How to use: Miso paste
Oh miso paste, how I love you. This essential Japanese ingredient turns up in some of the best Japanese dishes: miso soup, nasu dengaku (grilled eggplant with miso sauce), regional miso flavoured ramen, miso salad dressing, grilled fish with miso, and so many more.
Miso is essential to the notion of the 5th taste, known as ‘umami’. Umami can be described as a delicious savoury taste, which is generally found in ingredients which naturally contain monosodium glutamate, otherwise known as MSG. While MSG as a food additive gets a pretty bad rap, technically MSG is the salt component of glutamic acid, which is an amino acid. You will taste umami in things like parmesan cheese or a well-aged steak.
There are many types of miso paste. The different varieties depend on the process of fermentation and added ingredients. Generally the darker the miso, the longer it has been fermented and the stronger the flavour will be. For example aka miso (red) and shinshu miso (yellow) are stronger than shiro miso (white). Additional ingredients used in fermentation can also change the flavour. Other varieties of miso include mugi (barley), genmai (brown rice), taima (hemp seed), gokoku (5 grains: soy, wheat, barley, proso millet and foxtail millet), among others. Generally these will be stronger in flavour also. Shiro miso, or white miso is the most commonly used and has the mildest flavour base. It is also the easiest to use.
Miso paste is a high protein food fermented food which contains tetragenoccoccus halophilus, which is a lactic acid bacterium or a good bacterium. This is why miso paste should not be boiled in cooking or it kills the good bacteria. It also contains vitamin B, K, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and folate.
Apart from miso-central dishes, miso paste can be added into other everyday dishes to boost health and flavour. Add a couple teaspoons of miso paste to a burger or meatball mixture. Combine a couple teaspoons with butter to make a delicious dressing for green beans and other cooked vegetables.
A basic miso paste is great for marinating meat, fish, adding to stir fries, using as a dip and adding flavour to soups. It keeps for at least 3 weeks in the fridge if kept covered, because the miso is already fermented and the other ingredients are basic store cupboard.
Basic miso paste
200g shiro miso
50ml sake (Japanese rice wine)
100ml mirin (Japanese rice vinegar) or use Apple cider vinegar
30g caster sugar or the equivalent of other sweetener or liquid sweetener such as agave
In a small saucepan, combine the ingredients and stir over a low heat.
Allow to come to the boil then reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 8-10 minutes stirring as it reduces. Allow to cool.
For your traditional miso soup, there is a bit of a process. You can actually skip these first steps if you want to cheat and just use a sachet of dashi stock powder. Dashi is made from dried fish flakes from the bonito fish. Most of these ingredients can be found in Asian food stores, health food stores, organic stores and even major supermarket chains. A vegetarian/vegan alternative recipe is written below also.
10cm piece of kombu seaweed
15g of katsuobushi (bonito flakes) which is roughly a handful
750ml of water
3 tablespoons of miso paste (you can use less, just add it gradually to taste)
1 spring onion
Piece of cooked carrot, sweet potato, cubes of silken tofu (optional)
A few pieces of dried wakame seaweed (optional)
Wipe down your piece of kombu, but don’t rinse it. Snip it in a few places to help it release flavour and place in a saucepan with the water. Allow to soak for half an hour.
Bring the kombu and water to a boil. Turn off heat, remove kombu. Add a half cup of cold water to the pot and the fish flakes. Bring back to the boil and then remove from heat. Allow the fish flakes to settle to the bottom of the pot. Strain the stock through a sieve, but don’t squish the fish flakes.
Replace the stock back into your pot and start heating. As it is heating, take a cup of stock and dissolve the miso into it. Return this to the pan, but now do not let your soup come to the boil again. Boiling miso will lose its properties and flavour. If using wakame seaweed, soak in cold water for 10 minutes then squeeze out the water and chop into small pieces. Add into soup with cooked vegetables and tofu to heat through gently.
Distribute into bowls and serve immediately.
Alternatively you can use 2 sachets (10g) of store bought dashi stock powder and skip the stock making process.
Vegatarian/Vegan ‘Dashi’ stock
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
15cm piece of kombu
A few pieces of wakame seaweed
2 tablespoons of sake
2 tablespoons of mirin
½ teaspoon of sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Wipe the dust from the kombu and snip it in a few places to help release the flavour.
Add your kombu to a pot with the water and shiitake mushrooms and allow to soak for at least an hour.
Bring the pot almost to the boil then remove kombu. Add the wakame and bring to the boil and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Add the sake, mirin, sugar and soy.
Strain the mixture through a sieve and finish making the soup as above.