are kidding, right? If I was living in India, I would write things like, "My favorite thing about living in India is the easy proximity to these amazing ingredients XYZ"...because indeed, that magical land where you live is home to the most incredible food ever. and the most awesome ingredients ever. I am here living in this cold foreign land thinking of the next time I will get a visitor from home who will bring me homemade chunda (mango pickle) and bhajani flour (mixed grains/dal flour) which I then will use sparingly and carefully over months. Because I don't get those things here (along with dozens of other ingredients and vegetables that I so love)! Think of how lucky you are and don't be J. Go out into your city and poke around and discover some awesome ingredients and make us expats J :D

    Raaga, this, or some good old rasam!

  26. Nupur,
    what a beautiful write! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it first thing in the monring thanks!
    I have never tasted miso soup, hope I will try this soon.

    thanks again

  27. Hi Nupur, Because of my Japanese mother I grew up knowing there was always a little tub of miso paste in the fridge. We always made miso soup with it but when I got to college, I met a woman who used it as a dip for vegetables! At first it was so weird, but I tried it and it's not bad. A tad too salty.

  28. We are fortunate to have such an amazing array of ethnic foods available to us here. And my husband's birthday was last week--he would have gone crazy for your gorgeous chocolate birthday cake!

  29. Miso is something I've been curious to try for some time, but still haven't gotten around to. I recently bought a little instant packet (as yet still unopened), but I suspect it's not quite like the real thing. You've inspired me though - I must try it soon!


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