Vegan since 1975, I decide to answer the question, "What DO you eat?" These posts tell about some meals and recipes my family and I have enjoyed over the years.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Miso Soup for the sick

When I say I have been a vegan for 35 years, it would be more accurate to say I have attempted to be a vegan for all those years. There have been some mistakes along the way, one of which brings me to today's recipe for MISO SOUP. I had been ordering it at Japanese/Chinese restaurants over the years, figuring they made it like I did at home; but they, it turns out, have fish in their base stock. So it is always good to ask, if you want to know, even if it does seem pesky sometimes.

One of my daughters brought home a friend this past week who was feeling a little sick, and she requested I make some miso soup. In our family, this is akin to chicken soup in its healing qualities. In fact, I can't think what the chicken adds other than fat and protein, and a certain flavor which no longer appeals to me.

Soup is one of those great foods that can hide all sorts of healthful ingredients, and which can be adapted to the tastes of you or your family. This one contains miso, which is a salty flavorful fermented paste of beans or grains. Miso contains friendly bacteria (especially helpful if you've been on antibiotics, or to try to displace yeast in your system) which would be destroyed by high heat, so it is added at the end of the soup's cooking time, right before you scoop it into your bowl. If I feel like I am about to get sick, or if anyone else in the house starts to get sick, I make a big pot of a variation of this soup, because then heating it up for the next couple of days is easy; just be sure to not let it come to a boil.

Miso comes in different varieties, from the intensely flavored dark 3 year aged soybean pastes, to the less aged light colored sweet rice or white rice pastes, with barley miso and chick peaso (made with garbanzo beans) somewhere in between. I like to use the darker and medium pastes in soup, or in the winter, and use the lighter ones in warmer months, or for dressings. They last seemingly for an indefinite period in the refrigerator, so it is good to have a few different ones on hand. Think of it as a flavorful bouillon, or the lazy person's answer to vegetable stock.

If you haven't already noticed, this blog isn't going to tell you just how to do things, or tell you exact measurements for ingredients. I will assume you already know how to cook, can adjust seasonings to your own tastes, and are willing to experiment on your own. I tend to not use measuring devices too often, with varying results, as my family would attest, but I like to make things up as I go along, and utilize the ingredients that I have on hand. Cooking is a creative enterprise for me, and I hope you think of it that way, too. I often check out similar recipes in my many books, but I just change them to work for me. So if you need to know exact measurements, I would suggest getting a few basic cookbooks, and then see how you could adapt interesting sounding recipes to become vegan ones.

For this past MISO SOUP, I chopped up a large onion and threw it in a large heavy bottomed pot into which I had dribbled a few tablespoons or so of olive oil. I chopped up a large carrot and added it in. I like to cut the large ones in half and then into little half circles, or sometimes on the diagonal, creating oval shapes, if the carrot is thinner. If soup is all that's going to be eaten, chop up some kale or collards and throw them in. I try to eat some dark green leafy greens every day, and those two have the most calcium, and no oxalic acid to bind it up and make it unusable, as do spinach and swiss chard (not that I avoid them altogether, but I don't count on them for my calcium). Slice up as many garlic cloves as you'd like, since the more onion and garlic, the better it is for the sick person, within reason. There is a fine balance between healthy and edible, so try to stay on the edible side of things.

If you have some seaweed around, that is a good mineral rich addition, and if you don't scoop it into the soup bowls, no-one need know about it. Dulce, kelp, arame, wakame, even some nori would work. But, only if you like it.

Add a bunch of water, so that the top won't bubble over while the vegetables simmer (or boil, if you are in a hurry to get back to your sickbed). Adjust the guppins (all the stuff in the soup) to the broth so that it is about one to five, ratio-wise. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat so that it simmers or bubbles more slowly.

That is about all, until the vegetables are soft and you are ready to add the miso, but if you really want it more medicinal, I like to add some ginger root (which, again, doesn't need to go in the bowls), some thyme, some red cayenne pepper, and even a little turmeric. Turmeric is good to have every day, as it works against inflammation in the body, which is at the root of many problems that develop. It adds a nice yellow color to rice or stews or scrambled tofu, but it is bitter, so don't add too much. Maybe half a teaspoon or so.

I like to have whole grain bread with my soup, but if you want it to be more substantial, about eight minutes before the end of the cooking, you could add some long noodles, bean threads or cooked rice. Also, earlier on, if you want more protein in your soup, you can cube up some tofu. Regular refrigerated tofu will work, or some of the aseptically boxed Morinu tofu is handy to keep on hand in your pantry for things like this.

After about twenty minutes or so you can turn it off, depending how thickly you sliced your carrots and how high you've kept the heat once it has begun simmering.

Once you've turned it off you can add the miso. The amount will vary according to how much soup you are making. I would say anywhere from a quarter cup to a cup of miso (for a very large pot). Take out a little broth and put it in a small bowl with the miso, and mix it all up, then pour the miso back into the soup, stirring it all around.

Macrobiotics would roll over about this next thing (as well as the other spices I mentioned), but if you're sick, it is good to make your body more alkaline, and, strangely, lemons, though an acid fruit, turn alkaline in the body. They also brighten flavors considerably. So I like to squeeze about half to a whole one in the soup before serving, depending on the quantity of broth. This is not a traditional miso soup, but it is warming and soothing, provides liquid nourishment, and makes us feel like we are helping ourselves get better. And maybe it really is.


  1. I approve this soup! Lemon at the last minute preserves the vit. C which can only help...a good idea I've never tried.

  2. Thank you! I make it often in the winter.