Miso Soup


I was enjoying some homemade Thai food with my friend, Gigi, who remarked — in the context of my speech about how bad unfermented soyfoods are, especially industrially processed ones, and how they are put to shame by traditional, fermented soy products like tamari and especially miso — that she didn’t like miso soup.

“You don’t like miso?” I said, incredulous, wondering how that was possible. Then I remembered — probably the same reason lots of people think they don’t like lots of things: they’ve only ever had processed or poorly prepared simulacra of the real thing. So I asked about the miso she’d tried.

“Instant, you know,” she said. “What else?”

I sprang across the room and grabbed a tub of Miso Master red miso from the fridge. I put a saucepan of water on the stove. I began babbling about what a beautiful, artisanal, ancient food is miso. How tamari — soy sauce — originated as a byproduct of miso making, just the liquid pressed off as the mass of koji-cultured miso matures. How there’s red miso, brown, white, yellow, each with its complex flavor, heavenly aroma, distinct body.

“There’s a section about it in my Breakfast Book,” I continued, a little breathless with excitement, because of course I’m obsessed with and excited about everything in my new cookbooks, as I suppose (and hope) a new author should be. “It’s so great for breakfast. I say that it’s wonderful if you don’t want coffee in the morning, but you want a mug of something warm and nutritious and invigorating to wake up to. And so easy!”

When the water was piping hot, but not yet boiling, I tipped about 2 tablespoons of it into a mug. I spooned in about 2 teaspoons of the thick miso paste. I stirred it and mashed the fragrant paste against the side of the mug until it had dissolved into the water completely.

“You can’t just put it straight into the full serving of water, or you’ll never get it all dissolved,” I explained. “You need to have it in just a little water so you can get hold of it with the spoon enough to mix it totally in.”

Then I poured in enough water, boiling by now, to fill the mug. Finally, decided to divide this single portion between us. I divided it between two mugs, for us to share.

I hope you can see how close to instant real miso already is — why the notion of “instant” miso is such an industrial insult to the real thing. I mean, all you need to do is just mash the paste in a little water and then add the rest of the water. If you’re making soup, mash paste in a little water and add the whole thing to the pot at the end of the cooking. You never want to boil miso, because you’ll kill all the enzymes that make it such a wonderful living food. And it just doesn’t taste right after boiling. Some spark of bright, vital flavor is extinguished.

We sipped our miso. Gigi had the hoped-for reaction: so this is miso. She liked it!

The flavor of red miso is warm, soothing, with that kind of soul-satisfying impact that only real food can have, that palpable feeling of nourishment. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a plain cup of miso, even though I’d included it in the Breakfast Book, knowing from past experience how to prepare it and how good it was for a warm morning cuppa. It had been just long enough, I guess, that although I knew it was good, I’d forgotten the actual feeling. I must have had it thousands of times during my macrobiotic years. I reflected that it was probably because I have so many conflicted feelings about that time that I had resisted eating miso regularly since then.

Now that good miso feeling was back, and it washed over me with unexpected vigor.

Since that evening, guess what I’ve been waking up to? That’s right: a breakfast mug of miso.

Breakfast Mug of Miso

2 teaspoons real cultured miso paste, such as Miso Master brand, any variety*

boiling water

* Lighter colors are more delicate and almost sweet in flavor. Darker colors are darker, more robust and coarser in texture.

Place miso paste in a mug. Add about two tablespoons of hot water. Mash and stir until miso paste is completely dissolved. Fill mug the rest of the way with hot water.

When cool enough, sip and enjoy. Also enjoy looking at the cloud-like formations made by the fine particles of soybeans when the miso sits still for a while. I like gazing into the cup at them, and then stirring them away. Very pretty in a direct sunbeam.

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