Make it with Miso

Most people have enjoyed Miso soup at some point.  It is hot, salty and brimming with Umami!  But miso is not just for soup.  If you like miso, there are so many more great ways to enjoy it.

This traditional Japanese seasoning is made by fermenting soybeans with salt, koji and other ingredients such as rice or barley.   Koji (pronounced ko-jee) is a fermentation starter made “from rice inoculated with the spores of a mold (Aspergillus oryzae) and permitted to develop a mycelium,” according to Merriam-Webster.  Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a fine network of white filaments (hyphae).  This is probably more than most of you wanted to know, but there you have it.

Like every food I read about, cook and/or taste, I always like to see if I can make it from scratch.  And yes, you can make miso from scratch.  And yes, I mean that, you can and then give me some.  There are many sources that describe in detail how to make miso yourself.  It doesn’t sound like it is hard to do, but as with any fermentation you do need to have some control over the environment.   And once you have procured the koji, cooked and mashed the soy beans and added the right amount of salt, you just have to wait three months to a year to eat it.  Let me know how it turns out.  I will keep buying my miso.

Miso keeps for a long time.  I usually just snip off a corner of the bag and squeeze out what I need.  The rest stays fresh.  I first started using miso when I started teaching Sushi at Home classes.  We of course made miso soup including making dashi which is the broth flavored with kombu (seaweed) and bonito (dried tuna) that you add miso paste to make miso soup.  I still make dashi and miso soup in all of my sushi classes.  Kids get a kick out of taking a chunk of seaweed and turning it into soup!  (If you’re interested, I have a Kids Sushi Workshop coming up on May 7 (Tues) from 4-6:30pm.  Email me at if you would like to register.)  I like cooked shrimp and blanched asparagus as garnishes in my miso soup, as well as lightly sautéed shiitake mushrooms.

There are three main types of miso that you typically will find in grocery stores that stock miso.  First of all, look for it in a refrigerated case.  It needs to be kept cold.  The most mild type of miso is shiro miso (white miso).  It is fermented for a shorter period of time than other miso and is less salty and has a more delicate flavor.  Sinshu miso (yellow miso) is fermented for a little longer than shiro miso yet is still mild in flavor and salt.  Aka miso (red miso) is fermented longer and has a much more assertive and almost pungent flavor.  I typically use the yellow miso as it can be used in in many applications.  As a matter of fact I have been in quite a few Asian grocery stores that don’t even carry the aka miso, probably because they don’t sell enough of it.

Being a fermented food, miso contains live, active cultures of bacteria–like the good bacteria found in yogurt.  It seems like foods with active cultures are all the rage these days for their health benefits.  Miso has many health benefits that I will save for another time or let you look up.  Because it is a live culture it is important to not kill the bacteria in order to receive the benefits of eating it.  In other words, don’t boil the miso soup!  

Here are some simple and easy ways to incorporate high-protein probiotic fermented miso into everyday foods.  I’ve also included two tasty miso recipes below for you to try.

  • Whisk up a quick salad dressing with miso, rice wine vinegar and a little sesame oil.
  • Add a spoonful or so of miso to your fish chowder. 
  • Make a miso mayonnaise with a little lemon or lime juice.  Great for tuna or chicken salad. 
  • Prepare a miso mustard using Dijon, country-style or Chinese hot mustard. Adding a little sweet rice wine will temper the heat.
  • Combine minced shallots, pasted garlic and miso with ground turkey, chicken or beef for a flavor-packed burger. 
  • Make a beurre blanc by caramelizing miso in a sauté pan, then emulsifying cold butter to have with sautéed or grilled fish.
  • Use miso as a glaze with apricot jam for sautéed vegetables and serve that with Miso Mashed Potatoes.  (See Recipes)
Miso and Apricot-Glazed Sautéed Vegetables

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
2 tablespoons apricot jam or preserves
1 tablespoon white or yellow miso
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound blanched vegetables, trimmed and cut as needed

Method: Warm the olive oil, apricot jam and miso in a sauté pan until just steaming. Add the cooked vegetables and heat through. Season with pepper. Serve with Miso Mashed Potatoes.

Miso Mashed Potatoes

1½ pounds potatoes
Water to cover
½ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup butter
2 tablespoons white or yellow miso
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Peel the potatoes and place them in a pot with water to cover. Cut the potatoes into equal-sized chunks and place them in the pot with enough water to cover them. Add a chef’s pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender when poked with a fork. Drain well and place back in the pot. Add the cream, and butter. Mash well and stir in the miso paste. Season with pepper and more salt, if needed. (Remember, miso is salty.)

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