June 6, 2011

Miso, Maybe

This is salt-free, low-sodium Miso soup. Sort of.

A few months ago, I began writing a list of all the super salty foods I missed eating: chicken wings, deep dish pizza, pretzels with mustard, ravioli, pad thai, and of course, miso soup. And one by one, I knocked each of them down, conquering the salt, and replacing it with my own mix of flavors and spices.

Then, I got to my friend miso.

That silky Japanese broth made from dashi and miso powder or paste that delicately slips down your throat. That bowl dotted with seaweed threads and tofu cubes, adding a bit of texture to all those silky sips. The one that begins your meal right. The one that warms you on a cold day. The one that can contain thousands of milligrams of sodium per cup.

Yeah, that soup.

But salt has never stopped me before. Neither has miso. So I set about attempting my own version. Miso would be mine again. Maybe.

To start, I had to make my own dashi, which is a traditional broth made from a number of items – most often dried sardines, dried fish flakes (bonito), dried kelp (konbu), and shitake mushrooms, daikon, or even carrots (used to add flavor, color, and to represent what is in season).

So dashi was not necessarily the problem. I have made a salt-free dashi before with the help of bonito, pacific seaweed, and plenty of shitake.

The real issue was the miso, which is made from fermented rice, barley, or soybeans. And if you haven’t realized this yet, the word “fermented” might as well be written with glowing neon lights that flash the word “salt.”

So fermented soy, rice, and barley was out.

But I wondered, could just dried soy work? Could it add the color and taste needed to make this low-sodium miso soup slip and slide as it should?

In my closet of goodies, I just happened to have a pack of dehydrated tofu skins. Don’t ask.

I ground a few of these delicious tofu sticks into a fine powder and thought, yes, this will give my miso soup that cloudy look I’m looking for. Not to mention the earthy undertones it needs.

I added it to my dashi and let the potion boil and bubble. Melt and simmer. Transform into miso. Maybe.

When I could no longer resist the savory steam coming from the stove, I diced up some tofu cubes, shredded some extra seaweed, chopped some fresh green onion, and sliced extra shitake mushrooms.

I scooped the soup into bowls. And I took my first slurp.


Not. Even. Close.

The soup was way too dark as you can see (probably because I added molasses at the last minute to make it more “fermented” tasting). And the stock was a bit too fishy, a result of my heavy-handed bonito flaking.

But was it a failure?

Not. At. All.

I may never be able to make an exact miso soup without the salt. But I can surely get close.

And to make it really extraordinary, the next time around, I’ll skip all the miso-copy-cating and search for a new mix  of flavors. That way, there will be no need to compare it to the salty original. It will be a dish of its own.

Perhaps I’ll use dried daikon. Maybe I’ll add okra chips instead of seaweed. Or I’ll use clam shells in the dashi stock in place of the bonito for a more subtle sea-fare flavor. No matter what, I’m well on my way to discovering a new way to miso. One hot, fishy bowl of soup at a time.

Above all else, this experiment reminded me that I haven’t heard from you in a while. What are your greatest low-sodium challenges? What are you missing? What do you crave?

My creative juices are flowing and the stoves are hot! So send some salt-free recipe requests my way. It may take me a while to get it right, but with each misstep, I get closer to the right dish.

Chow on.

yuko July 14, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Hello sodium girl..
read you article because I needed help for my sister’s husband who is restrickted from s alt due to cancer and treatments. I will send your various ingrediants used to help her try to make his rice gruel (okai) with some palatble flavor. Thanks
p/s question doesn’t boita flakes have salt?

Jim Young December 14, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I came across this page whilst searching for low sodium Miso and Dashi. I thoght that I would let you know that Eden Organics sells organic Shiro Miso that is 330 mg/Tbsp of sodium. Their other Misos are higher but still not heinous if used carefully. Thanks for the great page, I just found out that all the weight I had been putting on was 50 extra pounds of water from congestive heart failure so the ideas on you page are VERY appeciated 🙂

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