If you have ever been to Japan or even to just a Japanese restaurant, you can be sure that you will see miso soup being served at some point. Miso soup contain sufficient levels of vitamin K, which is usually created in the intestines to help regulate blood flow and blood clotting. The miso in miso soup also has manganese which produces an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals and aids in energy production.

The soup also contains high levels of zinc that is used throughout the body to regulate many things such as cell division, taste and smell function, and immune response. The zinc in miso makes it a very popular choice of soup when one is feeling under the weather. Miso soup is to Japan as chicken noodle is to the western world. Unlike with chicken soup, you can sit for hours taste testing miso soup to try and guess the ingredients, but you never will.

miso soup

Making the Dashi

One of the main reasons you will never be able to learn the ingredients by taste is the dashi, or sea stock, used to make it. While the dashi is a sea stock, it should not taste fishy if prepared right. When making a dashi from scratch, you will be surprised to know that it does not start out with miso at all.

It starts with kelp (also known as konbu)!

When preparing a dashi from scratch, you should add one part or the dried crackly seaweed to about one cup of water. Depending on how much stock you want to make. A large pot of stock will have about 10 cups water and 10 sheets of seaweed. When cooking the stock, you must be careful to bring the water just near a boil, but never boil it. Most chefs believe this ruins the flavor. This rule is especially important when you add the actual miso as the boiling water will kill the active enzymes and mess with the flavor and nutritional benefits.

After the kelp is soft and the water is steaming near a boil, it is time to add the bonito flakes. Bonito flakes are made with a process that may or may not put you off your appetite. Fisherman often catch a fish called skipjack tuna, which is not good for much else besides making bonito flakes. So it is sent to chefs who smoke it for about 20 days, inject it with mold, lock it in a box for another two weeks, scrape off the mold and add new mold, lock it up again, and after a few more times of this, it comes out looking a lot like a piece of bark ready to be scrapped into paper thin shavings.

Fun factoid aside, when it is time to add the bonito flakes turn off the heat and add about two and a half cups to the water. Let this set for about five minutes then strain the dashi into a bowl to remove the kelp and fish flakes.

Now you have your stock! To forgo all this pain and suffering, they also make dashi in granules so you can just add some to water, but where is the fun in that?

Japanese Hon Dashi Bonito Fish Soup Stock - 2.29 oz x 2 bottles
Amazon Price: $6.97 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 15, 2013)
Dashi granuales, in case you do not want to make the stock from scratch.

Adding the Miso

Now after the painstaking process of making the stock is done. It is time to add the miso. If you do not plan to eat the soup right away, just store the dashi in the fridge. It keeps quite well, but prepared miso soup does not.

After you have strained your dashi, put the stock on very low heat. Laddle a small bit of stock into another bowl and whisk in a few chunks of miso until smooth. Add this broth back to the stock. You can do this as many times as you want until you get the correct taste.

There's also a fun factoid about miso that may put you off your appetite too. It, like the bonito flakes, contains an awful lot of mold. Miso is essentially soybean and rice paste that ages for a long time. Yummy!

Honzokuri Low Salt Miso 26.4 Oz
Amazon Price: $5.78 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 15, 2013)
Miso paste, and low salt too! Miso can be hard to find if you do not have an Asian grocer in town.

The Finishing Touches

Now that you essentially have miso soup, it is time to add all the solid ingredients that add texture to the watery soup. You can start by adding some wakame seaweed to your stock. This is dried seaweed that is different from the kelp you used to make the stock. When it goes into miso soup is expands and softens almost immediately.

You will also need some tofu. It is recommended that you 'press' your tofu to get the excess liquid out. This helps it absorb more miso soup.

Top this all off with some chopped leeks or green onions and viola! You can also add things like mushrooms and egg to the soup if you want.

Kikkoman Instant Tofu Miso Soup (Soybean Paste Soup with Tofu) -(9 Pockets in 3 Packs) (3.15 Oz)
Amazon Price: $8.75 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 15, 2013)
Miso soup, just add water. In case you really just want soup but don't want to make it.