Let’s Talk Food: Miso soup

Thank you, CF Crivellone, an islander who is currently living on the mainland, for the nice email asking about miso soup. She has some white miso and would like to be able to make a good bowl of miso soup, like the ones served in many Japanese restaurants.

Unfortunately, with modern technology, there are some wonderful pieces of miso-making equipment that make great miso soup with a push of a button! But a true Japanese chef would make his own “dashi” stock and miso soup everyday.

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One of her issues is that she just can’t get the flavors right, even if she added more miso. Well, CF, after making endless pots of miso soup, I prefer to use red or aka miso for soup and save the white miso for cooking, like miso salmon. Some restaurants use a combination of white and red miso, while others use only red miso for their soup.

Researching further, from “The Japanese Kitchen” cookbook by Kimiko Barber, this is what she says: “Miso and soy sauce are the two most important seasoning ingredients in Japanese cuisine — they could be called the flavors of Japan — and they share the same origin, although miso is the older of the two.”

Making of miso came from China at the same time as Buddhism. It is derived from an ancient salt preserve called “koku bishio,” a fermented mixture of salt and rice, soy beans and wheat.

It was the daily meal for samurai during the Kamakura period and during the Japanese civil wars.

Red, or “aka” miso, is red or reddish brown and fermented for the longest amount of time, up to three years, with the highest percentage of soybeans. Many Japanese restaurants use red miso in their miso soup since it has the deepest, richest flavors of all the misos.

White, or “shiro” miso, is light yellow or beige in color and has the smallest percentage of soybeans. It is fermented for the least amount of time, usually only a few weeks. This light and sweet miso is best for miso salad dressing, dips, light sauces and soups and in place of dairy for some recipes.

There is also yellow, or “shinshu” miso, which is gold yellow to light brown in color. It is fermented for about one year. The yellow miso has an earthier, more acidic flavor and is sweeter than red miso, but is not as salty.

A good Japanese chef would mix the different types of miso to get the exact flavor he wants. So play with your miso to get the perfect blend to your taste.

Miso is rich in nutrients such as manganese, Vitamin K, copper and zinc. In small amounts, it contains B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and phosphorus. Because it is fermented, it promotes the growth of probiotics, beneficial bacteria that provide great health benefits. A. oryzae is the main probiotic strain found in miso.

Miso is a complete source of protein and is rich in a variety of nutrients and beneficial plant compounds, but watch the quantity of sodium. It might be high if you are watching your intake of sodium.

Many Japanese believe drinking miso soup helps the liver cope with alcohol and nicotine and find that a bowl of miso soup is the best hangover cure! As a matter of fact, three-fourths of all Japanese have miso soup everyday, either for breakfast, lunch or with dinner. (Not to say that they drink a lot!)

For me, a delicious bowl of miso soup starts with the “dashi,” or stock. “Ichiban dashi,” or “Number One Stock” is easily made with only three ingredients: water; “dashi konbu,” or kelp; and a handful of “katsuo-boshi,” or bonito flakes.

Ichiban dashi or Number One Stock

Makes: 1 1/2 pints of stock

1 piece dashi konbu, postcard size

1 1/2 pints water

1/4 ounces or a handful of “katsuo-boshi,” or bonito flakes

Put the konbu with the water in a saucepan. Heat gently and take out the konbu when it begins to float. When the water comes to a boil, remove from the heat. Add the katsuo-boshi and let it settle to the bottom. Strain the stock through a fine sieve. The katsuo-boshi will get bitter if boiled.

Now you are ready to make a great miso soup! Add about 4 tablespoons (to your taste) of miso. Remember, you can mix white and red miso to get the flavors you want, and mix it well to dissolve the miso. At this point, you can add whatever you want: cubed tofu, green onions, slivered aburage or fried tofu, “fu” or gluten sponge cakes.

•••

Since we are staying at home right now during this COVID-19 pandemic, we tend to want to make comfort food.

Our sons and my nieces have a group messenger site, and right now we are writing to each other about what we are cooking for lunch and dinner. It’s not that we are bored, but we need to do productive things since we are at home.

I baked bread yesterday and made ma po tofu and Japanese curry. I influenced my son in Germany to also make ma po tofu (shelf stable tofu is a great pantry item to have) as well as my niece, Carla.

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Hang in there everyone. This, too, will pass, and as Oprah said, this is a test, we will be stronger after this! It is important that everyone is healthy and we have each other to make us strong — family and community!

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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