Although many people have slurped some miso soup or eaten sticky, miso-glazed cod in a restaurant, it’s less common to actually find miso in Western kitchens. Start stocking some in your own fridge, and you’ll soon find that there’s so much more you can do with this ancient Asian flavor-booster. Miso is made by fermenting soybeans and rice or barley into a thick, flavorful paste that’s similar in texture to nut butters. Adding versatile miso to recipes not only adds rich, salty flavor, but also serves as a source of protein, fiber, and the minerals zinc, manganese, phosphorus and copper. Studies suggest that compounds found in fermented soybean-based foods, like miso, may even provide a cancer-protective benefit, as well.
Miso can range in color from white to yellow to reddish-brown, and the color and flavor intensity varies depending on the fermentation process. Lighter varieties are less salty and more mellow, while darker miso is saltier and more pungent. You can find miso at natural food stores, Asian markets, and some supermarkets. It’s generally sold in tightly-sealed plastic or glass containers which will stay fresh in the fridge for up to a year.
Homemade miso soup is quick and easy to prepare: Just heat miso and water (or the Japanese soup stock called dashi, if desired) over low to medium heat. Enjoy it plain, or stir in some cubed tofu, sliced mushrooms, or chopped scallions. Make savory sandwiches by simply spreading miso on bread and topping it with tahini; sliced avocado makes a great addition. Add miso to the water when cooking beans, brown rice or other grains, or mix it with white sesame paste (found in Asian markets) and toss it with cooked veggies or noodles. Add miso to marinades or stir-fries, or mix it with vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, honey, and grated ginger to make an Asian-inspired salad dressing. And yes, miso makes a delicious glaze for salmon, cod, or halibut. Mix miso with soy sauce and brown sugar or honey; brush onto fish fillets and broil. Top with sesame seeds, if desired.