Miso Paste

I drink coffee like a woman with three kids and a procrastination problem, which is why I spent 10 minutes coaxing my next cup’s water to precisely 205 degrees before writing this sentence. But there comes a time (2 a.m.) when motivation (insomnia) arises, and caffeine reduction becomes possible (necessary). So I’ve switched out my afternoon java for a mug of decaf green tea and miso paste. Miso tea is as warm and comforting as a latte, and surprisingly filling for a beverage of around 45 calories. Now that miso paste is a regular guest in my refrigerator, and one-use specialty ingredients are against my efficient sensibilities, I wondered what else I could make with it. The answer, it turns out, was quite a lot.

A staple in Pacific cuisines and Japanese food in particular, miso is a thick paste made from soybeans fermented with a koji starter and a little brown rice or barley for color. It tastes salty and savory, and feels rich and full-bodied without the heavy, slippery sensation of full-fat dairy. White and yellow misos offer the mildest flavors; bold red and fierce brown rice misos make you stand up and pay attention. I suggest starting with a pale version and working your way into deeper colors.

Miso is fermented, so you can think of it as a party of probiotics, ready to confetti your gut and immune system with good health. To reap all the benefits, add miso when your food isn’t being directly heated, since hot temperatures kill the happy little microbes. If it’s in a glaze or marinade, simply make a little extra and reapply after cooking to boost the flavor and friendly bacteria.

Miso soup was the first food that came to mind as I brainstormed recipes. Traditional miso soup is made with dashi, which is Japanese fish stock and seaweed. My fridge happened to be all out of fish stock and seaweed, but vegetable broth and kale worked just fine. I added a little tofu, green onions and a generous amount of miso, and it tasted surprisingly close to authentic for a St. Louis home kitchen. Miso-glazed salmon is another go-to, but you can also miso-glaze vegetables. Deepen the flavor of asparagus, Brussels sprouts, carrots and other root vegetables by brushing them with equal parts oil, miso and honey before roasting.

Make old recipes new again by adding miso to your condiments, gravies and spreads. (Miso mayo, anyone?) If you’re a fan of salty-sweet combinations, drop a spoonful of miso in warm caramel and drizzle it over ice cream – or straight into your gob. The only real rule is to limit the amount of additional salt in recipes, because miso is a sodium bomb all by itself. Otherwise, options are almost limitless. The contemplation of which, ironically, keeps me awake at night.

Miso Tea
Brew a cup of green tea according to the package directions. Pour 1∕4 cup of the hot, but not boiling tea into a small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon miso paste until dissolved. Return the miso mixture to the remaining tea and stir in 1∕8 teaspoon ground ginger.

Miso Tuna Salad
In a medium bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and 2 teaspoons miso paste. Stir in 6 ounces albacore tuna, 2 tablespoons diced celery, 2 tablespoons diced white onion and kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve in bibb lettuce leaves.

Spring Salad with Miso Vinaigrette
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine ½ cup sesame, olive or canola oil, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon miso paste and 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar. Secure lid and shake until emulsified. Taste and adjust ingredients if desired. Toss with spring mix lettuce.

Miso-Roasted Brussels Sprouts
In a large bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons miso paste, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1∕4 teaspoon kosher salt. Add 1 pound halved Brussels sprouts and toss until evenly coated. Roast at 425 degrees until browned, about 20 minutes.

Miso Veggie Dip
In a food processor, whip 1∕4 cup creme fraiche, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon miso paste and 1 teaspoon minced garlic. Refrigerate at least 1 hour (preferably overnight) to blend flavors. Serve with crudités.

Miso Corn on the Cob
Blend 4 tablespoons (½ stick) room-temperature unsalted butter with 2 tablespoons miso to make David Chang’s miso butter. Rub the miso butter on ears of roasted corn.

Miso-Marinated Flank Steak
Combine ½ cup olive or sesame oil, 1∕4 cup balsamic or rice wine vinegar, 1∕4 cup miso paste, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon ground ginger, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Stir until the miso dissolves, then pour over flank steak in a large zip-top bag and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Grill the flank steak over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes on each side, or until desired doneness. Let rest 5 minutes before serving with a second batch of marinade for a sauce.

Buy it
Westbrae Natural Mello White Miso: $6.50. Whole Foods Market, 1601 S. Brentwood Blvd., Brentwood, 314.968.7744, wholefoodsmarket.com