Like many food lovers, the strangest things make me hungry. For instance, the Olympics. Ok, perhaps that's not too much of a stretch-- watching feats of endurance always works up a bit of an appetite-- but that's not what I'm talking about. The Olympics remind me of a wonderful vegetarian restaurant in Vancouver, The Naam; their miso gravy is to-die for, and completely changed what I thought was possible with miso. Miso is made from fermented grain or soybeans, salt and kojikin, a fungus also used to brew soy sauce and sake. Miso falls into three basic categories: komemiso, made with rice and soybeans; mugimiso, made from barley or rye and soybeans; and mamemiso, made from soybeans alone. Varying the fermentation time, the amount of salt and the strain of kojikin creates further variety: shiromiso (white miso), akamiso (red miso), awasemiso (mixed miso) and hatchomiso, the richest, thickest variety.
Miso has a full-bodied, savory taste that perks up dull foods with its rich umami; it's a fabulous way to add extra flavor without calories and fat. Miso isn't an amazing source of vitamins or minerals, and is high in sodium, but a little goes a long way: just a teaspoon provides an incredible punch of flavor, for only 10 calories. Prior to my life-changing miso gravy experience, I had never really thought much about miso other than as a tasty precursor to sushi, but there are a variety of uses. Here are 5.
- Miso marinade. Miso works very well as a marinade for fish, vegetables, meat or tofu.
- Miso Risotto. Miso adds a creamy nuttiness to vegan risotto that cheese might otherwise provide.
- Miso + eggplant. Eggplant works amazingly well with miso, as its porous interior soaks up flavor like a sponge. Try it sauteed or baked in a creamy gratin.
- Miso pesto. Miso subs for cheese and olive oil to make a healthier pesto sauce for pasta or gnocchi.
- Miso butter. Ok, we've been touting miso as a low-cal flavor wonder, but this recipe from Momofuko is anything but. Still, it's delicious-- try it on corn for an unusual Japanese flavor combination.
Other miso ideas: