40+ uses for miso! YES!

First, check out my miso primer post. Then, let’s get down to business.

40 (plus!) uses for Miso:

  1. As an emulsifier. If you make salad dressings at home, you will quickly tire of using mustard as an emulsifier for simple vinaigrettes. White miso works just as well (if not better) at helping those continual enemies, oil and water, to play nicely together. Be sure to use less salt than usual when using miso in dressings.
  2. As the star ingredient in a salad dressing. Though a touch of miso can help to emulsify a standard vinaigrette without contributing much flavor of its own, it can also anchor many different salad dressings. Here are a few ideas:
  3. Miso-tahini dressing: The health food restaurant classic. Blend together white or brown miso, tahini, a neutral oil like grape seed, shoyu, and a little garlic chile sauce (if desired), minced garlic (if desired), ginger juice (make ginger juice by grating ginger then squeezing out the juice), brown rice or apple cider vinegar (lemon juice is also nice), and fresh pepper to taste. Add water to make a smooth consistency.
  4. Caesar salad dressing: There’s a guideline for a recipe here.
  5. Lime-sesame-peanut dressing. Combine peanut butter, agave nectar or maple syrup, sesame oil, white miso, brown rice vinegar, shoyu, and lime juice to taste. If you have any lime oil (Boyajian makes wonderful citrus oils), add a dash as well. Blend with warm water to make a smooth consistency.
  6. Ginger-carrot miso vinaigrette: Combine grated carrots, minced or juiced ginger (use a Japanese ginger grater to get ginger juice quickly and easily), a tiny amount of minced garlic, rice wine vinegar, a spoonful of your favorite miso, and toasted sesame oil and olive oil. Combine well, then taste and adjust flavors as necessary.
  7. Vinaigrette with chai spices:

    ½ ts orange oil or juice and zest from one small orange

    1 Tb. sugar

    ¼ c white wine vinegar

    ¼ ts sea salt

    1 ts. ground cardamom

    1 ts. ground cinnamon

    ½ ts. ground cloves

    ½ ts. ground white pepper

    1 Tb. red miso

    2/3 c olive oil

    2 Tb. water

    Combine all ingredients except oil in a blender jar. Blend while drizzling in olive oil. Add water if dressing seems too thick. Taste and adjust flavors as necessary.

  8. As an all-purpose flavor booster. When making hearty, rich dishes that traditionally contain veal or beef stock, a spoonful of hearty red miso adds an amino acid/umami flavor boost and depth of flavor. 
  9. With an acid. Miso + something tangy and acidic are natural mates–the zestiness of lemon juice (pictured above is some amazing black bean miso I made, waiting to be blended with another fermentation project–preserved lemons) or vinegar (brown rice is always nice) makes most any dish sing just a little louder.
  10. As part of a smooth, creamy sauce for steamed or roasted vegetables. For my meal delivery service, I used to serve a springy dish of steamed newborn turnips (hey, that blog post is so great–go read it!) (Hakurei turnips are a mild, sweet, creamy, juicy Japanese variety that several farmers near me–and maybe you?–grow) with an inch or so of their green tops attached with a simple miso sauce made from olive oil whisked together with white miso, rice vinegar, mirin (or sake or white wine), sugar or agave syrup, and some shoyu.
  11. As a glaze for sautéed vegetables. Combine vegetables that have been sautéed until just beginning to brown with a glaze made from white miso, rice vinegar, tahini, minced fresh ginger, shoyu, sesame oil, and sugar. Cook over medium heat until glaze is slightly thickened, then season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper.
  12. Slather on vegetables, then broil. Miso-glazed broiled vegetables make a perfect weeknight dinner: Mix sweet white miso with some sake, shoyu, mirin, and sugar, then slather on thick slices of eggplant, summer squash, or portobello mushrooms and broil until bubbly. This also works well with tofu.
  13. In Japan, there is a tradition of dengaku cooking, which refers to foods that have been grilled, then coated with the above mixture and grilled again.
  14. Add a little as a secret ingredient in homemade red curry.
  15. Hearty pasta sauces benefit from a little white or red miso stirred in at the end of cooking–a tomato sauce enriched with red wine, plus a little miso, is pretty amazing.
  16. Of course: miso soup!

    miso soup!

