Miso Soup

Friday, May 22, 2015

I’ve been ruminating on this post for some time. When I decided to take a break from writing here for awhile, I didn’t know it was going to last six months. I made the sudden move of starting school again full time last semester, and classes started in January. If you consider that I’ve let the possibility marinate for almost five years, the decision doesn’t seem so sudden. It still felt that way. There was an adjustment period, a steep learning curve. There were some tears. But I’m on the other side of that first semester now, with twelve more credits under my belt. And dammit, it feels good.

miso soup

Every Monday at 7:30 a.m., I’d pack my safety goggles and graphing calculator and head to chemistry lab, where our instructor would meet us at the door, laced with coffee and true enthusiasm for the periodic table. The man could motivate, and he expected us to show up and keep up. We’d start each lab with a quiz on that day’s procedures, of which we had to get a certain score or be dismissed from class before it began. And then we’d get going on whatever experiment was planned. My lab partner David could roll out of bed, grab a pen, and ace every one of those quizzes. I, on the other hand, could study the night before and an hour in the morning and still forget how many times we’d be using the analytical balance that day, which solution we’d be titrating, or what color a reaction solution would turn in the presence of starch. We started meeting on weekends to power through each week’s load of assignments. I worked for that C. David got an A. After our last test, we toasted with beers at Eli’s, a dark watering hole that has probably seen as many victories as defeats. I was surprised to feel wistful and proud altogether. Work will do that, if it’s honest.

Going back to school as a grown adult is interesting. I’m not the same student I was ten years ago. (Ten years! Makes my chest a little tight.) This time I’m in it for more than the parties and the independence. I’ve got a much better idea of what I want today, and wider eyes for the possibility. And this time, it’s my money. I still fight the urge to skip classes, and to procrastinate. What worked in business school does not apply to science classes (found that one out immediately after our first biology test), and so I’ve had to learn spanking new study habits. You know what’s funny? The moment I let go of trying to learn every single concept, I started to absorb more information. Those fine little details were tripping me up, and I was failing to see the big picture. If that ain’t a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.

There wasn’t a lot of time for cooking or writing, and I’ve missed both. I ate many meals of scrambled eggs. I craved the sodium kick and the full-bodied bite of miso, and I made a lot of soup with it, tweaking the ingredients here and there until I landed on a recipe that didn’t need to be changed. To make it, you do need two kinds of miso. Here’s why: by itself, either sweet shiromiso or brown miso will make a fine bowl of soup. It’s the way I’d been making miso soup all my life (or as long as I’d been making miso soup, which is about two years). The two types of miso together are better, I think. The salty, earthy lick of brown miso grounds the gentler, whimsical shiromiso. Soon you’re so accustomed to them together that you can’t really remember them apart.

Hopefully you’ve had a fulfilling few months of all kinds of stuff you love, or are somehow finding your way back to it with the onset of spring.

Miso Soup (serves 2-3)
4 cups water
1 3-inch strip kombu
4 mushrooms
5 oz firm tofu
green onions
2 tablespoons brown miso
1 tablespoon white miso

First, make the dashi. (Dashi is a basic Japanese stock made from water, dried kelp (called kombu), and bonito flakes. The bonito flakes can be omitted for a vegetarian dashi. I don’t like the smoky taste of bonito flakes, so I usually make vegetarian stock).
In a medium sauce pot, combine water with the strip of kombu. Bring water to a boil, then turn off heat and let the kombu steep for three minutes. Strain the stock (kombu can be kept for a day or two, sliced thinly and added to stir fries-otherwise discard it).

Chop mushrooms and tofu to a pretty small dice. Slice green onions.

Pour dashi back into the pot, and measure out 1/2 cup of it in a separate bowl. Mix both (both!) miso pastes into the 1/2 cup of reserved dashi, and keep it aside off the stove. Meanwhile, bring dashi in the pot up to a boil and add mushrooms. Simmer on medium heat for three minutes. Turn heat to low and add the reserved miso/dashi mix to the pot. Add the tofu and allow it to warm through, then remove from heat before it boils and ladle into bowls. Scatter lots of scallions on top.



  • Amanda Paa

    so proud and happy for you, on your continued path to help others through food and health. your days sound intense, but the learning and commitment you have to it sounds incredible. i can see why days of miso soup and the like are on repeat, and a delicious repeat at that. xo

    • Jacqui

      Indeed. Having a way to de-stress, and a guaranteed place to do it, is everything. Thank you, Amanda. xx