img 4573 - Tofu Mushroom Miso SoupI’ve been using miso paste in cooking for the past 5 years or so—I think it was Mark Bittman who converted me when I started reading his books and column and getting a sense of what a well-stocked pantry really meant.

The guide he provides in Food Matters was definitely a game-changer for me, as I’d lived off instant oatmeal and canned soup in college, and now found myself sharing a kitchen with a fake-meat vegetarian who gave me a lot of crap (and lectures) for not feeling satisfied by Boca burgers and veggie hot dogs wrapped in pre-sliced bread. I felt miserable and undernourished, so coming across Bittman’s  flexitarian, “Vegan Before 6″ style was a breath of fresh air. I loved his approach to following a plant-based diet with small amounts of high-quality animal protein with an eye toward sustainability. It seemed so…sane. Vegetarian or not, I’ve always found his real-food recipes uncomplicated and adaptable, and yet somehow even the simplest feel like a step up from the everyday, even when consumed in front of a laptop on a weekday afternoon.

Miso paste, one of those key pantry items, makes a wonderful base for soups, sauces, and salad dressings. You can even use it in marinades and in foods like seitan or meatfloaf. Made from fermented soy, rice, and/or barley, it provides that “umami” flavor. Here are some other great ideas for how to use miso paste from the folks at Whole Foods (been loving their blogs lately).

Yesterday after hot yoga, I had a really strong craving for miso soup. Though I could have just gotten takeout from a local Japanese place, I had what I needed to make it at home, so I did. This recipe is far from authentic, but it makes a perfectly restorative brothy lunch for a cold winter day.

Ingredients: 

  • 8 cups water
  • 1/4 c miso paste (I used a mix of red and white—you can use whatever)
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 2-3 green onions, sliced
  • 8 oz extra firm tofu, cubed (you can use silken if preferred)
  • 8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
  • a few handfuls kale, baby spinach or other greens
  • 1 cup langostino tails, thawed from frozen (optional, but I was use some up)

Directions: 

  1. In a large stock pot, bring water to a boil. Add miso paste and whisk until broth forms. Add ginger and green onions.
  2. After 2 or 3 minutes, add tofu and mushrooms. Lower heat. Cover and cook ~10 minutes.
  3. Add greens and langostino tails. Cook another 10 minutes.

Serve hot. This will make about 4 large bowls of soup. Feel free to add noodles or rice in cooking if you want something heartier—I would have, but that would have meant a trip to the store, during which I would have spent another $40 on things I suddenly really, really needed.

Do you like miso soup? Do you cook with miso paste at home? 

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