I didn’t know much about miso before I picked some up at the grocery store the other day. Since then I’ve learned that it is a Japanese fermented paste that contains grains or soybeans, sea salt, and a special mold called kōji-kin, and is aged anywhere from a few days to a few years. It's used to flavor sauces, as a marinade for meats, and as an integral part of soups. Miso is also praised for its health benefits, including loads of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and digestive enzymes. The flavor is very subtle yet quietly rich, with a nice fermented tang.
The best part is that you’re not even supposed to cook it much; all the hard work has been done for you in the fermenting, and excessive heat hinders its health benefits. So a miso soup can be as simple as bringing some water to boil, adding vegetables, cooking them until tender, and stirring in miso paste off the heat. With temperatures dropping, a rich, simple soup was just what I needed. I went to the website of South River Miso, who made my Three-Year Barley variety (it turns out they’ve been profiled in the New York Times and adhere to old traditions like blending up their mixtures by stomping on them with human feet), where they offered a recipe called Miso Soup 101.
The result was deeply satisfying, and probably the healthiest thing I’ve ever cooked. The flavor was very, very subtle—almost too much so—but I think it was a good introduction to the taste of miso. I’m eager to try other preparations—this recipe from The Breakaway Cook with ginger and fennel is enticing--but for now, I’m just happy to be in the club.
- 1 medium onion, sliced thinly in half moons
- 1 cup chopped greens, such as kale, collards, spinach, etc.
- 1 medium carrot cut into thin rounds
- 1 three-inch piece wakame sea vegetable (optional—I didn’t have this)
- 1/2 package soft tofu (optional)
- 1 quart water
- 3 to 4 tablespoons light or dark miso
- Chopped scallions or parsley for garnish
Bring the water to boil in a sauce pan while you slice the onions, carrots, and optional wakame. Add them to the pot, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for ten minutes, covered.
Add the greens and simmer, uncovered, until tender. If using tofu, add 5 minutes before the greens are finished.
In a small bowl, add a ladleful of the soup stock to the miso paste, and stir until blended. Reduce the flame to low, add the diluted miso, and stir well. Taste for seasoning, adding salt or a bit more miso. Serve and garnish.