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Hearty Miso Soup

December 6, 2012

Hearty Miso Soup

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It’s here! The season {when I feel too busy for yoga, too chilly to make a salad, and too nervous that my car will break down to go to the grocery store when I’ve run out of both broccoli and kale} has arrived!

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against the other parts of December– you know, the good parts. I’m looking forward to seeing my family, the break from school/teaching, and eating more than my share of peppermint joe-joe’s.

Miso Soup with tofu and scallionsPin it!

But starting with Thanksgiving– no, wait; starting with Halloween– November and December always leave me feeling like I need a little bit of a detox. And I am not one of those people who has the tolerance to try out a maple syrup-cayenne pepper-lemon juice master cleanse. I’m sorry, but: ew.

I just want to be able to enjoy a lazy, quick-to-throw-together meal that feels like a healthy, hearty interlude amidst a season of too many restaurant outings and pumpkin ginger cookies.

Miso soup comes together in an instant, but typically isn’t that filling. After all, when it arrives as a side dish in most Japanese restaurants, it’s a little bit lacking– the flavor might be nice, but you get one cube of tofu, one slice of mushroom, and a few meager strips of seaweed. (So you still have room to order your tempura appetizer and mochi dessert, of course!)

Hearty Miso Soup with spinach, tofu, and Japanese sweet potato

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Well luckily I’m here to tell you that miso soup doesn’t have to be about as filling as a cup of tea; when you make it yourself at home, it can be as hearty as you like. An appetizer-turned-dinner.

White miso, scallions, and dried wakame seaweed

The easiest way to do this is to bulk up the amounts of the traditional ingredients: toss in countless cubes of tofu, a whole handful of mushrooms, and an extra pinch of dried seaweed… (A little dried seaweed goes a long way.)

Ingredients for Hearty Miso Soup

Or you could go with some of my favorite miso soup additions:

  • Spinach. (Or kale?!) The easiest way to green up a soup, spinach cooks in seconds (whereas you might want to give kale more like 10 minutes), and it’s cheap, healthy, and miso-friendly. Trust me. I put spinach in everything– instant ramen included.
  • Japanese sweet potato. (Or orange sweet potatoes, or any potatoes, really.) Japanese sweet potatoes are reddish on the outside and white-ish on the instead, and my girlfriend contends that they are actually not that sugary, but I can taste the sweetness. They are a cozy, filling complement to the saltiness of the miso broth, and they don’t take long to slice or to soften in the soup. So worth it.
  • Kabocha. (Or butternut squash, or other types of pumpkin.) I think we’ve established by now that I’m a little obsessed with kabocha (Japanese pumpkin). But I maintain that it’s a well-founded obsession; kabocha is so versatile; it should be no surprise that it’s right at home in miso soup.

Hearty Miso Soup with spinach, tofu, Japanese pumpkin, and Japanese sweet potato

And just in case I haven’t convinced you yet that miso soup alone could make a meal, I am tacking on a recipe for Japanese sticky rice below as well. Even with a one-pot, simple, hearty main dish of a soup, it’s always nice to have a little something on the side.

Miso Soup with wakame seaweed, tofu, and scallions

Print both recipes (Miso Soup and Japanese Rice). (PDF)
Print this recipe (Miso Soup recipe only). (PDF)


Hearty Miso Soup

(Serves 2-3)

~ 6 cups water
~ 4-5 Tbsp. (dashi-iri) white miso paste, to taste (“dashi-iri” means with soup stock)
~ half of a Japanese sweet potato, sliced in 1/4-inch-thick rounds or half-moons
~ half a package of silken tofu (about 1/2 lb.), sliced in small cubes
~ 2-3 large handfuls fresh spinach
~ 4 scallions, sliced on a sharp diagonal
~ other hearty soup additions, like sliced kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, greens, or dried wakame seaweed

How to make it:

1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan or stockpot. Then add the miso paste, and stir it well until it dissolves in the water.

