How to Make Miso Soup Without a Recipe

January  5, 2015

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Let a savory, warming broth be the blank canvas of your winter meals.

Miso Soup

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Resolutions aside, January is the time for miso soup. It has that sort of healing and comforting and fortifying quality that we need to carry us through winter’s nastiness, but it never feels obligatory or medicinal, like that weird cayenne-lemon cocktail your roommate is trying to foist on you. Miso soup is comfort food that looks nothing like comfort food -- and all you really need to keep it in your back pocket is a bit of miso in your fridge, some kombu in your pantry, and an inventory of potential add-ins.

More: Read up on the basics of miso.

Its heft can ebb and flow depending on your cravings and the ingredients you have on hand: Call it dinner by adding soba noodles and tofu; pack it full of vegetables for a light lunch; or, if the flu finds you, nurse a pot of broth all day while hidden under blankets watching endless episodes of Scandal. (Here’s a fun exercise: Pretend that you are Olivia Pope and that your miso soup is a bottle of red wine.)

Miso Soup

Whatever you add to it, and however you eat it, resolve to make miso soup your new staple this winter. If routine makes you feel safe and warm, you can keep it minimalistic at all times; if you hate monotony, you can treat it like a reliable starting point for improvisation. Either way, it’ll still be cheaper -- and quicker -- than takeout.

Here's how to make basic miso soup, with whatever add-ins you like, without a recipe:

1. Make your stock. The most common route is traditional dashi made with kombu (dried seaweed) and bonito flakes (dried tuna) -- make it and you’ll essentially be reconstituting an ocean, leeching these ingredients of their umami and salt. If you avoid fish -- or you feel like buying one fewer specialty ingredient -- you can nix the bonito and go kombu-only, or bolster the broth with dried mushrooms.

If you're in a hurry, you can skip this step and make your soup with plain old water; the miso carries enough weight that it can stand on its own, especially when padded with mix-ins and garnishes. 

Miso Soup


2. Prepare your mix-ins. Roast or sauté any vegetable that are sturdier than leafy greens. Boil soba noodles (and rinse them with water afterwards). Soft boil an egg, or press and slice some firm tofu.

More: Never suffer from gummy, stuck-together soba noodles again

Miso Soup


3. Make a miso slurry, then simmer -- gently. If you mix a big lump of miso into simmering liquid, it will stay clumpy, refusing to blend as smoothly as you want it to. To avoid this, spoon your miso into a small bowl -- start with 1/2 to 1 tablespoon for each cup of liquid -- and then add in a small ladleful of your broth and whisk until you have a smooth slurry. Add that back to the pot, then simmer gently for a few minutes, making sure not to bring it to a boil. A gentle simmer will ensure the best flavor (boiling is said to "spoil" miso's flavors and aromas). Taste and, if your broth is too mild for your taste, add more miso (again with the slurry techique).

Miso Soup


4. Add in your mix-ins. Try sautéed mushrooms, small cubes of tofu, seaweed, a soft-cooked egg, noodles, cooked shrimp, freshly grated ginger, greens, scallions...just make sure whatever you choose is bite-sized and not too tough or crunchy. Eating miso soup should never be a challenge. Simmer for another couple minutes.

Miso Soup


5. Serve your soup and grab a whole bunch of garnishes: Sesame oil! Pepper flakes! Soy sauce! Herbs! Sriracha! All good options. Resolve to make some more next week.

Miso Soup

Photos by James Ransom

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Written by: Marian Bull



Judy September 27, 2017
I laughed when I read all the people who said that it isn't miso soup if it has this or than or doesn't have this or that in it. It's miso soup if it has miso in it. If it doesn't have miso, it isn't miso soup.
Mrs. M. February 2, 2016
I forgot to add, I water the chicken stock down in the pot so it is not full strength.
Mrs. M. February 2, 2016
If one is highly allergic to fish, shellfish, and cannot make a traditional dashi, you can use a chicken or vegetable stock. I like Rachel Ray's chicken stock and broth. No msg etc. and light enough to allow the miso center stage. its a good alternative to those of us who cannot tolerate traditional dashi.
Russ March 25, 2015
Interesting, but not 'miso' soup. Egg:No, Noodles:No, Shrimp:No, Ginger:No, All of Step 5.:No. This recipe should not be propagated as miso soup.
Niki February 17, 2016
Get over it.
Karin January 19, 2015
To the writer, please do more research on the topic before you publish a 98% BS article....it's very insulting, and frankly ignorant on your behalf.
Linda H. January 8, 2015
I tried it today and it was fantastic! It's great for a light meal, and to use up any leftover ingredients.
B. A. January 6, 2015
For a simple and untraditional version of a basic miso soup that still has maintains the real flavours, I love this recipe: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/video/2011/jan/16/miso-soup-recipe-video
Sharon January 12, 2015
Thanks a million for the link. The video was very helpful. Been trying to get it right for a long time, hitting and missing. Now I know how to go about it. And I agree, without a dashi it's not miso soup.
B. A. January 6, 2015
You NEVER simmer miso soup. It destroys the flavour and kills a lot of the good live bacteria and micronutrients. You take the soup of the boil and stir the diluted miso carefully in. Also: a miso soup without a dashi is not miso soup -sorry!
Carly A. January 5, 2015
I love miso. I've read from some sources that to preserve the full probiotic benefits of miso, you should never add it to boiling liquid or boil it. Once you've finished simmering broth and other ingredients, then, as you suggest, mix the miso with a small amount of hot broth until dissolved before adding back to the main dish (no longer boiling). Confirm or deny as you will - just thought I'd share what I've always been told by the pro-probiotics crowd!
Sara V. January 5, 2015
Great! I am going to try this recipe soon. I am also going to open up a question to you all. What Japanese cookbook would you recommend? I love japanese food but I never seem to find much of a choice in terms of cookbook. Thank you.
Candice C. January 5, 2015
My friend bought me Everyday Harumi which was a great starting point for me. Delicious simple dishes and a lot that were recognizable too (sometimes that familiarity helps when first cooking some new dishes). Recently I purchased Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton. I love that one too. Both books provide a great starting place for improv.
Sara V. January 14, 2015
Thank you Candice. I will check them out.