The times we’ve had miso soup we’ve always been disappointed. It’s generally too salty and tastes greasy, with chunks of soft tofu (maybe we haven’t had good miso soup), but we do like having a small amount of vegetables in a thin, but rich-tasting, broth. So, what did we do? Well, we stopped ordering miso soup, for one, and we made this soup, which has all the qualities we like about miso soup, with none of the qualities we don’t like.
And you know what? It’s easy. In fact, you could probably scratch up a batch with 10 minutes’ work. Sounds good, right? Well, it tastes better. The only part of this recipe that came from somewhere other than our brains was the idea of pairing the kombu and the shiitake, which we read about somewhere. Where? At this juncture, we’re not sure.
Makes 4-6 servings.
Kombu? What the heck is that? Well, it’s a type of seaweed and you’ll be able to find it at Asian markets, health food stores, etc. It’ll be expensive by the pound, but you won’t need much, and one piece 12 to 16 inches long will only cost a buck or so. For dried shiitake mushrooms, you can look in Asian markets, or do as we do, order online. A pound of dried shiitakes (about 100) will be under $20. For soy sauce, we stopped buying the salt water and caramel color that a national brand passes off as soy sauce years ago. Today, we’re partial to the San-J brand Tamari, but try a few different kinds to see which you like best. Finally, for broth, we make our own, using whatever vegetable scraps we collect during the week, if you don’t make it yourself, use a low-salt or no-salt version that’s mostly clear (not like a purée of vegetables).
Procedure in detail:
Cook onion. Heat the oil in a large saucepan (about 3-quart) over high heat. When hot, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Don’t let the onion or garlic burn, or you’ll have a bitter taste to your soup. Yuck!
Add broth, kombu, and shiitake. Why do we use kombu and shiitake? Well, both of these are packed with umami — that savory flavor — which is considered the fifth flavor (with bitter, salt, sour, sweet, being the other four). We think this is what gives miso soup its distinctive taste.
Simmer. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat, then simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes to extract the flavors from the kombu and shiitake. If you taste it while it simmers, it might taste quite bland, but don’t worry.
Remove kombu and shiitake. Scoop out the kombu and discard. It’s done its duty. The shiitake can still do a little more, so scoop it out, cut off and discard the tough stem, and chop it into pieces about 1/4-inch on a side. Return the shiitake pieces to the soup.
Add vegetables and soy. Stir in the tatsoi pieces, the mushroom slices, and the soy sauce. Let the soup simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, to cook the mushrooms and the greens.
Add noodles. Bring to a boil, not a rolling boil, but a gentle boil, and stir in the noodles. Rice noodles would be perfect, but we didn’t have any, so we went with a thinly-cut egg noodle. If you’re really ambitious, you can make the noodles yourself. Let the soup boil until the noodles are cooked, probably about 10 minutes, depending on the noodle.
Season. Taste the broth and add salt and pepper as needed. The amount will vary with the type of broth and soy sauce that you used; that’s why we don’t bother recommending a particular amount.
Serve. Ladle into bowls immediately, top with a few pieces of green onion (we didn’t have any, so our soup didn’t get the garnish treatment), and enjoy.
This is a great Asian-style soup. I’m sure that real Asian cooks reading this will find numerous faults with the recipe, and have many, many suggestions to make this more nuanced and balanced, but, we’d say that for a soup you can have on the table in under an hour, it’s quite good. It’s only as salty as you want to make it, has no soft tofu, and doesn’t taste greasy. Just as we promised, we got rid of all the things we don’t like about miso soup. What we kept was the thin, flavorful broth, and the sparse amount of vegetables, essentially the best parts; plus, we added a few noodles, which are favorites of ours in soup (or out of soup, for that matter). Four stars.