Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vegetarian Dashi for Miso Soup

(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)

Roseann LaPonte
Rosanne Tobin


  1. A very zen post. 'scuze me while I go meditate on my mat....;-)

  2. Aww thanks, Rose. I try me best! I'm happy it all worked out in the end, too.

    This soup looks great! I'm definitely making this on a chilly night.

  3. SV,

    Yeah, I guess I have some inner zen sometimes...could use more of it though!


    I meant it very sincerely. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. hi rose, i keep leaving comments but i think tht i dont enter them in correctly, i left one on the last post and this one also the day it came out. i loved everything about this post!

    is POM the juice you were talking about?

  5. Hi Michelle and Lilly, and the rest of the gang!

    That happens to me sometimes too on other blogs. Thanks for finally came through.

    It was the POM juice...they say they don't do that anymore, but I'm not sure I trust people who would do that in the first place.

  6. did they contact you to do a review? they did me and i was thinking about it. you keep me on my toes.

  7. No, they didn't contact me...I haven't been following the whole thing for a's good you're looking into it...maybe they did reform their ways...keep me posted on anything you find out.

  8. Rose, I have a prize for you at my blog dated May 25th. Come on over and get it. :-)

  9. Konnichiwa, Rose! :-)

    I am an anarchist when it comes to making miso soup. I don't follow any recipe and no two batches are ever the same. All they ever have in common is water, red and yellow miso, and whole wheat soba noodles. Okay, and carrots and green onions and usually a sea veggie (kombu or wakame). I've never even added tofu to mine. Told you... anarchy. :-) But it always turns out tasty... except for the first time I made it, which was the first time I ever used miso in anything. I was clueless, so I added the miso along with everything else, and boiled it. ACK! I can state unequivocally that miso that's been abused like that will get its revenge. That stuff was naaaaaaasty!

    I am green with envy over your beautiful blue and white dragonfly bowl (and pretty coordinating chopsticks!) I love dragonflies, and your place settings are always exquisite!

    I wish you much luck and happy outcomes as you pursue the perfect miso soup! (If you need a taste-tester to help you out, just holler!) :-)


  10. Hi Laurie,

    I'm usually a bit of an anarchist in the kitchen too...but wanted to see if making a study of this was worth least I found out some fun facts about dashi...and let's face it, how bad can miso soup ever be? Well, from what you recount of your first long as you don't boil it that is...

    You should post about your Anarchist Miso Soup would make for a great post title! I bet anarchists do like it.

    I love my little dragonfly bowl too...I have to admit though, I bought the chopsticks (1 pair) specifically for this photo...the miso soup was their "christening" if you will. I'm (slowly) trying to improve my food photo skills (long overdue) and I read that appropriate props make an interesting difference, so thanks for the kind words of encouragement.

    Your taste-test offer is very tempting...Maybe we can rig up some sort of taste-test relay with homing pidgeons...we don't live all that far away....(Just kidding though, I wouldn't want to put any pidgeons to work like they might start spilling the soup on people as they flew overhead, which would be most unwelcome...unless you were some sort of miso soup anarchist that is...)

    Take care, and talk to you soon!

  11. Blessed Mama,

    I thanked you officially on your blog...but thanks again here...just for the record!

  12. Rose... I'd never heard of dashi before, but your mentioning it again in your comment made me follow your link to the recipe for it, and that in turn reminded me that in more recent times, I have added vegetable broth to my miso soup for added flavor. My own unimaginative, uninformed, western answer to dashi, apparently! :-) I like the idea of the shiitake mushroom broth... I have dried shiitakes around the house more often than I do sprouted soybeans. I'll have to try that next time!

    I actually have a photo of my miso soup in my stash, thinking one day I'd blog about it! Hadn't thought of that title for it, though... must keep that in mind!

    Your pretty matching chopsticks were worth the purchase... that really makes a lovely ensemble! The blues match so perfectly, how did you manage that?

    The homing pigeons couldn't spill any more soup on their flight between here and Seattle than I would spill on myself if I tried to eat soup with chopsticks! I'm clumsy enough with a spoon! :-)

    That's a funny visual ~ homing pigeons spilling soup on unwitting pedestrians below. I think if some liquid dropped on me from the sky, and I looked up to see a pigeon overhead, my first thought wouldn't be, "Ah, must be miso soup!" LOL


  13. Laurie,

    I think that is a genius insight about the veggie broth...and I do think shitakes would a lot more flavor than sprouts....definitely. I use a veggie broth powder sometimes that has nutritional yeast in doesn't have any oils or added salt like alot of them have...just dehydrated veggies and herbs with nutritional's ever so flavorful...I'm sure would make a wonderful addition to the soup...thanks for the insights! And do post about your soup; I'm sure it's absolutely yum!

    The blue chopsticks were a total chance happening...I bought them at Whole Foods, stopped there on the day I made the soup...they only had one type there...and those were them...they did was just luck...

    Or, maybe Japanese are just fond of blue ceramics...I always associate Portuguese ceramics for having a penchant for blue...Japan was a portuguese colony for a time afterall...I must look into that...

    Soup with chopsticks....I know, right? I went to a Japanese restaurant a week or so ago...and they served the miso with chopsticks...I was with my work colleagues...I was like..."hmmmm" well, apparently you're meant to sip the soup and use the sticks to aid with the larger bits like seaweed and tofu...who knew? Apparently, not I.

  14. Okay, Rose, you didn't come back to see my response to your comment, so I'm trackin' you down here! So, where exactly do you see a photo avatar, and how did I end up with one? Educate me, please! :-)

  15. Rose!!! I'm new to blogspot. I've joined and started a blog exploring health and wellness in the hope of meeting others striving towards a healthy vegan life style. I must say I love your blog. You seem to know soo much! I'm fustrated at this transition from a SAD. My husband is not a vegan and has no desire to become vegan(not yet anyways he he he). Doctors don't seem to support this decision when I ask for nutritional advice... how did you get started... do you have any websites or books you can recomend or maybe a recipes or two that may help me sway a few non vegan friends??
    Thanks for any input you may have!!! Have a beautiful day!!!!

  16. Hi ZEN,

    Nice to meet you and thanks for stopping by...I will definitely be visiting your blog soon. It must be a fair challenge to start down the vegan road when you have someone to cook for/or eat with who is not at all interested. Luckily, my husband and I are both committed to veganism...but take heart...there are a lot of people who have won over resistant partners through being gentle and persistant about it. At the end of the day, if you want to choose a vegan lifestyle, you shouldn't let anyone hold you back. It was the best decision I ever made...and I mean that!

    I've been vegan for quite a while, and it sort of came naturally after many many years as a vegetarian. My primary reason for being vegan is compassion for my fellow creatures.

    As for doctors, try to find a naturopathic in Seattle, we have the Bastyr center which is a natural health center, focused on natural healing/eastern medicines and the like. The doctors I've seen there actually promote a vegan diet! I hope you can find something similar in CA...I know CA is very open to those sorts of things.

    As for books or websites...I can recommend right off, my friend Alicia's blog...she made the transistion from omnivore to vegan with her husband in the last year or so...for health reasons...she is a nutrition maven and you'll get a lot of good insights and information from her blog:

    As for recipes, Ali's blog is great...also check out the other blog links in the sidebar of my blog...most of them are to vegan food blogs...there are so many creative and talented people out there, perusing their blogs will give you newly found inspiration and ideas for "wowing" non vegan friends/family.

    I think going vegan is a process of discovery...just hang in there, have fun, and enjoy...there are more and more of us around every day! And, from my experience, it's something you won't regret!

  17. I am reading on becoming vegan. Your blog is full of good information. This recipe sounds delish and easy!

    Great blog! Excellent pictures!

  18. Wild Magnolia,

    Thanks! Miso soup is simple, but delicious and sort of elegant really.
    As for becoming vegan, I can say it was one of the best things I've ever done...I was vegetarian for 17 years before I went completely vegan and man, I don't know why I waited so's so much fun! And if you eat a whole foods diet...really healthy.

    I'll be stopping by your blog soon!


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