Cooking with Miso
The key to fine miso cookery is not to overpower dishes with a strong miso taste, but to integrate the more subtle aspects of miso color and flavor in a gentle balance with other ingredients. For example, when making miso soup, the use of a kombu, shiitake, kombu-bonito, or vegetable stock helps achieve a full, rich flavor with considerably less miso than you would need if you boil vegetables in plain water and rely on miso to supply all the flavor. The latter method usually results in either an overly salty soup or one that is watery, bland and unappetizing. With respect to color, bright summer vegetables such as sweet corn or yellow squash and lightly cooked greens floating in the beautiful yellow to beige colored broth of light, sweet miso soup is appealing in warm weather, whereas the earthy tones and hearty flavor of dark miso soup with chunky root vegetables and wakame or kale is pleasing during the colder months.
Certain general rules can be applied when cooking with light, sweet misos, such as opposed to dark, salty ones. The light color, sweet taste, and creamy texture of sweet miso is suggestive of its application in American-style cooking: it is an excellent dairy substitute. For example, try a little sweet miso instead of milk, butter, and salt in creamed soups, and with tofu and lemon or rice vinegar in place of sour cream for dips and spreads.
To realize the full potential of sweet miso, explore its uses in salad dressings and sauces. Sweet miso and naturally brewed rice vinegar create a delicious tartness that is both refreshing and cooling. Known as su miso, this combination has a long history in Japanese cuisine. Blended with your choice of other ingredients such as oil, onion, dill or other herbs, rice syrup, tofu and tahini, sweet miso and rice vinegar complement each other perfectly in American style dressings, dips and sauces.
In contrast, dark, saltier misos combine nicely with beans, gravies, baked dishes, and vegetable stews and soups. For a simple and delicious fall or winter vegetable dish, try adding sweet chunky vegetables such as winter squash, carrots, or parsnips to sautéed onions, steaming them in 1/4 inch of water until just tender, then seasoning with dark, long-aged rice or barley miso thinned in a little water or stock just before the end of cooking. Try dark miso in thick soups using root vegetables such as burdock, carrots, and daikon. A lentil casserole seasoned with dark miso warms the body and supplies plenty of high quality protein. Although dark misos are not as versatile as light varieties, traditionally made, unpasteurized dark miso makes nutritious, flavorful and satisfying miso soups that you can enjoy every day in fall, winter and spring without ever becoming tired of them. Once the weather becomes warm, we prefer to combine a dark and a light miso when making miso soup.
Mixed with sweet, tangy, or pungent ingredients such as mirin, rice syrup, rice vinegar or fresh ginger, dark miso can be used in refreshing sauces. Remember that dark miso is stronger in taste than sweet miso, so use it sparingly.
Both dark and light misos are suitable for certain special uses. In general, miso is a good choice when you are looking for a salting agent, digestive aid, or tenderizer.
As a salting agent, miso supplies much more in terms of flavor and nutrition than plain salt without salt's harshness. When substituting miso for salt, add approximately one level tablespoon of any sweet, light miso or two level teaspoons of dark, salty miso for one-quarter teaspoon salt.
The powerful enzymatic action of unpasteurized miso is a natural digestive aid and tenderizing agent. In the digestive system rniso enzymes aid the body's own resources in breaking down complex food molecules. Foods such as beans, tomato products, and raw tofu may cause digestive discomfort. Miso helps balance and digest these foods.
For the same reason that miso aids digestion, it is also a great natural tenderizer. When used in marinades its enzymes break down the complex molecules of vegetable fiber and animal protein into more readily digestible forms. At the same time its flavor penetrates the marinating foods.
For many people making the transition to natural foods, there is a problem of interesting other family members. For families with a commitment to healthful eating, cooking for guests who are not accustomed to this way of eating can be a challenge. Miso helps bridge this gap. It brings a depth of savory flavor and a satisfying complexity to simple fare.