White miso paste for homemade miso soupSliced scallions for miso soup

2. Add the sweet potato slices (which need about 10-12 minutes to cook), and any other ingredients that might take as long (e.g., potatoes, carrots, etc.). Japanese pumpkin (kabocha) will take 6-10 minutes to cook, depending on how thinly it’s sliced. Keep the soup at a strong simmer, stirring occasionally.

Sliced Japanese sweet potato for Hearty Miso SoupSliced soft tofu for Hearty Miso Soup

3. In the last 3-4 minutes of cooking, add the tofu cubes. In the last 1-2 minutes of cooking, stir in the spinach. If using dried wakame seaweed, add it in the last minute of cooking; stir it into the broth and once it expands to its large translucent green square shape, turn off the burner. (Optionally stir in the scallions as well, or reserve them for garnishing.)

4. Ladle soup into individual serving bowls, then garnish with sliced scallions and serve warm, accompanied by Japanese rice.

Print this recipe (only Miso Soup)! (PDF)
Print both recipes (Miso Soup and Japanese Rice)! (PDF)

Japanese Sticky Rice

(Serves 2-3)

~ 1 cup Japanese rice (short-grained sticky rice)
~ a little over 1 cup water (I use a 115% water-to-rice ratio for white rice, and up to 150% for brown)
~ small splash of vegetable oil or thin pat of butter
~ dash of salt

How to make it:

1. Place rice, water, oil or butter, and (optionally) salt, into a rice cooker or a small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.* Briefly stir the oil/butter and salt into the rice, then cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Keep a close watch–- it should only take 2-3 minutes to boil because of the small amount of water.

2. As soon as it comes to a boil, give it one more stir, then replace the lid, and turn the heat down to the lowest it will go. Simmer covered for 15 minutes for white rice (longer for brown rice), until it looks like all of the water has evaporated, but before the rice starts looking dry. Then remove the pot from the burner, but keep the lid on, letting the rice steam for another 5 minutes until fluffy.

* I prefer using a non-stick saucepan to a rice cooker because the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom or end up as dry.

Print this recipe (Japanese Rice recipe only)! (PDF)
Print both recipes (Miso Soup and Japanese Rice)! (PDF)

Hearty Miso Soup with spinach, tofu, and Japanese sweet potato

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Related recipe posts:
> Ochazuke (Japanese Rice and Toppings with a Green Tea Soup Broth)
> Turkey Lentil Soup with Kale
> Japanese Pumpkin Soup with Leeks (Kabocha Soup)

60 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2012 9:50 am

    Looks much better than what you would get in a restaurant! I love miso soup but haven’t tried to make it yet.

    • December 7, 2012 6:12 pm

      You should definitely give it a try; it’s so easy to make! And yeah, the beauty of making it at home is that it doesn’t take much to make it better than you’d get in a restaurant… :)

      • December 10, 2012 6:14 am

        So true. A lot of the restaurants mass produce the soup so something is lost on the way.

      • December 10, 2012 9:31 am

        Definitely. Something is lost (and salt is added).

  2. December 6, 2012 10:57 am

    Mmmm… I love miso soup! I’ll attest to sometimes buying the little packets that you mix with water and making at home. I never know that there was actual miso paste that you can add to water to make the soup! And I totally agree, November and December leave me feeling like I need a definite detox!

    • December 7, 2012 6:16 pm

      I know those little packets– I’ve bought them before too! I actually used to prepare instant miso soup like that (in the microwave) back in college when I lived in a dorm and didn’t have a burner. :) The nice thing about making soup from actual miso paste is that it’s just as easy, nearly as instant– but tastes so much better– and is adjustably less over-the-top salty (and has fresh scallions and tofu instead of their dehydrated versions).

  3. December 6, 2012 12:40 pm

    The kabocha in the soup sounds great…will try…thx. (and we do like to make miso soup as a little detox…lots of rich food this time of year..)

  4. December 6, 2012 2:03 pm

    Hearty is right, I have never seen miso soup look so tasty :)

    Choc Chip Uru

    • December 7, 2012 6:18 pm

      :) Yep, because I like the miso soup broth and all, but for me it’s not just about the broth, but also about the other ingredients in it.

