One of the best tips for making miso soup, a staple in Japanese cuisine, is to make homemade stock. If this is not possible, dashi granules can be used, although instant dashi powder or canned stock should be avoided due to salt levels. It is also important to choose the right type of miso, a fermented soybean product, for the soup, as the flavor can change the taste of the dish drastically. No matter what ingredients are used in the soup, it is important to add the miso paste right before serving, making sure to not let it boil.
Dashi is a Japanese cooking stock used in a multitude of dishes. It is the base of miso soup, and can make the difference between great, warming comfort food and a dish similar to that sold at a convenience store. In most Japanese households, dashi stock is made in large batches and frozen for future use. The most basic form of dashi is made from kombu, which is dried seaweed, and flakes of dried, smoked bonito, a type of tuna. Soaked kombu is boiled in a large pot of water, and then the bonito flakes are added.
If it is not possible to make homemade dashi, dashi granules are sold at grocery stores in Asia and in Asian markets around the world. Quality dashi granules typically work well for miso soup, although homemade stock is still preferred. Powders or canned stock should be avoided, as these tend to lack flavor and may be high in salt. As miso is already naturally salty, a briny dashi stock could make the soup over-seasoned.
Any type of miso paste can be used in miso soup, although each will provide different results. Red miso is one of the most strongly flavored varieties, and it typically does not work well for soups that are meant to be light; however, if the miso soup will be served as a main dish, red can work well. White miso is slightly sweeter and less strong than red, and is the most popular option for standard miso soup in Japan. For those who have a difficult time choosing between the two or who want to use miso paste for other dishes, blended miso is a good option. A mix of white and red miso, it provides a good, strong flavor for the soup without being overpowering; this type of paste is considered all-purpose miso in Japan.
Nearly any vegetables, seasonings, or ingredients can be added to miso soup. This is typically left to the discretion and preference of the cook. No matter what additions are made to the dashi stock, the most important tip for making miso soup is to add the paste at the very end of cooking. Once the miso is mixed in, the soup should not be allowed to boil, as this can ruin the flavor of the miso paste, the star ingredient in this Japanese soup.