Wouldn’t you agree that culture has a significant impact on foods we eat? Miso soup is a staple Japanese dish that you’d find in almost every Japanese household and restaurant. Most of the recipes take less than 10 minutes to make. So far, does this sound like the kind of dish you’d like to try, with your busy life?
Last fall, I joined a local vegetarian cooking group that is organized by International Neighbors, a non-profit organization in Ann Arbor. It was so much fun to meet a group of lovely international ladies and share different food cultures. One of our Japanese friends, Midori, shared one of her favorite miso soup recipes at a meeting. It was simple and flavorful. She told me that sometimes she would just have miso soup and a bowl of rice for breakfast. Does that sound a lot different than the staple milk-cereal-toast breakfast in the western culture?
If you are open to trying different foods from different cultures, having a bowl of soup for breakfast is delightful. It gives you a lot of fluid that your body needs, low calories that your body appreciates (if you need to get or stay slim), and rich protein, if you add a few pieces of tofu in the soup.
What are the typical ingredients of miso soups?
The answer varies from regions, families, and seasons. So, there is no standard. You can add any kind of vegetables you like, to fit your family’s preference. My Japanese friend told me the most interesting ingredient she ever saw was tomato. What’s the most surprising ingredient you’ve seen?
Most of miso soups use a fish stock, called dashi in Japanese, as the base. However, for vegetarian/vegan option, using a stock that is made shiitake mushrooms and kombu kelp is an absolutely fantastic alternative. The ocean flavor of kelp combined with the woody and earthy taste of shiitake mushroom makes the vegetarian dashi complex and complete. In fact, you can’t go wrong with using it in any recipe that calls for dashi.
Of course, the most important ingredient is miso paste. Being a gluten-free person, I was always cautious when I ordered miso soup in restaurants. There might be hidden wheat ingredients in some miso paste. Luckily, many brands offer miso paste using rice or buckwheat instead of wheat. The one I always use is Hikari Miso. It‘s organic, gluten-free, and comes in both regular and low sodium.
After adding some napa cabbage, rehydrated lily flower, and miso paste into the shiitake-kombu kelp stock, this simple and healthy miso soup is almost ready to serve. In Chinese culture, soup is always the last dish in a meal. Since I’m Chinese with an American husband, I decided to compromise and have our bowls of warm miso soup as an appetizer; an American way to serve an Asian dish.
- 6 shiitake mushrooms (dried or fresh)
- ½ oz dried seaweeds
- 1 oz dried lily flowers
- 6 cups water
- 3 medium-size napa cabbage leaves
- 2-1/2 tablespoons miso paste
- 1 green onion, chopped
- In a bowl, soak dried shiitake mushrooms for at least 1 hour at room temperature until they are soft. If using fresh shiitake mushrooms, this step can be skipped.
- Soak dried seaweed and lily flowers in warm water for 10 minutes, separately. Rinse and drain well. Cut seaweeds into 1 × 2-inch slices. Trim the ends off the lily flowers.
- To make the Shiitake mushroom dashi: In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add the mushrooms and seaweeds to the boiling water and let it boil for 1 minute. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and let the stock simmer for 30 minutes. This step can be made ahead.
- Meanwhile, cut the napa cabbage leaves into 1 × 2-inch slices. Add the cabbage leaves and lily flowers into the dashi. Let it boil for 3 minutes until the cabbage is soft. Turn off heat, add miso paste, and stir to help the miso paste mix well.
- Garnish with green onion and serve hot.