When my wife figured out that she could make miso soup at home, I think she must have made it twice a week for a month. A staple of sushi restaurants of all kinds, miso soup can be enjoyed alone or paired with any Japanese or other Asian meal. Best of all, at its most basic level it contains only two ingredients and, once you have those ingredients, takes about as long to make as it takes to boil water.
To make miso soup, first you have to make dashi. Dashi is a kind of stock that is fundamental to Japanese cooking. It is made from kombu (a kind of seaweed), shaved bonito flakes and water. I normally obtain the required ingredients from Tokyo Mart at 91 Mulberry Street in Chinatown, but some Western supermarkets are starting to carry them (at inflated prices). Dashi takes about 50 minutes to make, almost all of that time passive, so I make it in huge batches (double the recipe below) and store it in containers in the freezer, measured out into 1-cup and 2-cup portions. Once your freezer is stocked with dashi, making miso soup is as simple as boiling the dashi and stirring in some miso. Dashi is also an integral ingredient in many other Japanese dishes and can stand on its own in applications such as dashi udon (recipe forthcoming).
A word of caution: as delicious as dashi is, bonito flakes STINK. Try not to keep the package open too long when using them. After you open the package, seal it as well as you can and put the whole package inside a ziplock bag, and seal the ziplock bag. If the package doesn’t re-seal, use two ziplock bags.
Don’t let this turn you off, though. Homemade miso soup is easy, delicious and worth it. And you don’t need to copy the neighborhood sushi restaurant with tiny cubes of tofu. Give yourself nice big slices. You deserve it.
- Place the kombu in a pot and cover with 2 quarts of water. (Note: do not wash the white salt coating off the kombu.) Bring the water to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Turn off the heat and add the bonito flakes. Let the dashi sit, covered, for 20 minutes.
- Strain the dashi over a bowl or another pot. Discard the kombu and bonito flakes. They have fulfilled their fishy destiny.
- Use the dashi immediately or store it in different-sized batches in labeled, sealed containers. It keeps in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- 1 cup dashi
- 1 tablespoon kombu
- Bring the dashi to a boil in a small pot. Turn the heat off and add the miso. Stir until the miso has dispersed. Do not boil the miso.
- If desired, add cubes of tofu, thinly sliced mushrooms and/or scallions before adding the miso and boil them for a minute or two in the dashi. A larger portion of this soup could even accommodate seafood (like crab meat) or noodles.
For information on where to obtain the ingredients for this and other Asian recipes, please see our guide to Food Shopping in Chinatown. Or you can get key ingredients here: