Most people’s experience with miso is the yellowish paste that settles at the bottom of a bowl of soup that’s at the start of a Japanese meal.It’s salty and savory and you go on to the main event of tempura, hand rolls and sashimi.
Miso truly deserves more notice, both as an ingredient and as a source of good nutrition. Miso is a basic flavoring distinctive to Japanese cooking. It’s created by injecting cooked soybeans with a mold cultivated in either barley, rice or soybean paste. Before you get to be put off by the ‘injecting mold’ part, just keep in mind the deliciousness that mold brings in the transformation of milk into cheese in Western cuisine. The color, flavor and texture of miso is affected by the amount of soybeans and salt used and by how long it’s aged, which can be anywhere from six months to three years. Lighter colored miso is used in sauces, soups and salad dressings, darker in heavier dishes.
Styles of miso:
- Shinsu- yellow, mellow and high salt- all purpose
- Sendai- fragrant, reddish brown found in Northern Japan
- Hatcho- dark brown, popular in central Japan
- Akamiso-‘red’ miso
- Shiromiso- Japan’s most popular- white miso- light colored and sweet
Miso adds savory, complex, umami flavor with sweet and roasted notes to sauces, marinades, dips, main dishes, salad dressings and as a table condiment. It’s easily digested and extremely nutritious, with rich amounts of B-vitamins, protein and the fermented nature of miso helps to populate the gut with beneficial flora.
You’ll be surprised with the versatility of miso, as these recipes show:
Buckwheat Noodles with Spinach, Cilantro and Miso Pesto
Pasta with pesto is delicious but contains mostly empty calories with all the carbs and fat of semolina pasta, olive oil and parmesan cheese. This version is delicious and provides better nutrition from the generous amount of spinach and the low-fat richness of the miso. The buckwheat noodles add protein and dietary fiber.
4 cups washed baby spinach
2 cups cilantro leaves with tender stems
1 ½ Tbs. white miso
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup avocado oil
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
10 oz. package dry Japanese buckwheat noodles
1 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Toasted sesame seeds (for serving)
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.
- Meanwhile, purée spinach, cilantro, miso, garlic, avocado oil, sesame oil and lemon juice in a blender until mixture is smooth and very green. Season with salt and pour pesto into a medium bowl.
- Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and add to bowl with pesto. Add butter and toss until butter is melted and noodles are coated in sauce.
- Divide noodles between bowls and top with sesame seeds.
Note: The pesto can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill. Color might darken slightly.
Ginger Miso Asparagus (or Green Beans)
Grilling or broiling brings out the sweetness of the vegetables, while the marinade helps caramelize them as well.
1/3 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
1/3 cup white miso
2 Tbsp. seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. freshly grated peeled ginger
2 bunches asparagus or green beans (about 2 pounds), trimmed
Lime wedges, thinly sliced scallions, and toasted sesame seeds for garnish
- Prepare a grill for high heat. You can also use a broiler. Whisk mirin, miso, vinegar and ginger in a small bowl. Place asparagus or green beans in a shallow baking dish and pour miso mixture over. Toss to coat.
- Grill asparagus or green beans, turning occasionally, until charred on all sides and crisp-tender, 4–5 minutes. If broiling, place the baking dish under the broiler for about 5 minutes, turning once until the vegetables start to char. Transfer to a platter. Squeeze lime juice over, then sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds.
Shredded Lettuce and Chicken Salad with Miso Mayo Dressing
While the weather is still warm, this entrée salad makes good use of chicken left over from last night’s barbeque. The miso dressing is actually a creamy Asian-inspired mayonnaise, and the bacon adds smokey sweetness.
4 slices bacon
1 1½-inch piece ginger, peeled and cut into very thin matchsticks
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. tahini
2 Tbs. white miso
2 tsp. fish sauce (optional)
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice, divided
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup vegetable oil, divided
Sea salt, freshly ground pepper
4 cups chicken, skin removed and shredded (you can use a small, store-bought rotisserie chicken)
1 head of green leaf or Romaine lettuce, cut crosswise into ½-inch-thick ribbons
4 scallions, thinly sliced
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
1. Cook the bacon in a dry skillet over medium heat, turning slices until brown and crisp, 5–8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Pat off the fat and let cool.
2. Cook ginger in a small saucepan of boiling water 1 minute. Drain ginger and rinse under cold water; set aside.
3. Whisk soy sauce, tahini, miso, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar and 2 Tbs. lemon juice in a small bowl until smooth.
4. Whisk the egg yolk and remaining 2 Tbs. lemon juice in a medium bowl to combine. Very gradually stream in ½ cup vegetable oil (almost drop by drop), whisking constantly until it becomes emulsified and thick, like mayonnaise. Still whisking constantly, gradually add soy sauce mixture, then remaining ¼ cup oil. Thin dressing with a tablespoon or two of water if needed; it should be the consistency of heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Toss chicken and ½ cup dressing in a large bowl to coat. Add lettuce and another ½ cup dressing and toss again; season with salt and pepper. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle it over.
6. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl or platter and drizzle another tablespoon or so of dressing over salad but don’t drench the salad–you may have some dressing left over. Top with scallions, sesame seeds and the boiled ginger matchsticks.
Note: Dressing can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
Pecan-Miso Butter and Grape Jelly Sandwiches
This is one nut butter sandwich you won’t want to waste on kids! This sandwich would be great as part of a brunch or a real conversation starter at an afternoon tea.
2 ½ cups raw pecans
3 tsp. red or white miso
1 lb. seedless black grapes, stems removed
1 Tbsp sugar
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
Small pinch of sea salt
8 slices whole wheat artisan-style bread
1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Toast pecans on a large-rimmed baking sheet, tossing once halfway through, until fragrant and slightly darker, 15-20 minutes. Do not let them burn! Let cool. Transfer to a food processor and pulse, scraping down as needed, until the texture of peanut butter. Add the miso and pulse to just combine.
2. While the pecans are roasting, bring grapes, cinnamon, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until grapes have burst, and liquid becomes thicker and “jammy,” 25–35 minutes. Let cool, discard cinnamon stick, then mash with a potato masher.
3. Assemble the sandwiches with bread, miso-pecan butter, and grape jam. Cut into quarters.
Note: Pecan butter and grape jam can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.
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