Sunday, December 14, 2008

Miso Soup

I tend to use my blog to vent some times...
I happened to think yesterday that I should throw some "non-vent" topics up on occasion :)

Miso Soup!
Ever had it? You should try it.
I think I first had it about 8-10 years ago. My friend married a woman who has a Japaneese mother, and she made a large batch of Miso soup. So my friend asked if I'd ever had it before, I had not. I was not a very adventurous eater, but I was just starting to discover Sushi, and Japanese food in general. Now... I'll pretty much eat anything with a few exceptions... (I'm not crazy about eating any internal organs ie: brains, stomach, liver, etc... I'd probably try it, but the thought doesn't appeal to me.)
Anyway... I really enjoyed the soup and asked if it was dificult to make. He said not really, and proceeded to give me the "recipe".
It's not an exact recipe, it's more like "this is what it's made of, just add enough to your taste".
1) Miso - I was told that Miso is just a slightly fermented Soy bean paste... I just now learned (via wikipedia here) that it can also be made from Rice, and Barley, and that it's made with salt and a fungus (don't think I needed to know that). What I do know about Miso is that there are different varrieties and that I have not experimented with them. I look for the "regular" Miso paste. It's kinda like peanut butter in color and texture. (I think there is also flavored Miso and Red Miso). Buying it can be tricky, because I've only seen it in the Asian food market(s). Several times I can't read the label because there is no english on it. The kind I usually get though has english, and I know it's made specifically for soup. I think it has Dashi already added to it which brings me to Ingredient #2...

2) Dashi or Bonito - again, I've only seen this at Asian food markets. I usually have no problem finding it, but it can take some searching if you can't read the Kanji type. Almost always, I've found it near the pre-mix Miso Soup packets (cheating, but I'm sure it tastes the same). It usually comes in little foil packets or a small glass jar. To be clearer... I believe Dashi is simply the name of a fish stock made with Bonito flakes. So techincally you're looking for Bonito to make your own Dashi. (Dashi on wikipedia here and Bonito here). Bonito is simply fish (usually Tuna, but I think it can also be anchovies) that has been dried, and then crumbled into a powder. So basically, you're adding dried fish powder to water to make Dashi.

3) Tofu! - I think everyone knows what Tofu is but just in case you're not familiar with it, it's basically made from soybeans. It's also called "bean curd". It's Soybeans that have been curdled, then pressed into "blocks". Again, there are different types of tofu, but it's best to use the plain.
Tofu is usually sold as "soft, medium, or firm" - personally I prefer the firm. It has a bit of texture to it, where the 'soft' is enough to barely hold it's shape and bit mushy. Extra firm is good too if you like the texture. There is no difference in taste, just texture. Tofu is in every supermarket now, so it's not difficult to find at all. It's usually sold in a sealed pack, with a liquid (water?). slice the pack, drain the liquid, then cut the tofu into about 1/4" or 1/2" squares.
(tofu on wikipedia). I should mention too... Tofu is extremely bland and tasteless. But it's really good for you, and adds texture to soups or veggy meals.

4) Seaweed - This can be tricky too, but the bottomline is look for anything marked seaweed. I think the techincal term you want is called "Wakame" (wiki). [Be careful though... do not use those "sheets" of seaweed that is used for making sushi. I mean I guess you could use it, but I wouldn't recommend it.] Depending on the market you go to, you might find it in a bag marked as Wakame... The market I go to, has bags and bags of different varieties of seaweed! Most I can't read the package at all, and I like to experiment. My favorite now is this stuff that looks BLACK! It's curly, and small pieces (dried of course). I like this for both texture - and it's cool! You throw one piece into water, and it enlarges to almost 4 times it's size! And then turns to a nice dark green (typical seaweed color). So be AWARE! that it may look like you're only putting in a handful to a large pot, it will enlarge to almost 4x it's size.
The small pieces are great too because you don't need to cut them. If you get the larger pieces of uncut seaweed it's nearly impossible to cut with a knife when it's dry!

That's basically the ingredients there! Most places will also add a little fresh chopped Scallions to the bowl just prior to serving. (It's good, but you don't need them).

Get a large pot.
Fill it with about 8 cups of water. Turn the heat up to high.
Get your miso paste - follow the instructions on how much to use (I think it's about 2 tablespoons per 4 cups) but it's really a matter of taste. You can use less or more depending how you like it. Start with two, and just put what you feel looks right. (I like alot).
Add your Bonito if you want - warning, a little of this goes a long way! And, make sure your Miso paste doesn't already have Dashi/Bonito in it already. Again, I like a fishy taste, so I add about 3 teaspoons (even though my miso paste has Bonito in it).
Add your Tofu. One package for 8 cups is plenty.
By now the soup should be close to boiling (you don't have to bring it to boiling).
Keep stirring gently until all of your Miso Paste is dissolved in the water. It can "clump" when you first put it in.
Last add your Seaweed. Again, this is to taste, if you like a lot, use a lot. I use about a handfull.
Note: the seaweed is salty! So think of that as you add it in.
Let everything simmer for about 5 more minutes and you're good to go!
(The scallions are optional).


If you have a better recipe or have an additional ingredient, feel free to leave a comment.

OH! I should have mentioned this...
When left for a minute or two, Miso soup will settle. The Miso will sink and group towards the bottom of the bowl, with just a clear broth on top. That's normal! Just give it quick stir before taking a spoonful.

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