I always keep a tub of miso in my refrigerator. I like to have it at the ready when I need a quick and easy Asian-style ingredient to richen the flavour of something such as a salad dressing, marinade, glaze or, of course, a soup.
Miso is a savoury paste made from cooked and mashed soybeans fermented with salt and koji, a yeast-like mould. It’s also made with other ingredients, such as rice and barley, or a blend of ingredients.
Those ingredient variables and how long the miso is fermented explain why miso comes in a range of styles, from light to dark in colour, to mild and pungent in flavour.
The types of miso I keep on hand are milder-tasting ones — the kind of miso that will add a nice base flavour and intriguing taste that complements the other ingredients in the dish, not overpower them.
These milder-tasting types of miso include shiro miso, also called white miso, although it is often more yellow in colour. Shiro miso has a lower salt content and a sweeter taste than longer-aged types.
Another milder type of miso is Genmai miso, also known as brown rice miso, a main ingredient.
One B.C. maker, Amano Foods in Richmond (amanofoods.ca), describes its Genmai miso as having a subtle, nutty flavour that offers minerals, fibres and nutrients found in prepared brown rice.
You will find these types of miso for sale at Japanese food stores and some supermarkets.
For today’s recipe, I added miso to a main-course, vegetarian soup, stocked with tofu, rice, mushrooms and vegetables. It will make a comforting dinner on a cool October night.
When adding the miso to the soup, you’ll notice I did so near the end of the cooking process. I did that because extending cooking can cause miso to lose some of its flavour — something that is particularly true if you boil miso.
Miso Soup With Rice, Tofu, Mushrooms and Vegetables
This is an easy-to-make version of miso soup that’s also flavoured with ginger, garlic and soy. You can use rice left over from another meal.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: about 10 minutes
Makes: four servings
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water (divided)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
5 oz. oyster mushrooms, tough lower stem trimmed off and discarded, upper portion thickly sliced lengthwise (see Eric’s options)
1 small to medium carrot, halved lengthwise, and then thinly sliced widthwise
3 Tbsp white (shiro) miso or Genmai (brown rice) miso
2 baby bok choy, trimmed, washed and coarsely chopped
2 cups cooked, warm white or brown rice (see Note)
1 (300 g) tub soft or medium tofu, drained and cubed
2 green onions, thinly sliced
• hot chili sauce, such as sriracha, to taste (optional)
Combine the stock, 3/4 cup of the water, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, mushrooms and carrot in a pot set over medium to medium-high heat. Bring to simmer, and cook for five minutes.
Combine the miso and remaining 1/4 cup water in a bowl and mix until well blended. Pour miso mixture into the soup and stir until it is fully incorporated. Add bok choy and cook two to three minutes more, or until just tender. Cover and reserve the soup on low heat.
Divide the rice and tofu among four deep soup bowls. Ladle the soup into the bowls and sprinkle with green onions. Serve the soups, if desired, with hot chili sauce, for spooning into the soup and giving it a spicy kick.
Note: If you use rice left over from another meal in this recipe, warm it in the microwave before setting in the soup bowls.
Eric’s options: If desired, you can replace the oyster mushrooms with another type, such as brown mushrooms or shiitake. If four servings of soup are too many for you, you can freeze the extra portions to thaw, reheat and enjoy at another time. I would freeze it in single-serving portions.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.