Let a savory, warming broth be the blank canvas of your winter meals.
Miso soup has that sort of healing, comforting and fortifying quality that we need to carry us through winter’s nastiness, but it never feels obligatory or medicinal, like that weird cayenne-lemon cocktail your roommate is trying to foist on you. Miso soup is comfort food that looks nothing like comfort food — and all you really need to keep it in your back pocket is a bit of miso in your fridge, some kombu in your pantry, and an inventory of potential add-ins.
Its heft can ebb and flow depending on your cravings and the ingredients you have on hand: Call it dinner by adding soba noodles and tofu; pack it full of vegetables for a light lunch; or, if the flu finds you, nurse a pot of broth all day while hidden under blankets watching endless episodes of Scandal. (Here’s a fun exercise: Pretend that you are Olivia Pope and that your miso soup is a bottle of red wine.)
Whatever you add to it, and however you eat it, resolve to make miso soup your new staple this winter. If routine makes you feel safe and warm, you can keep it minimalistic at all times; if you hate monotony, you can treat it like a reliable starting point for improvisation. Either way, it’ll still be cheaper — and quicker — than takeout.
Here’s how to make basic miso soup, with whatever add-ins you like, without a recipe:
1. Make your stock. The most common route is traditional dashi made with kombu (dried seaweed) and bonito flakes (dried tuna) — make it and you’ll essentially be reconstituting an ocean, leeching these ingredients of their umami and salt. If you avoid fish — or you feel like buying one fewer specialty ingredient — you can nix the bonito and go kombu-only, or bolster the broth with dried mushrooms.
If you’re in a hurry, you can skip this step and make your soup with plain old water; the miso carries enough weight that it can stand on its own, especially when padded with mix-ins and garnishes.
2. Prepare your mix-ins. Roast or sauté any vegetable that are sturdier than leafy greens. Boil soba noodles (and rinse them with water afterwards). Soft boil an egg, or press and slice some firm tofu.
3. Make a miso slurry, then simmer — gently. If you mix a big lump of miso into simmering liquid, it will stay clumpy, refusing to blend as smoothly as you want it to. To avoid this, spoon your miso into a small bowl — start with 1/2 to 1 tablespoon for each cup of liquid — and then add in a small ladleful of your broth and whisk until you have a smooth slurry. Add that back to the pot, then simmer gently for a few minutes, making sure not to bring it to a boil. A gentle simmer will ensure the best flavor (boiling is said to “spoil” miso’s flavors and aromas). Taste and, if your broth is too mild for your taste, add more miso (again with the slurry technique).
4. Add in your mix-ins. Try sautéed mushrooms, small cubes of tofu, seaweed, a soft-cooked egg, noodles, cooked shrimp, freshly grated ginger, greens, scallions…just make sure whatever you choose is bite-sized and not too tough or crunchy. Eating miso soup should never be a challenge. Simmer for another couple minutes.
5. Serve your soup and grab a whole bunch of garnishes: Sesame oil! Pepper flakes! Soy sauce! Herbs! Sriracha! All good options. Resolve to make some more next week.
Photos by James Ransom