Do you often pick an item from the grocery shelf, stare at it for a bit, realize you have no idea what to do with it and move on? We do that too, and these posts are here to help all of us be a little more adventurous. I pick a item that I’ve been interested in but haven’t purchased, and I give you all the info I have to help you decide whether or not to buy. This post is all about miso paste. To read last month’s post about nutritional yeast or ‘nooch’ click here.
The Basics: Miso paste originates in Japan. It’s made from fermented soybeans and rice koji, a type of mold. It’s low in calories (10 calories per tsp) but quite high in sodium (7% of your DV). Miso needs to be refrigerated. It has a lot of known health benefits. It is nutritionally rich and since it’s fermented it is good for your gut health. If you need to keep your sodium intake low, it may not be the best option to add into your diet. There are several different colors and kinds of miso, but I’m sticking with the most common in the US, white miso. The brand I have calls it ‘mellow white’ and you also might see it called sweet miso. That just means it’s milder than red or dark miso. I’ve read that miso paste may be also labeled as ‘soybean paste.’ If you find a recipe you like that calls for another color of miso, you can sub with the miso you have on hand. If the recipe calls for a dark miso, you may need to add more if you have white, and vice versa.
Flavor and Texture: Miso paste is solid when stored in the fridge, then dissolves easily in warm water. It has the thickness and slight graininess of natural peanut butter. It’s very salty, but has this savory-sweetness to it. Miso does not need to be cooked to consume it, but it is not normally eaten by itself. It’s quite unique, and now that I’ve been cooking with it a lot, I am obsessed with the aroma and taste.
Uses: Miso paste is mostly used dissolved in broths, sauces, and dressings. If you’ve ever been to a hibachi restaurant, you’ve probably had miso soup. I picked several recipes that use miso and here are my thoughts:
Miso soup: I mostly used this recipe, but I added more tofu and mushrooms to make it more filling. In Japan, miso soup is usually served in a small bowl as a side item, but I have been making it as a meal in itself. I started making this soup a couple times a week, because it’s so quick to make (10-15 minutes) and was just filling enough to give me energy in the middle of the day. You can definitely play around with this recipe: use tofu or chicken, add spices and sesame seeds, or pick different greens. I poured some kimchi and kimchi juice in it a couple times and really liked it. This is definitely a lunch option I will continue to make even after Miso Month is over.
Miso-glazed salmon: This is also a popular dish you may have seen before. The savoriness of the miso pairs well with salmon. This however was my least favorite recipe I made. I don’t think the miso shined through as much as I wanted since salmon has such a strong flavor (but I don’t think the miso flavor would pair well with a light fish). If I make this again, I would use the miso glaze more as a sauce instead of cooking the fish with it. Or I would pick a recipe that used sake or mirin (I didn’t have sake, so I chose another recipe) to add more flavors. The glaze does do well with chicken, but I recommend cubing the chicken before baking so you get more flavor in each bite.
Miso dressing for veggies: I make an Asian-inspired rice bowl at least once a week. I have a good selection of Asian ingredients (rice vinegar, fish sauce, mirin, etc) and adding miso to my homemade sauces really gave my vegetable dishes some depth. You can follow this recipe or this one, or just add about a teaspoon to a sauce you’re already comfortable with. If your go-to sauce isn’t a sauce you cook, I would recommend mixing the miso with a tablespoon or more of warm water to dissolve it before mixing into your sauce. Otherwise, you’ll get bits of the miso that will be too salty in the sauce. I added miso to sauces for a broccoli side and to green beans.
Miso butter: I made this in the fall and was why I bought miso in the first place, and also why I realized I really liked it. I used this recipe and smeared the butter all over some sweet corn. It was so incredible. Miso is not a flavor most Americans would quickly pick up so the depth of flavor gave the corn a gourmet taste. Besides corn, miso butter would go really well on top of salmon, chicken, or a pork chop, or on top of sauteed mushrooms, eggplant, green beans, or peas.
Miso Peanut Butter Cookies: I wanted to try one recipe that was a little far fetched, so I picked something sweet. I’m not a huge baker so I didn’t know how well these would turn out. But guys, these were the best cookies I’ve ever made. The miso isn’t overpowering. I don’t think anyone would know it was in an ingredient, but it gave the cookies this slight savoriness and amplified the peanut butter taste to make them extra delicious. You definitely need a hand or stand mixer to cream the sugar and butter together, but besides that they were easy to make. If you like peanut butter cookies but are still cautious about trying out miso in your home cooking, this is the recipe to try.
Availability & Price: I found the miso paste in the refrigerated section where tofu, kimchi, and other refrigerated Asian ingredients are. I bought mine at a local health food store for $4.69 for an 8 oz container ($0.58 per oz) . I later found it at Whole Foods for $6.69 for 13 oz ($0.51 per oz). You can obviously find it at most Asian grocery stores, but I wasn’t able to find it at a Wal-Mart or Trader Joe’s. If you found it at other major grocery stores, comment below to let us know where. All the brands I found at the stores were in tubs of various sizes. I’ve had mine for several months and made a ton of stuff with it and I’m just now running out (probably have enough for one more soup). It’s one of those great ingredients that naturally holds up well. When I bought the tub of miso paste, the expiration date wasn’t for an entire year.
Price and availability: 5/10
Healthy alternative: 8/10