Miso soup is probably Japan's most frequently consumed dish. Many people still drink a bowl (or two) every single day and there was a time not so long ago when a bowl of miso soup was regarded as an essential part of any dinner - miso was and still is, to some degree, an important source of protein in Japan. Both miso and miso soup have a long history in Japan - history says that it was first brought from China by Buddhist monks more than 1500 years ago.
But putting the history to one side, the main reason why people eat miso soup is because of the taste. And it isn't difficult to produce a really tasty bowl of miso soup. You really only need two things - some miso and a good stock base. Miso soup stock bases come in may shapes and sizes - powders, granules, ready made stock and, of course, you can make your own. For everyday purposes, I use stock granules - they make a perfectly good, tasty miso soup - you can find brands like Ajinimoto, Shimaya or Marutomo on line and they will all produce a good result.
As for the miso itself, I have to admit I only buy brands that I could buy in Japan. For this recipe, I used a white miso by a brand called Hanamaruki - it's a big brand in Japan and available abroad - I bought the pot I'm currently using in London. Other brands such as Hikari are also widely available on line. If you take a look on line, you might wonder what the difference is between the "white" and "red" miso pastes that you will find. Basically, it come down to how much rice or soy beans are used to make the miso and how long it is fermented. White miso contains a higher percentage of rice and is usually fermented for a relatively short time of between 4 to 6 months. It has a milder, less salty flavour than the red variant.
Red miso, on the other hand, contains a higher percentage of soya beans and is fermented for a longer period, up to 12 months and longer in some cases. It tends to have a richer, more salty flavour than it's white cousin. You can also find products that describe themselves as "yellow" (barley content) and even "black" miso (fermented for up to 36 months, very salty) but I'd advise you to try out the white and red variants first to establish which one suits your palate - personally, I like darker miso because I like the salty taste - my partner on the other hand by far prefers white miso for its milder, more delicate flavour.
One important thing to be aware about when you use miso in cooking is not to cook it much at all. The more you cook miso, the more salty it becomes, so it's best to put it in - as I do in this recipe - right at the end of the cooking, so it can dissolve into the soup without actually being cooked.
Traditionally, a miso soup might contain things like shiitake mushroom and daikon. For this recipe, I take a more modern approach and use other vegetables - bell pepper, courgette / zucchini and aubergine / eggplant. I use a single shredded shiso / oba leaf as a garnish for the top of the dish. I think these vegetables really "fit" with the white miso I use, giving a lighter, almost fragrant taste. (Obviously if you want to experiment with other vegetables, then feel free to do so!)
In terms of technique, there aren't any dark Zen arts involved here. The one things I would focus on is how to dissolve the miso into the soup at the end of cooking. Rather than just spooning the miso in and mixing (which might break up the vegetables), I place the miso in a ladle and dip that into the saucepan. That way, you can fill the ladle with stock and stir in the miso without breaking up any of the other ingredients. (This is a very handy technique to know when you are using a soft tofu in your miso soup.)
So, if you like the idea of a bowl of warming, nutricious vegetable miso soup, then you can find the Youtube tutorial by clicking Vegetable Miso Soup or by scrolling to the bottom of the page. You can find the written recipe just below.
Happy cooking! Kurumi XXXX.
(makes 2 servings)
2 X 1cm/ 1/2 in slices of aubergine/ eggplant
5cm / 2 in piece of courgette/zucchini
1/2 medium onion
2 baby sweetcorn
1/2 small red bell pepper
500ml/18 fl oz water
1 heaped tsp instant Japanese dashi granules (for this recipe, I used Ajinomoto's "Hondashi" brand but other Japanese brands will work equally well.)
1 large oba/shiso leaf (or 1 spring onion or some toasted sesame seeds for your garnish
soak the aubergine/eggplant slices in water in a bowl for 10 mins to draw out the bitter flavour
slice the courgette/zucchini into 1cm / 3/4 in pieces
peel the onion, cut off the top & tail and cut into 5 or 6 slices
halve the baby corn diagonally
cut the bell pepper into 8 - 10 bite size pieces
drain the water from the aubergine, then cut into 10 - 12 bite size pieces
pour the water into a small saucepan. add the instant Japanese dashi granules and all the vegetables. bring to the boil and simmer for 5 - 6 minutes
meanwhile, prepare your garnish. Seither shred an oba leaf or finely chop a spring onion. as an alternative, you could use a tsp of toasted white sesame seeds
when the simmering is complete, add the miso to the saucepan. use a ladle and fork to dissolve the miso without breaking up the vegetables
when the miso has dissolved, turn off the heat
pour your vegetable miso soup into 2 bowls. add your chosen garnish and serve