It’s funny, how memories come floating to the surface when you taste something that triggers them. Like when I took a sip of miso broth the other day.
Years ago, I worked with a guy who was partying hard by night, and baking bread by day. He’d limp in, pale and shaky, and share the details of his massive hangover. Then he started his daily ritual of self-treatment, which included making himself a steaming mug of miso broth. I’m not sure whether miso can fix the damages of drinking a 12-pack, but he was actually on to something.
In Japan, miso soup for breakfast is an ancient tradition. Warming up some dashi, whisking in the miso, and slurping the savory soup is the original morning ritual of the people who invented the tasty paste.
Hangovers aside, it’s always a good time to celebrate the big flavor gift that miso gives us. Miso is a concentrated source of Umami. Like all fermented proteins, miso is rich in umami chemicals. The bacteria have broken apart proteins, giving you free amino acids that trigger the sense of meatiness in the mouth. That means that just adding miso to water makes it taste more meaty, more satisfying, and seem more substantial. Umami is the fifth taste, and the one that meat-lovers miss the most when they eat meatless. Miso is your secret weapon for making a light, quick meal that seems weighty and complex, with the secrets of chemistry. You don’t even need the dashi, which is made with dried fish, to get a full flavor.
We get so caught up with yogurt and kombucha as the probiotic, fermented foods du jour and forget, miso is an old school probiotic food. A steaming (never boiling) bowl of miso soup is a treasure trove of helpful enzymes and probiotics. So, when my hard-partying co-worker was nursing that cup of warm broth, he was repopulating the helpful bacteria that he had so callously wiped out the night before.
It’s also high in Vitamin K, Riboflavin, and B-6, and some Niacin, Folate and Vitamin A. You have to eat quite a bit of it to get much of these, but every little bit helps.
Another big deal with miso and health is the isoflavones. The fermentation process also breaks down the soy beans and makes the beneficial plant chemicals easier to absorb. Isoflavones are thought to protect against many forms of cancer. They are in all soy foods, but the fermentation process makes them more absorbable.
So for my miso breakfast, I am also employing one of my best strategies for getting whole grains into life. I have a batch of cooked whole oats in the fridge, just waiting to be leveraged in quick and easy meals. Instead of making something sweet for breakfast, I am enjoying my oats in a savory way. This soup is a perfect way to use up some leftover brown rice or quinoa, whatever you have. Whole grains, or Japanese noodles like soba or udon are perfect in this soup.
You can use whatever vegetables are on hand, or even leftovers. It’s an great place to use things up.
So, instead of eating your oats with yogurt and fruit, or some other sweet cereal for breakfast, give miso soup a try.
Who knows, you might just cure whatever ails you.
Miso Soup for Breakfast
1 1/2 cups water
1 small carrot, quartered and chopped
1 small zucchini, quartered and chopped
grated fresh ginger, to taste
1 tablespoon red miso, to taste
1/2 teaspoon raw apple cider vinegar, to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked whole oat groats (about 1/2 cup raw)
1/4 box silken tofu, drained and cubed
a couple of handfuls of spinach
Bring the water to a boil in a small pot. Add the carrot and cook for two minutes, then add the zucchini and cook for a minute more. Scoop out some of the hot water in a cup and whisk the miso into the water. Off the heat, whisk the miso mixture and cider vinegar into the soup, and add some grated ginger.
To serve, portion oats into each bowl, then top with hot soup, spinach leaves, and cubes of tofu. Serve hot.