One of my favorite rituals in Japan was beginning each meal with a small bowl of miso soup. Especially when served with breakfast, the elixir had a special way of warming and opening up my chest, getting me ready for the day. It was the best feeling. Miso soup was never served with a spoon, just chopsticks. To get the broth, you’d lift the bowl to your lips and sip. The whole time we were in Japan, I was excited to get home and make my own miso soup. I knew it was possible, because one of the Global Supper Club members made a fantastic version for our Japan dinner nearly a year earlier. The hardest part about making it is gathering the proper ingredients.
Two essentials are kombu and bonito flakes. Kombu is dried kelp. I bought mine at a market in Kyoto, but it is also available at Japanese markets or online. Bonito is very thin shavings of dried, smoked fish. They were shaving it fresh at the markets in Japan, but I bought mine online.
To make the soup, take out 4 pieces of the kombu, wet a cloth, and wipe the white sea salt off of the kombu. Add 8 cups of water to a large pot and add the kombu. Heat the pot until the water steams and gets a few bubbles, but do not let it boil. One of the themes I’ve noticed in Japanese cuisine is cooking foods very gently. Once the water heats to this stage, the kombu should have bloomed and started putting off a kind of sappy substance that adds viscosity and substance to the soup. Remove the kombu.
Add 1 large handful of bonito flakes to the pot, and give them a quick stir. Heat the soup just below boiling for about 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the bonito flakes sit for another 3 minutes.
Set a strainer over another pot, and pour the soup through. You now have a dashi! The liquid should be strikingly clear and pure looking.
To turn the dashi into miso soup, you’ll need some miso. I prefer white miso, also called shiro miso. Add 5 tablespoons of miso paste to a small bowl, spoon in some of the dashi, and stir it together so the miso thins out.
Then stir the miso into the soup in increments, tasting until you like the flavor.
Now it’s time to add the floaters. Tofu and green onions are classic. Shaved mushrooms are also nice. Thinly slice a few green onions. Place a block of tofu on a cutting board, stack some heavy plates on top, and angle the cutting board so that excess liquid in the tofu drains away. This will help the tofu absorb the miso soup’s flavor. Slice half of the tofu block into small cubes, and add them to the soup, along with the onions. Let the soup steam- never boil- for about 20-30 minutes.
To serve the miso soup, sprinkle a large pinch of wakame (dried seaweed) into the bottom of a small bowl, then ladle in the soup. Stir with the chopsticks, sip from the bowl, and pick out pieces…ahhh.
- Kombu- 4 pieces
- Bonito flakes- 1 large handful
- Miso paste- 5 tablespoons
- Green onions- 3-4
- Tofu- 1/2 block