    For a boost of flavor and nutrition, you can add a spoonful of miso to any soup. Or, try my quick favorite miso-enriched soup recipe: bring water to a boil, and add any sea veggies you happen to have on hand, (kombu is perfect) as well as any leftover chopped vegetables you need to use up. (If you want the rich flavor that sea vegetables contribute but not the texture or direct flavor, just strain them out after simmering for twenty minutes or so and before adding the vegetables). In a big bowl, add a little bit of this broth and mix with your favorite miso. Add cooked rice or noodles (or quinoa, cous cous, millet, Bhutanese red rice—the list is endless!), some chopped greens if you have them, then fill up the bowl with the broth. Garnish with slivered scallions, if available. Not flavorful enough? Add more miso. Add hot pepper sauce and shoyu to taste, and I often add some brown rice vinegar and a dash of toasted sesame oil as well.

  17. A spoonful of miso blended into thick bean soups adds great depth and richness.
  18. Miso gravy.  I made this recipe for years at Bloodroot, and it’s one of the most comforting sauces you will ever encounter. Caramelize lots of onions (plus sliced shiitake mushrooms, if you have them) in an obscene amount of olive oil. Add a lot of sliced garlic (sometimes I add some ancho chile powder, too) then whisk in a handful of flour, a bit of dried basil and thyme, and a cup or more of dark beer. Add a big scoop of red miso and a big scoop of nutritional yeast, some tomato paste and some shoyu. Add water and whisk until it’s smooth and saucy. Let this gravy bubble away for 20 minutes or so, then put it over mashed potatoes, stuffed vegetables…or just straight up in a shot glass.
  19. Whisk a little miso with olive oil and spices, brush on sliced kabocha squash or other wintery roots & roast.
  20. I use a few spoonfuls of white miso in my homemade tamale batter to boost flavor.
  21. In nut-based cream sauces. See info and recipes here.
  22. In pesto. Adding just a tiny spoonful of white miso in pesto can help emulsify the mixture, and also contributes a cheesy richness.
  23. Miso (any type) and stone-ground mustard makes a wonderful condiment—use it anywhere you use mustard.
  24. In a cream layer for lasagna and savory baked casseroles. I make a polenta torte that consists of layers of cooked polenta (which has been poured onto a sheet pan and chilled until firm), tomato sauce, sautéed mushrooms, and a filling made from a bit of white miso, garlic, tofu, cashews, nutritional yeast, shoyu, white wine vinegar, and basil.  Combine everything in a high-speed blender or food processor and mix until smooth. Taste and adjust flavors as necessary, then layer in a casserole dish and bake in a 375°F oven until bubbly.
  25. In the Classic Sichuan dish Ma-po Tofu. I’ll post my recipe soon!
  26. Make a quick Korean Barbecue Sauce with minced garlic and ginger, paprika, cayenne (optional), white miso, toasted sesame oil, and shoyu. Use on baked tofu or tempeh, or toss with sautéed vegetables like baby bok choy and summer squash, then garnish with sesame seeds and slivered scallions. I’ve been making this dish for years, but I believe the original idea came from a Millennium cookbook.
  27. Sweet white miso is lovely spooned into a bowl of hot oatmeal, grits, or cooked grains, along with maple syrup and fruit.
  28. White miso whisked with olive oil is great on fresh corn on the cob in summertime.
  29. Miso ice cream! I’ve done it! Just add a small teaspoon to your (vegan) ice cream mixture and mix well. This is especially good with strongly flavored ice creams where the bold flavor of miso contributes a nice salty hit but doesn’t overpower.
  30. I asked a few friends on Facebook for their miso tips, and the great Sandor Katz recommended savory oatmeal with miso & peanut butter. Sounds like a perfect winter breakfast. I’d sneak in some maple syrup, too.
  31. Miso pickles. Speaking of Sandor: there is a long tradition of pickling vegetables in miso in Japan. See Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation for a detailed recipe.
  32. A bit of red miso livens up homemade tomato sauce, especially thick, rich, long-cooking winter tomato sauces.
  33. Any marinade for tofu, tempeh, or vegetables is better with a bit of miso added.
  34. A really fine miso, like the ones made with farm-fresh vegetables from South River Miso, are wonderful spread directly on good crackers, and even better when mixed with a little tahini and spread on crackers.
  35. If you’re fond of the Australian condiments Marmite or Vegemite, think of miso as a Japanese version of them, and use it wherever you use these condiments (which I must admit I find terribly bizarre).
  36. Blend a bit of red miso into your favorite bean dip recipe.
  37. I love mashed potatoes with a tiny bit of barley miso added.
  38. A great sandwich spread is mashed avocado with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, a bit of red miso, shoyu, and a whisper of garlic (usually I just rub it on the bread). This is a variation of a sandwich the great Bloodroot restaurant, where I worked for years, makes.
  39. Any sauce that needs a little thickening benefits from a bit of miso whisked in.
  40. The quickest vegetable stock in the world: boil water with vegetable trimmings and, ideally, some good seaweed like a big strip of dulse, and a little bit of red miso.
  41. Bonus! My sous chef Pippa reports that she once made a cocktail with miso. She says: “I tried it in a cocktail once, blended very well with simple syrup, cucumber vodka and fresh basil. It was awesome!”
  42. Bonus! Speaking of sweets, try adding a tiny bit of sweet white miso to caramel sauce, cookies, and other sweet treats. It’s pretty amazing.
Have fun!

