I've always liked the basic taste of miso soup in fine Japanese restaurants. In the best of such, miso soup is served like the minimalist architecture of the lake in a Japanese Garden. It transports one into a world where food and nutrition were raised to the finest of arts. The tofu pieces are like stepping stones on the lake. The floating seaweed and spring onion circles are like lilies and other plants. The curved lone strip of a carrot brings to mind the arched bridge. The precision cut decorative radish reminds one of the egret on a stone lantern.
at the Japanese Gardens, Cowra, NSW, Australia, 22 September, 2006.
Elegance silently reminds you to show your best manners. You realize you must know when to use the spoon and when to use the chopsticks. Do you pick up the solid pieces with the chopsticks after you've finished elegantly sipping 3.0 spoons of 1/3 each fluid ounces of the liquid miso soup? How many solid pieces should I leave? I have a suspicion there is a "way of miso" like a Japanese tea ceremony that Wiki doesn't know about. Ms. Manners says it is gluttonous to eat or drink to the last drop, so one should leave some in the bowl.
So tasty. Once I lifted the bowl and defiantly drank it down: "It's how they do it in Japan", realizing too late my dinner date's bemusement was the miso dripping down the front of my new black Tahari suit and pearl-white silk blouse.
After that, I downed the last of the miso soup only with the spoon, and when no one was looking (don't you know it, waiters always are watching me) - I swear it's they that made me make that loud embarrassing slurp. That's it, like an ice skater who falls on her first jump, the rest of the meal is doomed; if there's sake in the picture, let me tell you it can get pretty gruesome. I ended up walking the head sashimi pieces (with chopsticks) down an aisle of lesser sushi pieces I assembled on the decorative rice paper gracing the table, and then married them, much to the horror of neighboring patrons, when I made them kiss. That's what you get for inviting a peasant girl to a table set for lady.
(Actually, I was making a point to my dinner companion about commitment - since he failed to understand the spoken word, I thought to make a sushi puppet show.)
All that aside, the sophisticated miso taste is put to more practical nutritional use in many Japanese and other kitchens, including mine. I know there are more robust versions of miso soup. Miso soup was and is (with white rice) the breakfast of choice for thousands of years of a very advanced nation.
Miso soup is comprised of three things: MISO PASTE, MISO STOCK and SOLIDS. Miso is a FERMENTED FOOD, so listen up you over 49 crowd: the secret to long healthy living is fermented foods. Tastewheel differentiates between "fresh" tastes and "fermented" tastes. The fresh sour taste of a lemon is different from the fermented sour taste of vinegar. Both are healthy and each is appropriate for different times and contexts of living and health.
- Miso pastes come in red, white and black, darker being more hearty and salty. I like the fermented barley black miso paste for my hearty peasant miso soup that can "carry" small red potatoes and mushrooms. For "everyday" use I used red, it is lighter. Here is a primer:
"Depending on what grains and ingredients are fermented along with the soybeans, the miso paste will develop a different taste and the texture will vary a bit. Some miso pastes are grainier than others, some are saltier or more mild. Any of the flavors below could be any of the four colors, depending on their age.
Genmai - soybeans and brown rice
Hatcho - soybeans and sea salt
Kome - soybeans and white rice
Mugi - soybeans and barley
Natto - soybeans and ginger"
- Miso solids are separated into those that float and those that sink. Potatoes sink, spring onions float especially when they are cut across.
- Miso stock is usually made of dried fish and dried seaweed and dried mushrooms.
Soup being soup, I thought for dinner time we should add peas, carrots and small red potatoes. Think hearty peasant style. Optional other ingredients are mushrooms, but if I add mushrooms, I omit potatoes. Rather, I'll add several kinds of mushrooms since taste-wise and nutritionally, they should stand all by themselves. (Your peasantry may differ.)
I prepare the hearty peasant version by starting off with a tad of sesame oil, bring to heat on medium, and stir frying the spring onions. If I cannot find kombu and bulky seaweeds, if I just have the nori seaweed strips they use for wrapping sushi, alas, and oh horror, I use a pair of scissors to cut this into soups sized strips and stir fry for 30 seconds along with the onion. I add the tofu here, right before I add the stock (usually water) and the miso paste.
For the salad, we should have an exotic fusion salad with JUST:
- Herb greens, Tomatoes, Avocados, Radishes, Garbanzo beans, Broccoli, Snow peas, diced baby carrots, (Corn, optional) Sesame seeds with a coconut milk or yogurt based soy salad dressing.
- 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp lime juice, ½ tsp dark brown sugar, mix.
- Add: ¾ tsp brown sesame oil, ½ tsp cumin, black pepper, hints of garlic powder and mix.
- Add: 2-3 Tblspn fresh live culture plan yogurt, mix, and add water to desired consistency not more than 1-2 Tblspn.
And lastly, one should avoid utilizing a table with romantic themed rice paper as a decorative covering. Instead find a well-designed minimalist cafe style table, with little room for food acting stages, thereby reducing the chance food pieces will star in puppet shows, to convey messages at dinner time.