Essentials of Japanese Cooking: ?Making Delicious Miso Soup

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Miso soup is a vital, versatile part of Japanese cuisine. It can be served for breakfast, mixed with a bit of tofu and wakame seaweed. It can be part of a complete ichiju-sansai meal, served as the soup course. It can be served as part of a fancy meal, with crab legs and clams, or it can be served just by itself.

No matter how it is served, it is part of the soul of Japanese food.

Tofu Misoshiru is one of the most common forms of miso soup found in Japan and abroad. It is made by heating dashi stock with ingredients such as tofu and green onions, until the soup comes to a simmer. While the soup is simmering, a small amount of miso paste is dissolved in a separate bowl using a small amount of the warmed dashi. Once the dashi, tofu and green onions are cooked, the heat is turned off and the miso mixture is added into the soup, imparting protein, probiotics, umami and a lovely flavor. Dried, cut wakame seaweed is added at the end, just before serving, to round out the soup.

Making miso soup is deceptively simple, however, creating a truly delicious soup requires sensitive attention to the quality of ingredients and how the soup is prepared. As Rochelle Bilow, a writer for Bon Apetit, states, “With a soup that requires so few ingredients, the quality of each one really matters.” Using subpar miso paste and instant dashi detracts from the richness of a well-made miso soup. Similarly, using firm tofu in the soup detracts from the texture and mouthfeel of the soup. When adding vegetables, such as daikon or carrots or mushrooms to the soup, it’s important to slice them thinly and in small pieces and let them cook to tenderness in the soup’s liquid. Similarly, it’s important to balance the “heavy” ingredients, such as potatoes and tofu, with the “light” ingredients, such as scallions and seaweed, in the soup. Too much of one or the other affects the pleasure of eating the soup.

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Dissolving the miso in broth to remove lumps

How the miso is added to the soup mixture is one of the most important aspects of making delicious miso soup. Miso is made from fermented soybeans, and through the fermentation process, becomes full of beneficial bacteria and active cultures. Adding miso paste to the soup mixture while it is on the flame may kill these good bacteria and cultures and diminishes umami. Miso should be dissolved in a bit of broth first to remove any lumps and then added to the soup once the other ingredients have cooked. Then just before the soup returns to a simmer, turn off the heat.

Following these rules is the best way to make miso soup. But as with many Japanese foods, miso soup is versatile and adaptable. You can use different types of miso paste, from white, yellow, to red. A variety of vegetables can be added to the soup, including chard, carrots, radishes, mushrooms, sea vegetables, onions and potatoes. A variety of seafood can be added to the soup, including fish and crustaceans. Even noodles, such as udon, can be also be added to the soup.

Whatever way it’s made, miso soup is a staple in Japanese cuisine. Tell us how you make it!

 

Japanese Street Food:? Ramen

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Street food.

All over the world, cities are famous for iconic foods served on sidewalks, along canals, at festivals and in parks. With a reputation for providing excellent, cheap, fast food, street food vendors unite people across all cultures—from hot dogs in New York City to pav bhaji in Mumbai to coxinha in Sao Paolo. Japan offers a rich street food culture with many vendors, called yatai, setting up their two-wheeled carts during meal times to serve savory, sweet and flavorful dishes to customers.

One of the most popular street food dishes in Japan is ramen. While most people think of ramen as a quintessentially Japanese dish, it was originally brought to Japan from China in the mid-1800s. Made of wheat flour, salt, plain water and kansui (a type of alkaline water which gives the noodles their bounciness and yellow hue), ramen noodles became a staple in Japan following their introduction and were especially ubiquitous following World War II, as wheat flour from the United States became readily available. Over time, ramen specialties emerged, with regional variations being created with unique local flavors, preparation techniques and consumption habits.

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Miso ramen

There are various types of ramen, and they are distinguished by their heaviness, the broth base, and the seasoning sauce added to the base broth to give it its distinctive flavor, or tare. The noodles and toppings also vary regionally and aficionados develop cult followings to their unique concoctions. The most popular types of ramen are miso ramen, shoyu ramen and tonkotsu ramen.

Sapporo is the birthplace of miso ramen, in which the broth base is made using fermented soybean paste. According to legend, miso ramen was created in a small ramen shop by a customer, who requested noodles in his miso and pork broth soup. The kotteri heaviness of this ramen, because of the added fats and butter, results in an opaque broth. Add in thick noodles and toppings such as garlic, ginger, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, corn, scallions, and minced roasted pork and you have one of the most popular forms of ramen!

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Shoyu ramen

Shoyu ramen is one of the most traditional types of ramen, and the broth is simmered for hours, resulting in a complex blend of pork, chicken, vegetables, seaweed and dried fish. The broth is then mixed with soy sauce to complete the flavor. Shoyu ramen, somewhere in the middle of the heaviness scale, is generally served with thin, wavy noodles and topped with scallions, nori, roasted pork, naruto and bamboo shoots.

Tonkotsu ramen

Tonkotsu ramen

Tonkotsu ramen is another type of ramen from Japan and it has recently experienced a surge in popularity in the United States. ?Tonkotsu ramen is made from a rich bone broth, boiled for days, to which thin straight noodles and spicy condiments such as mustard greens, ginger and even chili oil are added. Originating from the Fukuoka area, where yatai are hugely popular, tonkotsu ramen is usually served with all-you-can-eat noodles, making it extra filling and hearty.

Regardless of what type of ramen becomes your favorite, this noodle soup dish is perfect for any season, for lunch or dinner, and any place where savory, soothing and filling food is on order! Tell us about your favorite ramen… and stay tuned for next month’s street food showcase!