Some of you (you know who you are) can’t conceive of starting the day until after your first cup of coffee. I’m all-too-well acquainted with the allure of a cup of well-made coffee, and I honor the ritual involved. But if any of you are interested in an alternative, might I suggest a cup or a bowl of hot miso soup? True, miso soup contains no caffeine, but there’s something about it which is both soothing and mildly stimulative at the same time. Compared to coffee, miso soup is a nutritional powerhouse, containing as it does fiber, protein, zinc, vitamin K and omega 3 fatty acids. And preparation of a simple miso soup is scarcely more complicated or time consuming than the perfect coffee you brew with such TLC.
While there are countless ways to make miso soup, the traditional Japanese method is to start with dashi, a soup stock made from dried fish flakes and kombu, a sea vegetable. The stock is heated, some wakame added, miso dissolved into it, and the soup garnished with green onion and little cubes of tofu. Really though, miso soup could be as simple as one or two teaspoons of miso dissolved in a cup of hot water. If you want to get a little more authentic, buy little packets of dried sliced shiitake mushrooms and of a dried sliced wakame in an Asian market. Add 5-6 of the mushroom slices and 3-4 pieces of wakame and simmer those in the water first, until they are tender, then add miso to taste. Or cut a few tablespoons of carrot, squash, sweet potato, daikon or whatever vegetable you like into a small dice, simmer those in water until tender before adding the miso (always add the miso after turning off the heat so as to preserve the health-giving micro-organisms which result from fermentation).
If you are traveling, or really in a hurry, instant miso soup mixes like the ones in the photo are incredibly useful. In addition to miso, these packets usually contain dried wakame, shiitake mushrooms, tofu and green onion as well. When making soup this way at home, I like to use only half the packet and add additional fresh miso to taste, preferably a combination of a sweet, light miso, and a darker, saltier miso. That way, I can adjust the balance daily according to how I feel. You should be able to find a variety of miso types at your natural foods or Asian store. When buying miso and instant miso soup, read the contents carefully because some contain MSG and other nasties. Miso will keep almost indefinitely in your fridge.
So, the risk is small–join tens of millions of Japanese and give miso soup in the morning a try. I think you’ll find it a practical and enjoyable way to start the day. For more on miso, read my previous post here.