Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Miso Hungry

I have always loved Miso soup, but I am not a fan of the fishy flavor it can often have which is created by dashi - a traditional Japanese soup stock or powder, some of which is made by sardines, though there are also vegetarian varieties. I decided to make my own version. Since I did not have any dashi on hand, that makes mine a non-traditional version, but delicious nonetheless. This version may be a little richer or deeper in flavor than what you normally get at most restaurants, however it is still reminiscent of traditional miso soup flavor. I also added fresh asparagus for a little crunch and a bit of garlic for some extra flavor.

The two main ingredients in my miso soup are vegetable broth and of course, miso paste. You can get miso at pretty much any Asian market and many specialty food stores. A good place to check out miso in many of the different varieties is Uwajimaya - an Asian market grocery chain. This is where I have seen the largest variety and where I purchased mine which is of a yellow color. It often comes in large tubs, but keeps for a long time in the refrigerator. You can add miso to soups, dressings and marinades or anything else you desire.

In my research I found that there is a plethora of information about the world of miso. Two things of which are dashi and koji. Both of these are extremely important elements in making traditional miso soup, however to prevent myself from giving you an entire book about the process, I decided to limit it to a few basics. I have listed some websites that where helpful in my research in case you would like to learn more about them too.

What is Miso?
Miso is a fermented soy bean, rice or barley paste common in Japanese cuisine. It comes in different varieties depending upon the region in which it comes from. The most common are: Red, White, Barley and Soybean miso. So far I have only tried the soybean kind. The one I purchased by Hanamaruki brand is yellow in color and has a mild, salty flavor. However, depending on the kind you get the flavor can vary from mild, to sweet, to intense.

What is Dashi?
According to Wikipedia and there are three kinds of dashi.
-Kombu dashi stock is made by soaking kelp, or sea tangle, in water.
-Niboshi dashi stock is made by pinching off the heads and entrails of small dried sardines, to prevent bitterness, and soaking the remains in water.
-Shiitake dashi stock is made by soaking dried shiitake mushrooms in water.

What is Koji?
- rice or soybeans cultivated with mold spores known as koji-kin which is then added to the miso process to help with fermentation. Koji is not only limited to miso, but is an important element in many japanese cuisine items including sake, mirin and soy sauce.

I hope you find this information helpful and inspiring in your own culinary adventures. Happy eating! your foodie friend Rachel :D

Check out my vegetarian Miso soup in the next post.

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