Japanese – Miso Soup with Brown Rice and Barley

Main Photo Miso Soup edited re-sized

With our tropical heat and high humidity, you would think that there will never be a day when you crave a bowl of miso soup. I don’t fall within that category. A bowl of basic miso soup and a bowl of brown short grain rice cooked with pearl barley forms the foundation of numerous nutritious meals. A simple meal will mean that these 2 items are served with a side dish of one type of tzukemono (漬物 which means “pickled things”). These are Japanese preserved vegetables which  are usually pickled in salt, brine or a bed of rice bran. You can take this simple meal a little further with the addition of a piece of  grilled meat or fish. This is a typical Japanese breakfast.

The inclusion of  a salad or boiled French beans with a goma dressing will make it even fancier and it will likely be served at lunch or dinner.

The photo below shows just one possible combination of additional items to a basic bowl of miso soup and brown rice with pearl barley. Click here for the Pari Pari Chicken Wings and click here for my version of Japanese Potato Salad. Shall we get started?

The Brown Rice with Pearl Barley

Asians and their white rice “go together like a horse and carriage”, irrespective of whether it is long grain rice or short grain rice. White rice (白米) has been stripped of most of its nutrients, leaving just the starch. Brown rice is the obvious healthier alternative. It was during our stay in Tokyo that my daughter changed her resistant mindset and confirmed that brown rice (genmai) tastes wonderful. However, it was only recently that my husband thanked friends for being our dinner guests as it meant that he can have white rice! Some things are sacrosanct, I guess.

Photo above shows 3 brands of zakkokumai (雑穀米) whilst the photo below shows 2 brands of omugi (真珠色の大麦) which you can purchase from Meidiya at Liang Court, Singapore. They are usually found where the bags of rice are sold.

Inside packages of zakkokumai (雑穀米) are several sachets each containing about 2 Tbsp of a mix of  black and red beans, barley, millet, black glutinous rice and sesame seeds. They add more nutrients, fibre and flavour to your bowl of rice. Vegans and the more health concious are keen on these. There are Korean equivalents and if I am not mistaken, I have spied something similar offered by the Taiwanese.

Zakkokumai (雑穀米) is rather expensive but I would like to add more nutrition and fibre to a bowl of rice. Hence, I buy dried pre-cooked pearl barley or omugi (真珠色の大麦) to add to the rice (white or brown). Barley is a good grain source of protein, iron, fibre, selenium (necessary for proper function of thyroid glands) and it is low carb. Hence, I use it often. Proportion of rice to barley  is 1 2/3  cup rice: 1/2 cup barley

The choice of brands and types of rice cookers in the market place is wide. A rice cooker that offers  a “Menu” button giving you a choice of types of rice to cook  makes light the work for cooking not only white rice but also brown rice, mixed rice and even glutinous rice. I am perfectly happy with my Zojiruoshi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. Here is a link to their recipe for brown ricehttp://www.zojirushi.com/recipes/brown-rice

If you don’t have a rice cooker with “Brown Rice” setting, use the plastic measuring cup that comes with your rice cooker to measure the rice. Add 1-1/2 times the amount of water to rice but limit the amount of brown rice to 2/3 of the rice cooker’s capacity to prevent it from overflowing. SOAK rice and water for at least half a day before cooking.

Recipe for Brown Rice with Omugi

1. Use the measuring cup that is provided with the rice cooker. Measure the rice accurately. Wash rice only once. Drain.

2. Add washed rice to cooker’s pan. Fill water into the cooking pan up to the Brown Rice Mark that corresponds with the number of cups of brown rice you have put into the cooking pan. Wipe bottom of cooking pan prior to replacing cooking pan into cooker.

3. Add your measured amount of omugi. Close the lid securely and plug in the rice cooker. Select the “Brown Rice” setting if your rice cooker has one, and press START.

4. When rice cooker beeps indicating that rice is cooked, open lid and use non-stick rice spatula to fluff rice. Serve.

The Miso Soup

Basic Miso soup consists of 3 items.

  • Miso (choose the type that you favour)
  • Dashi (this can be home-made or instant granules)
  • Silken tofu (if you are willing to pay more, the ones made in Japan are more flavourful).


Broadly speaking, Miso pastes can be categorized into (a) red (akamiso), (b) white (shiromiso), or (c)  mixed (awase). Your choice of  which type of miso paste  to make your miso soup defines the character and flavour of your bowl of soup. Click here for “Miso De-mystified”

Every miso has a different level of saltiness, and the worst thing to do is to add too much miso to your soup. A general rule of thumb is to use about 1 tablespoon per cup (250ml) but if you have a very salty red miso, you may need less. Always add less than you think you need. 

The photo above shows the ingredients I use for that quick bowl of miso. The Pyrex measuring jug shows “Miso Liquid” which is a mixture of miso paste mixed with boiled water. You would notice that instant dashi granules are not part of the photo. The shiro miso offers enough umami and salt.

IMPORTANT fact when preparing Miso soups. Miso only requires a very short cooking time. Overcooking destroys it natural flavour and the texture of the soup becomes rough.

Step 1. Decide how many bowls of miso soup you are making. For example 4 bowls of soup ( 1 litre) only requires half a piece of silken tofu. Cut that half piece into small cubes.

Step 2. Pour the required amount of water into the sauce pan and bring to boil. Scoop about 1/3 cup of water from the saucepan and mix it with 1 to 2 Tbsp of miso paste (this depends of what miso you are using) and set aside. Add tofu cubes into the boiling water. Cover and bring to boil for 1 to 2 mins.

Step 3. Lower the heat to only a simmer and add two thirds of miso liquid. Stir and taste for saltiness. If necessary, add in the rest of the miso liquid. Turn off the heat quickly. Serve in soup bowls with a garnish of chopped spring onions.

HINT: After Miso soup has been left standing for a while, the miso separates from the clear stock. Soup is still edible. Simply stir soup with chopsticks before drinking it.

Variations to Basic Miso Soup

Any one or more of the following ingredients can be added to the bowl of quick basic Miso soup. Add these at Step 2, i.e. when the tofu is being boiled.

1. 1 tsp of instant-form wakame per bowl of soup; soaked in water for 2 mins and drained.

2. 1/2 a boiled and peeled small floury potato per bowl of soup.

3. Fresh clams or frozen clams. 3 to 4 clams per bowl of soup.

4. 3 to 4 slices of boiled carrots per bowl of soup.

5. One plant of washed, cut 5 cm length of  English spinach per bowl of soup.

Above photo shows one brand of instant dashi granules which can be purchased from many supermarkets now.














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