05 October 2009

Vegan Miso Soup

I adapted this miso soup from The Voluptuous Vegan, by my hero, Myra Kornfeld. And wouldn'tcha know, it's souper easy! Har har.

When picking some miso paste for yourself, read the ingredients carefully to make sure that there isn't anything suspicious lurking in there. In my miso paste lurk nothing more suspicious than soybeans, rice, salt, and water, but if you have MSG sensitivites you should watch out for "aji no moto," which is MSG. You also have options on the color of the miso; generally you can buy white, golden-brown, or red. White miso is sweeter and lighter in flavor while red miso is earthier and intense. After some experimentation, I decided to just buy the yellow-brown miso because it serves more of an all-purpose function; recipes that call for white or red miso do just fine with a substitution of yellow miso, but the reverse is not always true.

I've also found that bags of miso are a pain for me to deal with because miso is so sticky, so I always buy miso in a box. Currently my favorite brand is Honzukuri Genen Shinshu. You probably don't want as much miso as you're going to have to buy, but if it's any comfort, I've never seen miso paste go bad. It lasts at least 3 years in the refrigerator, so if you like miso soup, you're pretty much set with just one box.

By the way, shiitake mushrooms make you bleed gold doubloons in American grocery stores but they're quite affordable at Asian grocers. The same goes for almost all of the ingredients in the miso soup, so why not support a local business and save a little more towards retirement?

Miso Soup

1 piece of kombu kelp about the length and width of your hand, rinsed
8 or so dried shiitake mushrooms, medium size, rinsed
1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped, quartered, or sliced
2 Tablespoons mirin
2 Tablespoons low-sodium or usukuchi shoyu/ soy sauce (gluten-free brands are San-J, Eden Organic, Hy-Vee, or Walmart's Great Value)
8 Cups water

3 Tablespoons miso paste

Put all, except for miso paste, together in a pot. This combination of stuff is a vegan dashi, or Japanese soup base, and you can use it in a lot of recipes that call for dashi. Bring to a boil, then simmer 45 minutes or until 1/4 of the liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat. Strain out the solids, stir in the miso paste. Serve while the miso still billows in golden clouds.

Before adding solids to your miso soup, check out this post at Just Hungry, a great blog with lots of information about Japanese home cooking. For authentic day by day variations go to Yasuko-san's [daily] menu and read her miso soup additions for breakfast and lunch every day. You won't be sorry.

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