What is better than soup in the winter time? On cold mornings, I love a cup of miso soup for breakfast and, since our local sushi joint isn’t open at 7:00 a.m., I was happy to find out how easy it is to make it at home. This discovery was especially fortuitous, because our oldest daughter went through a bit of a miso soup phase last year, asking for it nearly every day for lunch, which we were all too happy to oblige as an alternative to pasta and sandwiches. Of course, as these things happen with fickle 9-year olds, she has lost her enthusiasm for the soup this year, but we are hoping she will come around now that we are in the habit of making it on a regular basis, which isn’t so bad as habits go.
To make a good miso soup, the first think you have to have is dashi, the simple fish stock that is the foundation of many a Japanese dish. The basic ingredients are kombu (dried kelp) and katsuoboshi (bonito flakes), both of which are high in that mysterious “fifth flavor” that the Japanese refer to as Umami (うま味). Discovered in 1908 by scientist, Kikunae Ikeda (who also patented MSG -umami’s evil twin), this savory flavor is not exactly sweet, sour, bitter or salty. It’s simply…. umami, the only flavor to have its own official information center dedicated to spreading the word about how awesome it is. The Umami Center’s website has everything from academic research on the science of taste to a recipe database for umami-rich dishes from around the globe.
Unlike other stocks that require hours of simmering, making dashi takes less than an hour and it is worth making a large amount to freeze. Kombu and bonito are now pretty easy to come by, with many grocery stores carrying the Eden Foods brand. If you can’t find them locally, they are easy to order online.
When you know you are going to make some weekend dashi, make sure to have at least 2 packages of kombu and a large package of bonito on hand. When Sunday morning rolls around, pull out your stock pot, and a kitchen scale if you have one. To start, you will need about 90 g of kombu which is roughly 1 1/2 packages of the Eden brand. Place it in the bottom of a large stock put and measure out 18 cups of cold water (4 1/2 quarts). Add the water to the kombu and bring to a boil. While you are waiting for the water to boil, measure out 30 grams of bonito. A lot of bonito comes in 5 gram packages, which makes it easy – just use 6 of those. Once your kombu has boiled, turn off the flame and sprinkle the bonito into the pot, stirring a bit to make sure it all gets submerged. Wait about 3-5 minutes and strain through a cheesecloth. Voilà! You have just made a little over a gallon of Dashi.
What I like to do is use one pint of the dashi to make some miso soup, tout de suite, and portion out the rest for freezing. For this, you will need 8 pint containers. Pour out the broth accordingly and let it cool before covering to freeze. Stock your freezer with gorgeous dashi and feel secure in your access to miso soup.
A few days later, you will wake up. It will be cold and you will crave a warm and savory breakfast. You are in luck! Just grab a pint of dashi from your freezer and put it in a saucepan. As it melts, take some dried wakame and soak it in a bit of warm water. While it rehydrates, chop some scallions and tofu. Once the dashi has melted and is sufficiently warm, add a tablespoon or so of miso (don’t boil the miso or it will destroy everything that is good about it). Then add the tofu and scallions and simmer for a few minutes. This whole process takes just 10-15 minutes. If you want a heartier soup, consider adding soba noodles, some cooked brown rice, or shiitake mushrooms. Sip it for breakfast or pack it for lunch. Revel in the umami.
Makes 18 cups.
Place the kombu in a large stock put and cover with 4 1/2 quarts of cold water. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Sprinkle in the bonito, stirring very gently to make sure it is submerged. Let sit for 3-5 minutes. Strain through a cheese cloth. Let it cool and pour into pint sized containers to freeze.
Defrost frozen dashi in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Place dried wakame in warm water to rehydrate for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add miso paste, stirring to make sure it dissolves. Add wakame, scallions, and tofu for a traditional miso soup or trick it out with optional ingredients. Get creative!