An Overlander’s Miso Soup
Overlanding in the freezing winter months of Japan with night temperatures around 14 degrees (Fahrenheit), Coen and I appreciated eating soup for dinner. The hot liquid warmed us during the months of heavy snow, was easy and quick to prepare, plus I could vary endlessly with the ingredients. Even when eating miso soup every evening, we never ate the same meal.
By no means will I pretend that this comes anywhere close to the traditional Japanese miso soup. This is an overlander version, which means results can differ enormously, depending on where you travel and what ingredients you can find.
Having said that, I create the base of my soup with two traditional ingredients, dashi and miso. From here, I can vary the soup with different vegetables and meats.
What are Dashi and Miso?The quantities I mention will result in about 2 liters of soup. I use 750 ml - 1 liter of water and add ingredients until my 2-liter pan is full.
Dashi is Japanese stock. You can make this yourself (Google is your friend) but I buy it ready-made. The dried variant has a texture similar to freeze-dried coffee or instant yeast and, like any dried food, can be stored for a long time. Commonly used are fish dashi (e.g. based on anchovy or tuna) and seaweed dashi (e.g. kombu).
I use about 2 tablespoons per liter of water.
Miso is a paste made from soybeans, grains, salt and koji culture (a fermentation starter) that is fermented for a couple of months (or years, depending on the type) in cedar-wood kegs. There are many different types of miso, from very light to very dark. They all have different ratios of ingredients and thus a specific taste.
As it is a fermented product with salt, it won’t go bad very quickly. The shelf version keeps for a long time (check ‘best before’ date) and once opened, keep it in the fridge.
I add 2 tablespoons per liter of water. Add the miso at the very end because Japanese miso should never be boiled (it will lose flavor and aroma)!
You can buy dashi and miso in Asian grocery stores, online or – depending on where you live – you may find it in the bigger supermarkets.
Although you can add whatever ingredients you like, commonly used ingredients in Japan include:
- Root vegetables such as daikon, carrot, turnip, onions.
- Other vegetables, e.g. cabbage, bean sprouts, spinach, leeks, okra.
- Pre-cooked, thick noodles
- Mushrooms (e.g. shimeji, maitake, enoki)
- Manila Clams
- Seaweed (e.g. wakame)
Possible Pre-trip Preparations for Short Trips
- If you prefer using fresh stock, you’ll probably want to make it at home.
- You could chop the ingredients in chunks beforehand and keep them in ziplock bags.
- In case you want to prepare the soup ahead of your trip, follow the recipe without the miso and tofu, which you’d bring separately. Onsite you heat the soup and then add the miso and tofu.
- Bring a pan with dashi and root vegetables to a boil and let it simmer until the vegetables become tender.
- Add the vegetables that need only a few minutes or less to cook, such as leaf vegetables and bean sprouts.
- Add the mushrooms, pre-cooked noodles and seaweed (if you like it less salty, presoak the seaweed in a separate bowl of water).
- Just before serving, stir in the miso, which will slowly dissolve. Make sure the soup is no longer boiling!
- Add the chunks of tofu at the very end so they won’t break.