We’ve just returned from our trip to Japan, and, though, this wasn’t our first visit, I am overwhelmed with emotions. Not to mention my suitcase that was so overpacked with Japanese treats, that I had to buy another one.
Japan has been always fascinating me with its culture, architecture, traditions, hospitality and of course, its cuisine. Japanese people are known for their high life expectancy. They attribute their longevity to their diet and lifestyle. They eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, grains and such products as seaweed, miso paste and other fermented products, which are particularly brimming with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and probiotics. They like to prepare their food from scratch using only local and seasonal products. After careful observation I have decided to prepare a star dish of Kaiseki Ryori (traditional multi-course dinner) – Miso Soup, my take on it.
Traditionally, in Japan, miso soup is served with little side dishes and rice. Therefore, even a common lunch or dinner may consist of 6-7 dishes. But at home, the Japanese often add to their soup everything they have at hand. It may be yesterday’s soba, rice or udon, leftover vegetable salad, or whatever they like. The beauty of this dinner lies in its simplicity of preparation and nutritional value.
For example, one of the main ingredients of this dish is miso paste – fermented soya product. Now days there are many varieties of miso. Grains such as soybeans, rice, buckwheat, chickpea, barley etc are mixed with sea salt and fermentation culture koji-kin. Miso is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and microorganisms that enhance digestion. This wonderful paste is considered to be a live food, so it is advisable not to add it into boiling water in order to avoid damaging its nutritional components. Add the paste towards the end of cooking process.
Kombu (kelp) seaweed is another component of Miso soup. Unlike our meat or vegetable stocks, the Japanese use seaweeds, dried mushrooms or bonito flakes make Dashi – soup stock. The stock on the basis of Kombu is very common, and it can be made using one of two ways. Either the kelp is soaked in water overnight or cooked for 20-30 minutes on low heat just until the water starts boiling, after that the kelp is removed as if boiled its taste can become very strong and unpleasant.
Kombu kelp, like many other algae, has great nutritional value, and is an excellent source of minerals and antioxidants. Sure, if you can’t get your hands on Kombu, you can do without it.
Kombu and miso paste are the main ingredients in miso soup, as for all other ingredients, they are just a matter of taste. Here’s what you can add to your miso soup:
Noodles: pre-boiled soba, udon or glass noodles will be an excellent addition to the soup. The main thing is to remember that all of these 3 types of noodles must be pre-boiled in plain water, avoid adding them to the soup, as it will spoil its flavor of the miso soup. Divide your noodles among bowls and top with miso soup.
Root vegetables: beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, etc.
Brassicas: cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts, purple cabbage, kale, beet greens etc. It is important not to overcook vegetables, they must be a little crunchy, to retain the maximum benefit.
Protein: eggs or tofu. The Japanese often add an egg omelet into miso soup, but soft-boiled or hard-boiled eggs are also fine. Both types of tofu (soft and hard) can be an ideal complement to miso soup, but if you are using soft tofu, it is better to add it at the end, so that it doesn’t fall apart.
Serve your miso soup topped with nori flakes, roasted sesame seeds, lime or lemon juice.
Your imagination is the only limit to what you can come up with!