This Japanese suimono with tofu and vegetables is a light and flavorful clear soup. It features silken tofu and a mix of fresh vegetables in a delicate and umami broth. Making this easy suimono recipe is a simple yet elegant way to enjoy the tastes and aesthetics of Japanese cuisine at home.
What is Suimono?
Suimono, which literally translates to “something to sip,” is a category of clear, delicate soups traditionally served in Japanese cuisine. The soup is known for its subtle flavor profile, highlighting the umami from dashi (Japanese stock) and the natural taste of add-in ingredients.
This soup is highly regarded in kaiseki (traditional Japanese course meals). It demonstrates a chef’s ability to extract the purest flavors from ingredients while maintaining a clear and delicate broth.
A typical suimono recipe starts with making dashi. Once the dashi is prepared, it’s often flavored with a touch of soy sauce. To maintain the clarity of the soup, solid ingredients are typically pre-cooked or blanched to remove any impurities before they are added to the soup.
Common choices for add-in ingredients are seafood, tofu or egg, and some pieces of cooked vegetables. Chefs will also add a bit of citrus peel or a sprig of sansho pepper leaves to give the soup an irresistible fragrance.
Intrigued by the delicate flavors of suimono soups we tasted during our four-day trip in Kyoto, we were determined to cook it at home. After the trip, I looked up suimono recipes in my go-to Japanese cookbook, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, and followed the cooking instructions. The result was tasty; however, the flavor was much stronger than what I had in Kyoto.
After the first few attempts, I talked to a Japanese lady I know about Kyoto cuisine and suimono. She then told me the lightness of Kyoto cuisine, including its suimono, came from using kombu dashi (kombu is Japanese dried kelp). The soup made from kombu dashi would be much more delicate than using dashi made with katsuoboshi (shaved bonito flakes).
Thanks to her, I realized what I needed to change to improve my suimono. Switching to a kombu-only dashi allowed me to recreate the flavors we enjoyed so much in Kyoto. I’m pretty happy with this recipe, and I hope you will like it too.
Here are the main ingredients you’ll need to make this suimono with tofu and vegetables. This version of suimono is vegan, in case you have dietary restrictions.
- Kombu dashi: this is the core of our suimono. Kombu dashi is prepared simply by gently heating kombu in water until just before it boils. If you have time, soak kombu in water for several hours or overnight in the fridge. You can find kombu at Asian grocery stores.
- Silken tofu: this type of tofu adds a soft, creamy texture to the soup, contrasting nicely with the crisp-tender vegetables. The softer the tofu, the more delicious the soup will be.
- Mushrooms: you may use any variety of mushrooms. I use fresh shiitake mushrooms.
- Spinach: the vegetable will add more color and texture to the soup.
- Carrots: a thin slice of carrot will add a sweet note and a splash of color to each bowl of suimono. You may cut the carrot into a flower shape, but it is optional.
- Seasonings: salt, soy sauce and sake.
The idea for the add-in ingredients came from the photo I saw on this website.
How to Make Suimono with Tofu and Vegetables
This suimono recipe is not difficult to make at all, although it requires some meticulous preparation. First, in a clean pot, soak dried kombu in cold water while you prepare other ingredients for the soup. If you have time, soak it for several hours or overnight in the fridge.
After soaking, slowly heat up the pot. Just before the water starts to boil, remove the kombu. Kelp may emit a strong odor when boiled, so we need to remove it before the water boils.
In a separate pot with plenty of water, blanch the spinach for a minute, and then place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Squeeze out excess water and cut spinach into 2-inch sections.
Fill the pot with water, and continue to blanch the carrots and mushrooms. Also blanch the tofu until heated through. You may also sear the mushrooms in a skillet with a bit of oil instead of blanching.
Arrange all add-in ingredients in serving bowls. Season the broth lightly and ladle into the bowls.
How to Serve the Soup
Traditionally, suimono is served in a lacquer bowl. After assembling the soup, you may garnish it with a small piece of lime or lemon peel for a hint of citrus fragrance. Then, cover the bowl with a lid to capture the aroma. The soup should be served right away for the best taste.
We brought back a few lacquer bowls from Japan just to serve soups at home. I also use these bowls to serve this lotus root soup. If you don’t have any lacquer or ceramic bowl with a lid, just serve the soups immediately after assembling. We like to have suimono with steamed rice and savory dishes, such as salt grilled fish or this Japanese hamburg steak.
Here are some recipes you can serve with this soup for an easy Japanese dinner at home:
⭐️ I’d love to hear what you think about the dish, so please feel free to leave a comment and a rating if you have tried it. New recipes are added every week so let’s connect on Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest and Instagram for the latest updates. You can find my collection of Vietnamese recipes here.
Japanese Suimono Clear Soup with Tofu and Vegetables
- 0.6 oz kombu sheets (dried kelp) (17g, about a 6-7 inch square piece)
- 3 1/3 cups water (800ml)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon sake
- 6 oz spinach (170g)
- 8 oz silken tofu, divided into 4 equal pieces (225g)
- 4 slices of carrots, about ¼-inch thick each
- 4 medium shiitake mushrooms, stems removed (or other types of mushrooms, about 1.75 oz or 50g)
- a few pieces of citrus peel (for garnishing)
- Use a damp sheet of paper towel to gently wipe off any dirt on kombu. Do not wipe off the white powder on kombu since it contains a lot of umami. Place 3⅓ cups (800ml) water in a clean pot and soak the kombu in the water. Set aside while you prepare other ingredients.
- Place the pot over medium heat to heat up the kombu and water slowly. Just before the water starts to boil, remove kombu. Let the stock boil, then adjust the heat to a simmer. Add salt, soy sauce and sake (adjust to taste). Keep the broth hot if the add-in ingredients are not ready yet.
- Bring a separate large pot of water to a boil, then add spinach. Blanch for about 1 minute, then transfer spinach to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Discard the liquid. Squeeze out excess water, cut off the bottom and then cut spinach into 2-inch sections.
- Fill the pot with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, then add silken tofu and carrot slices. Simmer until carrot is crisp-tender and tofu is heated through, about 4 minutes.
- Carefully remove tofu and place each piece of tofu into a serving bowl. Also place each piece of carrot into each bowl.
- Add mushrooms to the blanching pot and simmer for a few minutes until cooked through. Alternatively, you can sear the mushrooms in a skillet with a bit of oil, however, the searing method will take longer to cook. Divide mushrooms into serving bowls.
- Add a small piece of citrus peel on top of the tofu in each bowl. Ladle the hot broth into serving bowls. Cover the bowls and serve right away.