(kombu and arame seaweed)
Japanese cuisine exudes flavor, texture, and beauty...which is probably why I've never felt adequately versed to do much of it in my own kitchen. However, newly inspired by a recent lunch at a Japanese restaurant, I decided that miso soup might be a fairly un-intimidating place to begin.
Several years ago, I worked in a vegetarian restaurant where we served miso soup. At this restaurant, the method was as follows: the cook would pour boiled water into a large pot, toss in tofu cubes, sliced green onion, and some wakame seaweed. She would keep the water warm over a bain-marie, and just before service began, drop in a huge ladle of red miso. Apparently, it is essential not to cook the miso; this will not only spoil the flavor, but also alter the healthy properties.
That soup always lacked flavor in my opinion. I often ate it on my lunch break, but would usually add soy sauce and vinegar to give it a boost. That particular way of making miso soup was missing an essential element: a stock base.
With a bit of reading online, I learned that the traditional way to prepare miso is by adding it to a dashi stock. I’m sure most people already know this, but from what I read, there are a few variations of dashi that form the foundation for many Japanese dishes.
I read that the type of dashi commonly used for miso is made from kombu seaweed and bonito flakes (dried tuna). I was glad to find that out. If you want to keep vegan/vegetarian in a Japanese restaurant, it’s probably a good idea to ask whether they use any fish ingredients in their dashi broth.
For obvious reasons, I wasn’t interested in preparing a traditional-style dashi with bonito. Instead, I found this recipe, which suggests a vegetarian workaround for dashi stock by substituting either bean sprouts or mushrooms for the bonito. I went with the bean sprouts in this case; I thought it was an interesting idea and was curious to find out what sort of flavor the sprouts would impart…
...the dashi turned out very mild.
And as for the soup?...
I didn't have to add any soy sauce or vinegar to give it flavor; it was fairly tasty. But all said, I think I have a ways to go before I achieve that perfect bowl of miso soup that is subtley rich and beautifully balanced in flavor. In future, I think I'll be trying out some different brands of miso paste--as I'm sure they are not all created equal--and I'll work on producing a more flavorful dashi base.
Here's what I made:
6 cups vegetarian dashi (kombu and bean sprouts)
6 tablespoons miso (mixture of red and white)
firm tofu cut into small cubes and green onion finely chopped for garnish
1 cup arame seaweed (wakame is traditional, but I had arame in the cupboard)