Thursday, January 4, 2007


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Barley-Mushroom Soup from my book "The Fiber for Life Cookbook" (recipe here).

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has eaten too much, and too richly over the holidays. This has extended until today, due to company and leftovers! Actually, I didn't even bake very much this year. But I want to start eating lightly, at least for while. The first thing I think of for light meals, especially in the winter, is soup. I love soup, and I have many soup recipes that I've developed over the years. (DH says I could easily open up a soup restaurant!) Soups are so easy to make fat-free, and yet still hearty and full of flavour. They are generally extremely inexpensive to make, and a good way to use up leftovers. Guests love homemade soups (and bread), too, because it seems such a novelty in this age of convenience foods.

 The one pictured above is one of my winter favorites, rich with mushroom-y goodness and silky, hearty barley. But another favorite, and a quick one at that, is miso soup.

 This is a version of miso soup with squash and chard, as well as tofu cubes, onions and mushrooms.
For those who have yet to experience it, MISO is a Japanese fermented soybean and grain paste (usually made with rice or barley) which is used as a soup base (similar to bouillon paste or cubes) and flavoring. It is salty, but highly nutritious and valued for its digestive properties. Unpasteurized miso contains beneficial bacteria similar to that in yogurt, so it should be added to cooked foods at the last minute and not brought to the boiling point. Natural food stores should carry a number of varieties-- dark, light, yellow, sweet, etc..

I would never be without miso in my house.  It is one of the great flavor-boosters of vegan cooking, in my opinion. I generally use a brown rice or barley miso which is made the old-fashioned way right here on Denman Island, British Columbia by master miso-makers Yoshi and Susan-Marie Yoshihara. (Update on Shinmeido Miso-- unfortunately, they have retired and have ceased production; fortunately we have stockpiled quite a few containers!) In vegetarian/vegan foods, miso lends a fermented "cheesey" flavor, full of the "fifth flavor",  umami, which enhances flavor (read more about umami here, here and here and can also replace salted anchovies or anchovy or fish paste (see this post on that particular subject.

(***If you are allergic to soy, you can use chickpea miso or adzuki bean miso.)

(To find recipes using miso on this blog [and there are lots!], do a blog search in the search bar at the top lefthand corner of the page, or click on "miso" in the "Labels" list at the bottom of this post.)

You can read more about this wonderful food in The Book of Miso by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi (Autumn Press, 1976). (You can also get an updated version in a combo book with the classic Book of Tofu.) They include a chart explaining the types of miso, their taste and color.

See what I wrote about this book at this post.

You can also go to the good old "Cook's Thesaurus" (bookmark this useful site!) and see some photos of different kinds of miso, which will give you a realistic idea of the colors.

By "light", I mean light brown or yellowish-- not white miso, which is almost sweet; and not dark brown or reddish, which is stronger in taste.The Japanese names which would fit my description are:

Shinshu Miso or Aka Miso (Light Yellow Miso/Rice and Soy): Bright light yellow

Amakuchi Tanshoku Miso, Aijiro Miso or Mochigome Miso (Mellow beige Miso/ Rice and Soy): yellow to tan

Shiro-Kiju Miso (Mellow White Miso/ Rice and Soy): light beige

Amakuchi Mugi Miso (Mellow barley miso): yellowish brown to russet

Here is a site that explain the differences between miso varieties:

Dom's Culture-Foods Site of Asia In-Site

These articles discuss miso nutrition and health benefits:

Wikipedia article about miso

World's Healthiest foods article on miso

Everyone who enjoys miso has their favorite ways of preparing miso soup. I am partial to miso with potatoes, onions and mushrooms. UPDATEMy miso soup recipe is in my new book World Vegan Feast.

Happy New Year!

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Anonymous said...

i wish you the best in the new year!

thanks for all the recipes and good work you do here!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bryanna. I am a new vegan (6 months)set to be a bridesmaid in a good friend's wedding this summer. While the reception have a vegan option, I am concerned about the cake and the rehersal dinner. Is it okay to bring my own food to the rehersal dinner? Should I just sit there while the cake is served? I don't want to be overly!!


Anonymous said...

I love Deman! Im from nanaimo orginally. Glad to find your blog!

Happy Cooking!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Bryanna. I'm not sure if I've ever left a comment before, but I'm a huge fan and check in regularly. I can't wait to make this miso potato soup, and I know my son will go crazy over it. And oh, yes, I so need a light meal after all my holiday treats!

Thanks for your inspirational recipes!

- Diann

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, Bryanna ! xoxo
I wish you all of life's goodness :)

I took a vacation from the internet and I can see that you have provided me with a lot of reading ! LOL

I love miso. I need to use it more.
Thank you for the soup recipe. I need to buy kombu before I try it.

I also agree about soups. I really love soup.

Anonymous said...

Miso is just a wonderful thing! I use the "light" misos for a "chicken-like" broth, and dark for "beefy" flavor. The Samurai of Japan reportedly had Hatcho Miso Soup (a dark variation)for breakfast and proclaimed it's strength-giving properties.

In any case, love your recipe! May want to advise people to "rinse" the kombu first, though (it's also salty from original sea water). My own preference is to chop-up the kombu after it's hydrated and leave in the soup.

For me, the best (and most inexpensive) place to get miso has been a good Chinese, Japanese, or Korean grocery store.

Tks! Mark

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Sorry I haven't answered sooner-- my comment moderation was turned on, unbeknownst to me, and i hadn't realized all these comments were sitting there waiting to be approved! Sorry!

Happy New Year to all of you! Anonymous, have you talked to whoever is organizing the rehearsal dinner? they may be able to arrange for a vegan option. If not, they may be releived if you bring your own food. But, either way, I think it's polite to talk to them.

You could accept a piece and just leave it on a table inconspicuously!

Hi, Gaia-- nice to hear from you!

Thanks for all your commebnts, everyone, and nice blog a atxvgn!