Meet miso, a ubiquitous Japanese condiment that is a must-have for plant-based foodies. I met miso and seaweed (and a lot of other traditional Japanese ingredients) when my husband, Roger, did a stint as a cook in the macrobiotic house in Tucson, Arizona, during our grad school days. Here in Grand Rapids area, you can find these ingredients at Asian Delight, Harvest Health, and Saigon Market, to name a few spots.
Miso is a paste made from fermenting soybeans, salt and koji or various cultured grains like rice, barley or even chickpeas or more soybeans. The taste changes depending on the ingredients used and the length of fermentation. Generally, here in the U.S. you find white and red miso, the white, which is actually amber in color, is said to be sweeter and lighter; the red, more savory. Miso takes up a fair amount of real estate in my refrigerator because I have to try all the different kinds. It’s pricey, but it keeps for months. Some of my go-to Japanese websites assure me that even if my miso is covered with a little white mold, I can just stir it back in.
Miso really does add a rich taste to many dishes. It’s most common use is in miso soup, the equivalent in Japanese culture to our chicken noodle soup. Traditionally miso soup is made with miso, dried seaweed, fish flakes, chopped vegetables, tofu, and perhaps noodles. Each household has its own special recipe. Miso is an excellent vegetable source of vitamin B12, is a complete protein and contains a lot of wonderful digestive properties that I’d much rather refer you to a doctor to learn about. I think this is why miso soup is compared to chicken noodle soup. A steaming hot bowl is good for what ails you. But don’t add miso to a boiling broth. That might destroy some its protective isoflavones.
So the other day, when it looked like this out my window,
and I was feeling under the weather, Roger made me a bowl of miso soup. It was quite simple. He put 6 cups of water and three cups of chopped vegetables in water and brought it to a low boil. Then he threw in a strip of wakame and crumbled some toasted nori over the surface of the water. After the vegetables were soft (about 6 minutes) he removed a cup of the broth and stirred in the miso. It’s hard to say how much miso because tastes for it vary. It’s a salty condiment, so start off with a little—say, two teaspoons per cup—and add more as you need to. Taste test the one cup until you have the right proportion and then multiply. After that, you’ll always know how much to add. Use a whisk if you need to, but the goal is to make sure the miso is fully incorporated into the water. Take the soup off the heat before you add your miso cup back in.
In Japan, miso is a quick and healthy breakfast. If you add cubed tofu and soba noodles, it makes a hearty meal for anytime of the day.