Dashi, Japan’s traditional savory soup and cooking stock, requires minimal effort and 45 minutes or less to prepare. Yet it gives culinary staples such as miso soup a nuanced depth of flavor and an authentic taste. After learning the process for making Tofu Wakame Miso Soup during my recent Flavors of Japan Cooking Class, one student commented, “I always wondered why Miso Soup tastes so different in Japanese restaurants than it does at home.”
Dashi and miso provide the simple answer. Dashi provides the flavorful foundation. Most often made from kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes), dashi can also be made with just kombu, iriko (dried anchovies) or dried shiitake mushrooms.
Then the cook personalizes miso soup’s flavor by combining two or more different miso pastes. Lighter, more intense, richer, saltier—you, the cook, get to decide.
Miso soup guidelines
After you’ve made Miso Soup once, you may never again need a recipe. Learn some basics and you’re good to go on your own.
- Buy organic, refrigerated, unpasteurized miso to benefit from the beneficial bacteria.
- Cook any vegetables before you add the miso.
- The typical ratio is 1 tablespoon of miso for each cup of liquid.
- Add a couple of tablespoons of the hot broth into the miso. Whisk together until smooth. Turn the heat to low before stirring the miso into the soup.
- Never boil unpasteurized miso. Heat kills the beneficial lactobacillus bacteria which aid digestion.
- The darker the color of the miso, the longer it has fermented, the stronger the flavor.
- Combine different colors of miso for the flavor you prefer.
- Taste. If too strong, add more liquid. If too mild, add a little soy sauce or more miso (first dissolved in a little of the hot broth).
Miso – Japanese for “fermented beans”
This traditional Japanese seasoning almost always has a base of soybeans. Miso is essentially a fermented mixture of cooked soybeans, rice koji (the fermenting micro-organisms Aspergillus oryzae), salt, water and often another grain or legume. It can range in color and taste from mild and ivory to strongly flavored and a deep chestnut-brown.
White Miso (Shiro Miso): a large amount of white rice fermented along with a small amount of soybeans. White miso paste has the shortest fermentation time and a mild, slightly sweet and less salty taste.
Yellow Miso (Shinshu Miso): barley fermented with a small amount of rice and soybeans. Yellow miso paste is right in the middle. Not too strong, not too mild.
Red or Brown Miso (Aka Miso): a very high percentage of soybeans often fermented for a number of years. Red or brown miso paste has a concentrated and intense flavor. It is typically saltier than white or yellow miso.
Sea Vegetables (seaweeds) the next kale?
Fascinating how chef’s and journalists are on the lookout for the next underappreciated vegetable to follow in kale’s footsteps. And take the nation by storm. Brussels sprouts were the first contenders. Then came cauliflower. And now I’m reading articles and hearing comments that seaweed is, or soon will be, the next kale.
Widely enjoyed in Asia and some coastal European nations, sea vegetables/seaweeds are barely even known in the U.S. Other than nori, that is. For nori serves as the black wrapper around sushi rolls. Plus it has become a favorite snack food when roasted, oiled and salted.
More and more chefs are experimenting with sea vegetables and their many textures and oceanic flavor. That sea veggies are sustainably harvested and nutritional powerhouses increases their potential for wider usage and acceptance. Perhaps, even, as the next kale.
Today’s Tofu Wakame Miso Soup, Dashi and Sunomono – Japanese Cucumber Wakame Salad are easy and flavorful. Tasty dishes for introducing and enjoying sea vegetables in your diet.
Miso soup is an essential part of traditional Japanese breakfasts. And, often served for lunch or dinner as well. Tofu Wakame Miso Soup is the classic combination. For a heartier soup, other items can be added for color, texture and flavor as well. I occasionally include soba noodles (cooked separately), sliced shiitake mushrooms, carrots, daikon and/ or baby spinach.
Makes 4 servings Printer-Friendly Recipes
Start to Finish: 10 minutes
1/3 block organic firm tofu (4-5 ounces) cut into ¼-inch cubes
2 green onions thinly sliced on the diagonal
3 ½ cups dashi stock (recipe below)
1 ½ tablespoons dried ready-to-use wakame
3 ½ tablespoons miso (your choice of a single variety or a mixture)
- Heat the dashi in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. (Cook optional add-ins in the dashi now.)
- Stir in the tofu cubes and dried wakame. When heated through, reduce the heat to low.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the miso with ¼th cup of the hot broth until smooth. Stir this mixture into the soup. Remove the soup from the heat.
- Taste the soup. If it tastes too intense, add more dashi. If too mild, add a little soy sauce or more miso (first dissolved in a little of the broth).
- Ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish with the sliced scallions. Serve immediately.
Dashi is a seaweed and fish-based stock used as the foundation for many, many Japanese recipes. Whether for simmering, poaching, flavoring, marinating or for dipping sauces, stews and soups, dashi is an essential ingredient. The ingredients are simple—kombu (dried kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). Dashi can be made in advance and refrigerated up to a week.
There are two types of dashi.
- Ichiban dashi (primary dashi). Delicately flavored it is used for clear soups. This is the dashi regarded as the chef’s signature.
- Niban dashi (secondary dashi). With a stronger flavor as the kelp is simmered, this dashi is often used for miso soup as well as for everything but clear soups.
Note: I don’t know if this is traditional, but I combine both the primary and secondary dashi for making Tofu Wakame Miso Soup.
The key to good, clear dashi is not to boil it for more than a couple of seconds while kombu or bonito flakes are in it. Otherwise it becomes cloudy and bitter-tasting.
16 to 20 square inches dried kombu
6 cups water
1 cup loosely packed bonito flakes
- Place the kombu and water in a pot. For maximum flavor, soak the kombu for at least 15 minutes. (Some people say as long as overnight.) When the kombu has softened, use scissors to make a few cuts on each sheet of kombu. This helps the kombu release more of its flavor.
- Place the pot over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Just until small bubbles begin to break on the surface and at the edge of the pot.
- Remove the kombu and set aside for secondary dashi.
- Put the pot back on the heat and bring it to a boil. Drop the bonito flakes into the center of the stock. Immediately turn off the heat.
- Wait until the bonito flakes sink to the bottom of the pot. Larger flakes may take about 10 minutes. Then slowly strain the dashi through a fine strainer to remove the bonito flakes. Reserve the bonito flakes for secondary dashi.
Prepare secondary dashi immediately after making primary dashi.
- Place the reserved kombu and 6 cups of water in a pot. Cook at a very low simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the reserved bonito flakes and immediately turn off the heat. Strain the dashi and discard the kombu and bonito flakes.