  5. December 6, 2012 3:43 pm

    Those are wonderful additions to a miso soup! Thanks for sharing. My Mom used to put salmon pieces in there.

    • December 7, 2012 6:19 pm

      Oo, that sounds good. I’m not the biggest fan of cooked fish, but despite that, salmon is one that I usually enjoy… We don’t often have it around the house, but the next time we do, I’ll save some leftover salmon for miso soup! (Or ochazuke!)

  6. December 6, 2012 4:33 pm

    Looks amazing! I was craving some mso soup today, sweet potato goes so well with it. I tried it once with greens beans as well, so good.

    • December 7, 2012 6:20 pm

      Thanks! I’ve never thought to add green beans, but that does sound good– I’ll have to try it out! :)

  7. December 6, 2012 5:31 pm

    your miso soup looks so elegant Alison & Oh so Japanese. I’d love to try making it some time. can you explain miso –Ive never used it in my cooking before…xoxo charu

    • December 7, 2012 6:25 pm

      Thanks, Charu! Although there are several kinds of miso, it’s basically a fermented soy bean paste that works well in marinades and stir-frys as well as soups. Because it’s been fermented, it has a very strong salty/umami flavor that not everyone likes– and it can be overwhelming in some recipes– but it’s most popular in this very common soup, which is really as simple as miso paste dissolved in water! (…in basically a 1 cup water to up-to-1-Tbsp. miso paste ratio.) The soup will already have plenty of amazing flavor that way; any of these other ingredients that I’ve suggested adding to the soup to make it heartier are just extras!

  8. December 6, 2012 6:43 pm

    I was just thinking about how I need to learn how to make miso soup. Thank you for sharing :)

    • December 7, 2012 6:26 pm

      You’re welcome! As you can see, it’s very simple once you have some white miso paste in the fridge… the only other thing you really need is water, though adding all of these extra vegetables is always nice. :)

  9. December 7, 2012 7:05 am

    It looks tasty !! I love miso soup, thanks for sharing

  10. December 7, 2012 9:05 am

    I love love love love love love love love love love love love love love miso soup :D so good!! in any way!!

  11. December 7, 2012 11:48 am

    Hi Allison, hurrah for bringing the umami of the fermented beans to the fore! You’ve made a celebration in a bowl – sweetness of the potatoes and scallions, salty bean paste, astringent tofu and spinach – what a hearty dish.

    • December 7, 2012 6:29 pm

      Thanks for your lovely comment, Nat! Your description of all of the flavors is right on– I think this would have been an even more enjoyable post if you had written it… :)

  12. December 7, 2012 12:48 pm

    Ok , I am convensed! I will look for the ingredients and give this a try
    I love all the different ingredients and additions you can add to switch this up

    • December 7, 2012 6:30 pm

      Yay, I’m happy to hear that! And remember that the only ingredient you really need is white miso paste, since you really can switch up the rest of it, depending on what vegetables you have in your kitchen. :)

  13. December 7, 2012 2:14 pm

    This is my ultimate comfort food. I would eat miso soup every day if I could, and I’m especially fond of hearty versions, switching up the vegetables seasonally. I love everything about this post and it makes me want to make up a huge vat of soup, asap.

    • December 7, 2012 6:31 pm

      Thank you, Hannah! I hope you got a chance to satisfy your craving with that huge vat of miso soup today… or maybe sometime this weekend. :)

  14. Kelly Savage permalink
    December 7, 2012 4:05 pm

    I’m making some version of this tonight. Thanks for the inspiration!

  15. December 7, 2012 4:59 pm

    Wow, your choice of add-ins look fabulous! I will give them a go. I usually add seaweed and napa cabbage, This is totally perfect for this weather!

