This time of year is all about soup, what with cold season in full swing. You know how it is... you drag yourself home from work, head full of cement, and all you want is something warm and comforting to eat that will make you feel better. If you're looking for lighter soup that's nourishing and easy to digest -- as opposed to a thick, rich stew -- you might consider having a big bowl of miso soup. More interesting that your plain old chicken soup, miso is comfort food with a little international flair.
For those uninitiated in the ways of Japanese cuisine, miso is made from fermented soybeans and other grains, which are made into thick paste that is rich in protein and nutrients. While there are many different kinds of miso, the two you're most likely to find at your local grocery store are red miso and white miso. Red miso is saltier, having been fermented longer, and white miso is a little lighter in flavor. For making miso soup, you want to pick up a tub of white miso, also known as shiro miso. Note: This stuff lasts forever in the fridge. Seriously. I think my tub of miso is over a year old and it still tastes the exact same. Also, a little goes a long way, so don't buy a huge vat of miso unless you plan on willing it to your grandkids.
Another important ingredient in miso soup is dashi, or Japanese soup stock. Dashi is the base of many Japanese soups and sauces. While you can just buy dashi mix from the grocery store, I highly recommend making your own dashi -- just like chicken stock, it's way better when made from scratch! Dashi isn't vegetarian by default, but you can find veg dashi at Asian grocery stores.
Miso soup is a particularly good soup to eat when you're sick, due to its ample protein and high electrolyte content. Plus, fermented foods are easier to digest if your gut is sluggish from the virus du jour at your kid's school, so if you're just generally feeling the ick, a bowl of miso soup might be the one thing that will make you feel better.
There are several places in the Bay Area to get an incredible bowl of miso soup: