Use Miso to Introduce Umami to Your Dishes
It was late at night and I had stopped by the supermarket to buy some salmon filets but hadn’t really thought about how to cook them. When I got home, I looked in the kitchen to see what I could use for seasoning and found the cabinets sparse.
Another night of salmon seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil, I groaned to myself for not buying more spices while I was at the store.
But as I double-checked my fridge for ingredients, I found a small bag of leftover miso that my grandmother sent me. I checked the expiration date and found that it still had six months left on it.
Health benefits of miso
Miso is a fermented paste made from plant protein-rich soybeans and grains and has been used in Japanese cuisine for centuries. It is an incredibly versatile ingredient that is full of umami flavor and health benefits and contains millions of gut-friendly bacteria that help digestion. Good gut health has been linked with not just good physical health, but also stable mental health in multiple nutrition studies.
In addition, a probiotic-rich diet may help reduce your risk of being sick and help you recover faster from infections, and may reduce the need for infection-fighting antibiotics, so it’s a great addition for those looking to boost the immune system. There are several kinds of miso, and while they vary based on the ingredient ratios and fermentation process, they typically break down into three kinds:
- Red miso: A deep brown-red in color, red miso has the highest proportion of soybeans and is typically fermented the longest amount of time, up to three years. It is very rich in flavor, and so is best used in soups and thick sauces.
- White miso: White miso is made from soybeans and rice. It is also referred to as light miso, because it is sweeter and milder than red miso, and is great for sauteing fish, chicken, or vegetables.
- Mugi miso: Similar to white miso, it is on the sweeter and milder side, but made from soybeans and barley. It is popular in southern Japan and is often used in soups.
How to cook with miso
1. Miso soup
The simplest, most standard way to cook with miso paste.
- Heat up dashi stock (I recommend using this dashi packet and hot water) so it’s hot but not boiling. Add in favorite ingredients, such as dried wakame and tofu.
- Dissolve in red miso paste– about 2 tablespoons per 400 ml of water — then taste and adjust seasonings as you go.
- Serve into small bowls and enjoy!
*Tip: Scoop miso using a ladle, add in a bit of hot water from the pot into the ladle, and dissolve it in the ladle first. Once the miso paste is more liquid, add it to the soup: This ensures that there are no miso clumps in the soup and everything is thoroughly dissolved.
2. Miso-mayo dressing for summer vegetables
- Gather 1 tablespoon of miso paste, 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. *Optional: 1 teaspoon of tahini/sesame paste for extra sweetness
- Mix together the ingredients and use as a dressing for salad, or use as a dip for crunchy cucumber and carrot vegetable sticks.
3. Saikyo miso-yaki marinade
- Have on hand 2–3 filets protein of choice (typically black cod or salmon, but you can also use chicken), 3 tablespoons of white miso, 3 tablespoons of sake, and 1 tablespoons of sugar.
- Lightly salt your fish and let rest on a paper towel for 10 minutes to remove water.
- Mix miso, mirin, and sake, and marinate your fish for 30 minutes to a day or so. The longer you marinate, the more flavorful.
- Wipe or rinse off the miso and heat on a pan until cooked through. Enjoy!
Finesse what you have
While miso paste is typically known for its use in miso soup, the condiment goes way beyond this in terms of its use. In addition to the recipes listed above, you can use it to sauté your vegetables, flavor the base for ramen noodle soups, season grilled onigiris or mochi, and much more!
To make flavorful and healthy dishes, we don’t need to have a fully stocked kitchen and 10 different spices — with just a small kitchen stocked with miso paste and a few other kitchen staples, we can season our soups, vegetables, and fish to create a well-balanced meal at home. Rich in umami flavor and full of beneficial gut bacteria, consider keeping miso in your fridge and get creative with how to use it to flavor your dishes.
If you enjoyed this piece or want to find out more on Japanese healthy eating, email me at email@example.com! I'm open to questions, comments, and look forward to hearing from you! 😊 🌱 Warm regards, Kaki.