You are probably familiar with miso soup as the light salty broth often served in sushi restaurants before the nori rolls. It has long been used in Asian cooking, primarily in Japan, as a highly nutritious flavoring made from fermented soybeans (sometimes in combination with rice, barley or wheat). The process of fermentation increases the nutritional value with additional B vitamins, enzymes and probiotics. It is easy to work with and should be a regular in every kitchen.
My first impression of miso was a memorable one. I was a young teen and my parents had recently decided to follow the macrobiotic diet. I came downstairs one night looking for a snack when I discovered an unfamiliar dark brown paste in the refrigerator which looked, to my tired and undiscerning eyes, remarkably like chocolate paste. Ready to receive a spoonful of something akin to Nutella, my tongue jerked is horror when it tasted an outrageously salty tablespoon of miso!
Miso (along with other probiotic foods, discussed further here), is a healthy additional to any diet, and is essential during and after a course of antibiotics. The immune system starts in the gut, so to be in good health, you’ve got to start there. Full of “friendly” bacteria which aid in digestion as well as form the first line of defense against undesirable bugs, the gut and its bacterial staff need regular upkeep, and require a full restaffing after an antibacterial wave has washed through. As more and more people are prescribed frequent courses of antibiotics, the need for additional probiotics in our diet has increased.
In addition to probiotics, miso contains more available isoflavones (the nutrients credited with cancer prevention) than unfermented soy, as well as protein, antioxidants, vitamins B and K, and several minerals including zinc.
Vegetable Miso Soup with Tofu
This is a very flexible recipe. You can easily substitute with vegetables you have, you can omit some or you can add noodles or rice to make it a complete meal.
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1-2 onions, sliced in thin half circles
- 1-2 leeks, thoroughly washed and thinly sliced
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2-3 carrots, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup corn kernels
- 1 small daikon radish, thinly sliced
- 2-3 shiitake mushrooms (fresh or dried), thinly sliced
- 6 cups water
- 1 package firm organic tofu*, cut into small cubes
- 2 tablespoons dried wakame seaweed
- 1 splash of tamari* (soy sauce)
- 1/4 cup organic miso paste*
- 1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
- Warm oil in large soup pan. Sauté onions and leeks until soft.
- Add garlic, carrots, corn, daikon, mushrooms (and/or other vegetables you want to use) for a quick sauté. Add water and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- Add tofu, seaweed and tamari and simmer another 2-3 minutes.
- Scoop 1/2 cup of broth out of soup pot and use it to dissolve miso paste to make a strong miso broth.
- With the heat under soup pot turned off, mix in miso broth. Adjust to taste with additional tamari and/or miso. Serve warm garnished with sliced scallions.
- If you need to reheat miso soup, keep the temperature just under a boil, since boiling miso will reduce its many health benefits.
* A note about soybeans and soybean products. I strongly encourage purchasing organic soy. Soy is a very commonly genetically modified crop, and the only way to be sure you are getting a real food is to select organic versions.