Mother’s Home Cooking in Japan: Miso Soup

It’s a new year and a new series of posts on the Zojirushi blog! In our “Mother’s Home Cooking in Japan” series, we explore Japanese foods that moms often cook at home, beloved by young and old alike. For our past series such as “Japanese Street Food” and “B-kyu Gurume”, click on the categories on the right!

When you think of Japanese comfort food, it is natural to think of miso soup. Warm and delicious, and as nutritious as it is delicious – a staple dish prepared by moms across Japan – that can now be found all over the world. Today we take a closer look at miso soup and consider its origins, the traditional way to eat it, and how to make it at home.

The Origins of Miso Soup

Miso soup is said to be originated during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), serving as a daily meal for samurais. The soup has low calories, is high in protein and is easy to make with an instant paste, so military commanders were able to enjoy it without much preparation while they were on the move.

The Ingredients of Miso Soup

The instant paste that is used in miso soup is from a fish stock called Dashi, made from dried sardines, dried kelp seaweed, and smoked bonito or shitake mushrooms. The paste also includes fermenting grain and the longer this paste ages, the richer the flavor profile of the soup. Miso paste can also be found in different colors and deepness in flavor (based on the fermenting process). There are also variations of this paste that are not made with any fish, suitable for vegetarians to enjoy.

This paste is the umami core of the dish, providing the bowl most of its flavor. Many chefs or home cooks work to layer in additional flavors, textures, or ingredients to update the dish or customize it to their preference. Some options of these customizations include: sliced onions, tofu, spinach, mushrooms, egg, or various fish.

How to Enjoy the Soup

 

Once prepared, miso soup is prepared in a small portion as a side dish to complement a meal. Common main dishes might be rice, sashimi, steak, and other meal options. While some restaurants and households enjoy the side dish with a soup spoon, traditionally miso soup is consumed by lifting the small bowl directly to your mouth. Miso soup is enjoyed throughout the day, as breakfast, lunch, dinner or even a snack.

Making Miso Soup at Home

If you love miso soup and want to make this dish at home yourself, take a look at this recipe from Japanese Cooking 101 here, or try this Vegetarian Miso Nabe recipe that you can make right in your Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet (EP-PBC10)!

You can also make miso soup right in your food jar to take for a warm lunch, or give this savory Tonjiru, aka pork miso soup packed with tons of veggies a try!

To learn more about miso, also see our blog post “Essentials of Japanese Cooking: Miso.”

Let us know if you try any of these recipes at home by tagging Zojirushi on your photos with #zojirushi on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!

Essentials of Japanese Cooking:  Making Delicious Miso Soup

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Miso soup is a vital, versatile part of Japanese cuisine. It can be served for breakfast, mixed with a bit of tofu and wakame seaweed. It can be part of a complete ichiju-sansai meal, served as the soup course. It can be served as part of a fancy meal, with crab legs and clams, or it can be served just by itself.

No matter how it is served, it is part of the soul of Japanese food.

Tofu Misoshiru is one of the most common forms of miso soup found in Japan and abroad. It is made by heating dashi stock with ingredients such as tofu and green onions, until the soup comes to a simmer. While the soup is simmering, a small amount of miso paste is dissolved in a separate bowl using a small amount of the warmed dashi. Once the dashi, tofu and green onions are cooked, the heat is turned off and the miso mixture is added into the soup, imparting protein, probiotics, umami and a lovely flavor. Dried, cut wakame seaweed is added at the end, just before serving, to round out the soup.

Making miso soup is deceptively simple, however, creating a truly delicious soup requires sensitive attention to the quality of ingredients and how the soup is prepared. As Rochelle Bilow, a writer for Bon Apetit, states, “With a soup that requires so few ingredients, the quality of each one really matters.” Using subpar miso paste and instant dashi detracts from the richness of a well-made miso soup. Similarly, using firm tofu in the soup detracts from the texture and mouthfeel of the soup. When adding vegetables, such as daikon or carrots or mushrooms to the soup, it’s important to slice them thinly and in small pieces and let them cook to tenderness in the soup’s liquid. Similarly, it’s important to balance the “heavy” ingredients, such as potatoes and tofu, with the “light” ingredients, such as scallions and seaweed, in the soup. Too much of one or the other affects the pleasure of eating the soup.

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Dissolving the miso in broth to remove lumps

How the miso is added to the soup mixture is one of the most important aspects of making delicious miso soup. Miso is made from fermented soybeans, and through the fermentation process, becomes full of beneficial bacteria and active cultures. Adding miso paste to the soup mixture while it is on the flame may kill these good bacteria and cultures and diminishes umami. Miso should be dissolved in a bit of broth first to remove any lumps and then added to the soup once the other ingredients have cooked. Then just before the soup returns to a simmer, turn off the heat.

Following these rules is the best way to make miso soup. But as with many Japanese foods, miso soup is versatile and adaptable. You can use different types of miso paste, from white, yellow, to red. A variety of vegetables can be added to the soup, including chard, carrots, radishes, mushrooms, sea vegetables, onions and potatoes. A variety of seafood can be added to the soup, including fish and crustaceans. Even noodles, such as udon, can be also be added to the soup.

Whatever way it’s made, miso soup is a staple in Japanese cuisine. Tell us how you make it!