    • December 7, 2012 6:34 pm

      Thanks! Oh yum; I’ve never tried adding napa cabbage… I love that I am getting even more ideas for Things to Add to Miso Soup from all of these comments! Maybe miso soup will become my go-to way to use up leftover odd bits of various vegetables once a few different things from the last week of cooking have collected in my fridge…

  16. December 8, 2012 2:03 pm

    If the truth be told I am a miso soup junkie. Seriously I eat it most days when it gets cold and blustery outside as it is a light, fresh soup that I often eat with a salad or sarnie for lunch. I tend to go for the lazy option of a packet (shock horror I know!). Of the packet variety (I have tried loads) Clearspring Mellow White Miso instant soup with tofu is the best. HOWEVER, I love love love your homemade one and I will definitely be making it myself as it really does not take much longer and am sure will be even more superior. Definitely a perfect, healthy little dish.

    • December 10, 2012 9:33 am

      Nice! It must be healthy to eat miso soup so often. I always keep miso in the fridge, but only make this soup occasionally– more often in this season though. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the homemade version; it’s really still practically “instant” to make!

  17. December 9, 2012 10:34 am

    exactly what I was looking for! thanks. will try it this week!

  18. December 9, 2012 1:34 pm

    Definitely ’tis the season when something a little lighter and healthy is appealing. Excited to try this!

    • December 10, 2012 9:34 am

      Yay; hope you like it! And lighter and healthier is right… although I just realized that I (symbolically?) sandwiched this post between two dessert recipes in terms of chronological blog posts… whoops!

  19. December 10, 2012 5:03 am

    a delicious heart and soul warming miso, that will fix my cold: ) thanks!

    • December 10, 2012 9:36 am

      Yes, I hope you enjoy it! Miso soup definitely warms you up :)

  20. December 10, 2012 11:52 am

    Miso soup is one of my favorite comfort foods!! My mom used to make it whenever we got sick, and she also made it for me after the birth of my daughter. I love the addition of the Japanese sweet potato and kabocha! My favorite is to have slices of kamaboko in there :)

    • December 11, 2012 10:26 am

      Oo yum, I should try adding kamaboko sometime too. :) And my girlfriend would like the extra besides-tofu protein that would add. Miso soup is definitely a nice comfort food!

  21. December 11, 2012 11:24 am

    I’m a fan of big bowls of miso soup, too. I always feel as if I can lift a car after I have a bowl of it. :)
    I probably bastardize the soup by adding udon or soba noodles, but I like having a little carb action in my bowl. I’ve never tried kabocha, though. I didn’t know you could eat the skin, too!

    • December 11, 2012 11:48 am

      Yes, you can totally eat the kabocha peel! I removed it when I made kabocha soup, to keep the nice orange color, but for pan-frying it, or adding it to soups, it’s easiest (and nice-looking) to leave the skin on.

      Udon or soba in miso are both great! I don’t know if I’d technically think of that as miso soup anymore though… :) Maybe as udon/soba noodle soup in a miso broth… yum.

  22. December 12, 2012 8:28 am

    Allison, I’ve just nominated you for Il Blog Affidabile award. See

  23. Aubrey permalink
    July 3, 2013 12:58 pm

    Looks very yummy! I think I am going to make some today even though it is warm out! I believe you should add the miso at the end though, otherwise you kill the healthy microbes in the miso that are very beneficial to our digestion.

    • July 4, 2013 7:28 am

      Thanks for your comment, Aubrey! I have read on some miso packages to add the miso at the end, but I didn’t know why that would make a difference (it doesn’t in terms of flavor, at least). That is really good to know, though! Of course it’s easier to get the miso to fully dissolve if it goes in before the other ingredients, but I’ll be mindful of adding it near the end in the future.

      • Aubrey permalink
        July 4, 2013 8:20 am

        I used to do the same thing, then my mother found out and explained it to me, haha! I put it in after I have actually taken it off the heat and it dissolves very easily- just smush it with a spoon a little and stir. You can even add it to the individual bowls rather than the whole pot. Then if you reheat any leftovers you can still get the health benefits. Have fun and thank you for your wonderful blog!!!

      • July 5, 2013 12:33 pm

        Thanks, Aubrey! I will definitely try that next time. Thanks again for reading the blog and commenting– I love learning more about food and cooking through this kind of exchange! :)


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