As we slide through late winter, Kapha dosha replaces the dominance of the Vata dosha. Constant rain, melting snow, abounding rivers, signify the increase of the water element in the environment. Budding nature, growth and expansion, remind us of the earth element that will soon draw all the colours and shapes of the spring’s landscape.
As water element starts to increase in the body, pulling to the surface all the sludge we accumulated throughout the previous season, a whole range of mucus based conditions creep in. Think of common colds, flu, sinus congestion, cough, running nose, hay fever,…anyone?
With my 2-year toddler building his immunity, in an ever-raining, cold Netherlands, I’ve been treating a cough, heavy flu, a fever, the chickenpox, then cold, of my loved ones, one condition after another. Two weeks of rest, lots of cuddling, and cooking easy-to-digest healing foods to support their – and my own, immunity. In these conditions, my go-to recipe, a Japanese equivalent to the “grandmother’s soup”, is miso soup, a nourishing broth for all ages.
What is miso?
Miso is a fermented paste, made by combining cooked soybeans, mold (koji), salt, water and various grains. The fermentation process in large crocks lasts for six months to two or more years, resulting in a much stronger, more flavourful miso. There are three basic types of miso, depending on grain used – or not, along with soybeans:
- Soybean miso – hatcho
- Barley – mugi
- Rice – kome
A basic staple of every Chinese and Japanese kitchen, a vast selection of miso can be compared with the finest aged cheeses and wines on the West. This savoury, high protein seasoning comes in range of colours, flavours and qualities.
- Longer fermented miso, usually darker coloured, strong tasting, is recommenced during colder periods of the year
- Less fermented, lighter in colour, sweet tasting miso is preferred during warmer months.
- Moderately fermented, red coloured, moderately salty miso can be used all year long.
Healing properties of unpasteurised miso:
- A powerful protein booster – highly nutritious , miso is a concentrated source of protein reaching as high as 13%-20% of protein.
- A vegetarian source of B12.
- Alkaline food that provides steady energy, promotes stamina and resistance against disease.
- Aids digestion and assimilation – miso is a living, cultured food containing lactic acid-forming bacteria that aid in digestion and assimilation.
- Gives deeper, more satisfying flavour to any dish, reducing cravings for meat and fat.
- Lowers blood cholesterol – containing an average of 5% unrefined and unprocessed oils, mostly from soybeans, miso contains lecithin and linoleum acid which help to break down accumulations of cholesterol in the circulatory system.
- Prevents radiation sickness.
- Neutralises some of the effects of smoking and air pollution.
According to tradition, and based on experiences and impressive statistics of life expectancy in Japan, miso promotes good health and long life.
70% of Japanese people start their day with a warm bowl of miso soup, unlike more than 50% of Western people reaching for an overly acidifying cup of coffee. While coffee takes us on a roller coaster ride of energy, stimulating the nervous and endocrine system, followed by a depressing drop in energy, miso soup gently wakes up the nervous system while effectively alkalising the bloodstream. Throughout the morning, it provides a steady flow of energy, sharp focus and stamina to combat stressful situations.
How to use miso?
Miso can be used as a seasoning in place of salt. It contains only 5.5% to 13% sodium chloride (unlike 90% in table salt) so it can be used on low-salt diets while at the same time giving the richness of flavour. Its deep, hearty, rich flavour, almost meaty at times, is due to its amino acid selection resembling those in meat. This makes miso as one of the favourite seasonings when transitioning from a meat based, to a more plant based diet. Still, a note of caution if you’re suffering from any fungal infection. As fermented food, miso promotes yeast growth, such as in condition of Candida albicans overgrowth. In such conditions, use miso and other fermented foods sparingly.
Miso can be used as an all purpose seasoning, used like bouillon, flavouring, added in stews, soups, dips, sauces, dressings, spreads, like cheese in casseroles and spreads, as a toping for grains, vegetables or tofu.
Medicinal Miso Soup
- dark toasted sesame oil, or olive oil
- a knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
- 3-4 spring onions, white and green parts separately cut into rounds
- 1/2 cup tofu, cubed
- 2 cloves garlic, pealed and minced
- 1/2 cup fresh or rehydrated dry shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
- 4-5 cm kombu seaweed
- 3-4 cups water or unsalted vegetable broth
- 1,5 tablespoons miso (white miso, or a blend of barley and white miso)
- For serving (optional): lemon juice, nori seaweed flakes, buckwheat or rice noodles, a dash of chilli flakes
In a medium pot, quickly sauté the ginger, white parts of spring onion, tofu and garlic on sesame oil. Add shiitake followed by water.
Add kombu seaweed, tamari soy sauce and bring to a scald. Simmer, covered, over low heat for 10 minutes.
In a small bowl cream the miso in a little broth. Turn the flame to very low and return creamed miso to the soup. Bring the soup back to scald and immediately remove from heat to preserve all the living enzymes.
If using, put the cooked noodles in serving bowls and ladle the soup in. Garnish with green parts of the spring onion, nori flakes, chilli and a squeeze of lemon juice.
- If you have a sneezing and/or coughing child, filter the broth and skip the garnishes. A few tablespoons of the broth will do wonders for your little one. It can be used with children older than one.
- Miso soup should be cooked and served fresh to obtain all the benefits of the living culture. However, if you have any leftovers, no harm in reheating it.
Vata (-) – use stronger tasting miso paste
Pitta (-) – use medium strong miso paste, skip the chilli and use fresh coriander leaves for garnish
Kapha (-) – use milder varieties of miso