All about miso: the soy [or not] food with culture.

We sell our homemade miso at the shop, so I thought I’d write a little about how I use miso and why I love this ingredient so much.

My love for miso is too large to be contained in just one post, so here is a pair of miso posts: today’s is a primer on what exactly miso is, and tomorrow I’ll post a truly huge list of amazing tips, techniques and recipes for your miso.

Miso is a power ingredient, and it’s my firm belief that no kitchen should be without a jar of white and a jar of red miso. First of all: what exactly is miso?

The red miso pictured above, before two years of fermentation made it red.

Good question. Miso is a fermented bean paste. It’s a salty, umami-rich ingredient that lends depth, richness, and body to any dish it touches. In fact, tamari (wheat-free quality fermented soy sauce) has traditionally been made from the liquid exuded from fermenting miso. Miso often works very well to replace soy sauce or sea salt, and though it is of Japanese origin, its flavor can compliment many kinds of dishes. The trick is in knowing what kind of miso to choose. Different types of miso can refer to either how fermented the miso is, or to what ingredients are in it.

The vast majority of misos in the world contain soybeans, but homemade miso can contain whatever beans and grains you like. For the past decade or so I have been making miso myself. It’s a deeply satisfying practice that I can’t recommend enough. I have made miso with many different beans, grains, and even vegetables. Making miso is a simple process, but the fermentation times can be long. The feeling of accomplishment in unpacking a crock of one-, two-, or three-year old miso is intense. For a great recipe for making your own miso, Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation is a wonderful reference.

If you’re not up for making your own miso from scratch, you can buy wonderful miso in every health food store. In the Northeast, my favorite brand of store-bought miso is South River. It is made in small batches with care, and many seasonal varieties are often available. Miso Master is another readily available quality brand.

There are two primary types of soybean miso available in the United States: red and white. White miso is fermented for only a few months, and is therefore much lighter in color and less salty. It is often called “sweet miso” and has such a tame, mellow flavor that it pairs well with all kinds of dishes. On the far other end of the spectrum, red miso is a bold, rich, tangy paste that has been fermented for several years. The only difference between red and white miso is the level of salt and the fermentation time—the fermentation process is what changes the color from white to red.

The miso pictured above, while fermenting.

Brown miso, which is a middle ground between white and red, is often available as well, as are misos made with rice, chickpeas, barley, and more. They are all delicious, and all contribute slightly different flavors to dishes. Experiment to see which you like the best.

When buying miso, make sure that it is refrigerated and labeled “unpasteurized,” or “live.” Cheaper shelf-stable misos have been heat-treated and are devoid of the beneficial bacteria that make real miso one of the healthiest foods you can eat.

Speaking of that beneficial bacteria, several of the techniques listed in tomorrow’s list of miso recipes will, indeed, kill it by heating it. This is not ideal from a health standpoint, but even miso that has been boiled or baked is a superbly healthy product. If you are buying miso that you know will be heated, you might want to save a few dollars and buy the shelf-stable brands, as long as they are organic or state that the soybeans are not genetically modified.

For more information on the health benefits of miso, the vintage classic The Book of Miso has all the info you need, and lots more.

Once you have your miso, it can be stored in your refrigerator almost indefinitely, slowly improving with age. But there are many reasons not to let it languish on a shelf in the refrigerator–coming tomorrow, 40 uses for miso! 

Our new menu–final version!

Here’s the final version of our shop menu–we had to tweak the hot chocos a bit because, well, no one liked the Aztec and Mexican ones (well, not enough people did, let me put it that way), and we realized we were sort of losing money on the Drinking Chocolate. So here’s the official one–please note that this is only for the shop, not online! All our online products are here.

Click to enlarge!