Listen up–miso paste is an umami rich flavor booster that needs to take up a permanent residency in your fridge, if it hasn’t already. Go ahead and clear its place of honor–yes, even if you’re not sure what it is or how to use it. I’m about to tell you.
I’ve lost count of the number of times my grandma has come across a recipe that calls for miso, then called me to ask, “What the hell is, m-i-s-o?” And every time I remind her that miso is just fermented soybean paste and it’s amazing, she seems to lose interest–despite my obvious enthusiasm about it. Oh well. It probably serves me right. I pulled the same sh*t on her every time she mentioned signing me up for cotillion when I was a kid.
You’ll find miso in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, likely right next to where tofu is shelved. It comes in 3 colors that indicate distinctions in flavor intensity:
- White: This is the most commonly called for, and the most approachable for first-time users. White miso undergoes a relatively short duration of fermentation, so it is the mildest in flavor. White miso has a delicate flavor with a light sweetness that makes it incredibly versatile.
- Yellow: Yellow miso has been fermented a bit longer; thus, has a slightly stronger flavor. This is your middle-of-the-road miso, still well suited for all sorts of recipes–its flavor presences is easily identifiable but not overwhelming.
- Red: Red miso has the longest fermentation time and yep, you guessed it–the strongest flavor. This is the miso you’ll want to work your way up to using for heartier dishes.
While miso is a staple of traditional Japanese cooking, the rich savory depth this ingredient has to offer can bring a welcome boost to all sorts foods outside of the Asian flavor profile. Don’t limit yourself to stir-frys and miso soup (not that there’s anything wrong with those); the key to reaping the benefits of this powerful ingredient is to simply experiment with adding a little here and and there into food you’re already comfortable making. Here are 4 simple ways miso can add that “something special” factor to your home cooking:
Making dips more dynamic.
A tablespoon or so of miso can bring a whole new layer of life to some of your favorite appetizer dips and spreads. It’s easily stirred into chunkier dips or food-processed right into pureed spreads to add a special touch. Try using miso in place of a different savory element to change up the taste of a traditional dip–like in the hummus recipe below, where tahini is traded for miso. While you could certainly pull this swap on your go-to classic hummus using chickpeas, this recipe goes a step further on the adventure scale, replacing the chickpeas with edamame. Here are a few of my favorite crudité- and cracker-ready dips/spreads that benefit from the magic of miso:
Dressing up your dressings.
Miso’s salty-sweet savoriness most assuredly something you want to coat your salad greens and fresh veggies in. Go with white miso here–you can whisk in a couple of teaspoons right into your regular homemade salad dressing recipes. In the context of a vinaigrette, miso acts as a great emulsifying agent to hold your dressing together. But don’t forget to harness the miso magic for creamy applications too–be it an amped-up ranch dressing or something extra special in the potato salad.
Adding that “mmm” factor to marinades and glazes.
No doubt, miso is a favorite for marinating/glazing salmon–but don’t stop there. As we mentioned with salad dressing above, miso is a great partner to simply prepared veggies. It’s also a great candidate for coating tofu and heartier proteins like beef (here’s where you may want to play with a stronger flavored miso, like yellow or red).
Delivering salty depth in unexpected places.
Okay, so you salt most all of your food as you cook–yes? This is a basic rule of seasoning. But certain recipes play on salty factors more than others. And an easy way to show off some impressive culinary prowess is by replacing or enhancing the salt or staple salty element in a recipe with an unexpected secret super-ingredient: miso, duh. I know I keep harping on it, but it’s only because it’s true–miso delivers a certain flavor depth that has the power to round out and enrich so many dishes with ease. In other words–it does some amazing work for you with essentially no effort on your part, beyond buying the stuff and spooning it into your food.
Now, you can use miso to surprise and delight in any number of applications–from your (i.e. my) favorite savory brunch time cocktail, to your go-to traditional sauces and soups, and even to your desserts. That’s right, one of my all-time most beloved places to put miso is over ice cream in the form of a warm “salted” caramel sauce, where the salt has been replaced with miso. Trust me, this Miso Caramel Sauce is legit. As are these smart and flavor-savvy applications: