Ahhh, miso. Whether gentle or bold, your salty sweet flavor tantalizes my taste buds and satisfies my soul.
Wait, what? What is miso, you say? A hippie health supplement? Well, no, not exactly. That soup served as an appetizer at a Japanese restaurant? Well, yes, but it’s really much more than that. One of those newfangled probiotic trends? Probiotic, yes, but it’s not new at all, and as a trend it’s here to stay.
In fact, it’s an amazing seasoning—and it’s much more tasty and easy to use than you might expect. Really, if you’ve never had it, you should at least give it a shot. Take my word for it, it’s good stuff. If you’re at least curious, then read on! What follows is your miso primer.
Navigating the Spectrum: The Colors of Miso
If you go to buy miso at the store, you may find that you have a few different options (particularly if you’re at a Japanese or Asian food market): white, yellow, red, or black. The lighter shades are more mellow and less salty in general than the darker shades. Miso is, as you may know, a fermented food. Fermented soybeans, to be specific—although there can be additional ingredients like rice, barley, millet, or a number of other grains. The grains are aged with salt and the koji culture anywhere from a few months to well over a year. More or less, you can expect that the longer the aging period, the deeper the depth of flavor.
If you’re a miso beginner, you’ll probably want to start out with white or yellow. If you like it, try the red. After that, sky’s the limit! Search out regional variations or try miso made from different bases. You’ll find that some varieties are light and sweet, some are musky, and some are earthy.
There are plenty of Japanese manufacturers who ship to the U.S., but you’ll find some American made miso as well. I usually read the label and go for a brand without any preservatives, because after all, the fermentation process is really preservative enough. That’s the whole point; why add something else?
More Than Simply Soup
At the moment at Söntés, you can find miso braised turnips served with our Pan Seared Scallops. Salty, sweet, smooth, and rich—what more could you ask for? In truth, you can add miso to almost anything to give it a tangy kick. Use it as a topping on vegetables, or braise fish with it, or pickle things, or make a dressing for a salad or sandwich. There’s even a recipe out there for miso cookies, I kid you not; I haven’t tried them, but I’d be willing to give it a shot.
That being said, miso soup is really quite good, and completely nourishing. The trick to making it is simple: don’t boil the miso. Throw your other ingredients into the pot first (daikon, carrots, onions, or tofu, for example) and boil them with some water and dashi (fish) stock until they’re cooked through. Turn down the heat and wait until it is no longer boiling, then add your miso and gently strain it into the soup. The Japanese say that if you have a good balance in the soup, the miso will taste like the sea.
Additional tip: I like to poach an egg in the stock if I’m having the soup for breakfast. Highly recommended for a cold winter day.
So, here’s to your health! Enjoy the miso.
-Amanda, Editor in Chief