Say hello to your newest cold-weather best friend! Miso soup is that salty, savory broth, dotted with green scallions and silky tofu, served at most Japanese restaurants before the sushi trays arrive. Making it at home is one of the simplest and most satisfying ways to treat yourself during the frigid winter months. Here's how to make miso soup in just a few easy steps.
The Secret to Restaurant-Style Miso Soup
That elusive flavor that you can't quite name? The one that makes you crave sip after sip? It's dashi. Japanese dashi is a very simple broth made from kombu, a dried seaweed, and dried bonito fish flakes. The kombu and the bonito are rich with umami and give this simple soup an extra layer of savory flavor.
→ Vegetarian Tip: If you're vegetarian, use the kombu in your dashi, but skip the bonito flakes.
Making dashi takes just a few minutes — a bit of extra time that's totally worth it for the trade off in flavor. When making it, be sure to remove the kombu before the water comes to a boil; boiling the kombu can give the broth a bitter flavor and slimy texture. You can also make the dashi ahead of time and keep it in the fridge for up to a week or so. (It also freezes beautifully.)
What Kind of Miso?
Miso is obviously the central ingredient to making miso soup. It is a fermented paste that's usually made from soybeans, but can also be made from brown rice, barley, and many other grains and legumes. It has a deeply savory, salty flavor — very intense on its own, but perfect when mixed into a little hot dashi.
For restaurant-style miso, use red miso made from soybeans. If you like that flavor, try branching out into white miso (milder and sweeter), yellow miso (earthy-flavored), or any other kind of miso you find and feel like trying!
Where to Find Ingredients?
Happily, in the past few years, ingredients like miso, kombu, and bonito flakes have become much more available. An Asian grocery store is always your best bet for the freshest and best variety of ingredients. Whole Foods stores also carry a few varieties of miso and usually stock kombu and bonito flakes. Also look in the "international" section of your local grocery store — you might be surprised what they carry! If you're having trouble finding ingredients, you can always find them online.
Online Sources for Miso Soup Ingredients
For miso soup, you need miso, silken tofu, and scallions. For the broth, use dashi, chicken or vegetable broth, or plain water.
How To Make Miso Soup
Makes 2 cups
What You Need
For the dashi (or substitute 2 cups water, chicken broth, or vegetable broth):
2 cups water
2-inch piece kombu (dried black kelp)
1/2 cup loosely packed dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi), optional
For the miso soup:
4 ounces (1/4 block) silken or firm tofu
1 to 2 scallions
2 tablespoons red or white miso paste
Measuring cups and spoons
1-quart (or larger) saucepan
Whisk or dinner fork
Make the dashi: (See step-by-step instructions: How To Make Dashi): Combine the water and kombu in a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Remove the kombu just as the water starts to come to a boil. Add the bonito flakes, if using, and let the water come to a rapid simmer. Simmer for about 1 minute, then remove the pan from heat and let the bonito steep for an additional 5 minutes. Strain the bonito from the dashi. Add additional water if necessary to make 2 cups. Alternatively, substitute 2 cups water, chicken broth, or vegetable broth.
Prepare the tofu and scallions: Cut the tofu into very small cubes, 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch on each side. Slice the scallions very thinly.
Bring the broth to a rapid simmer: Pour the dashi or broth back into the saucepan and bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat.
Mix the miso with 1/2 cup hot broth: Place the miso in a small ramekin or measuring cup. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the broth and pour it over the miso. Whisk with a dinner fork or whisk until the miso is entirely dissolved in the water and no lumps remain.
Pour the miso into the broth: Pour the dissolved miso into the simmering broth.
Add the tofu: Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the tofu to the miso. Simmer just enough to warm the tofu, 1 to 2 minutes. Do not boil the miso once the tofu has been added.
Add the scallions: Just before serving, scatter the scallions over the top of the soup.
Serve in individual bowls: Pour the miso into individual bowls and serve. Miso is best when served fresh. It will settle a bit as it sits in the broth; whisk briefly with chopsticks or a spoon to mix the soup again.
- Any type of miso can be used to make miso soup. Restaurants typically use red miso to make their miso soup.
This post has been updated. Originally published October 2006.
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(Image credits: Emma Christensen)