Before I came to Japan, Miso (みそ or 味噌) was known to me only in the form of a pale, cloudy soup, served as a side dish to wash down plentiful amounts of sushi. Made from fermented soybeans, the taste is salty and distinctive. Now that I live in Japan, I know that miso is used in so many ways other than a simple miso soup. Here are some popular miso recipes you can try out at home to get better acquainted with this healthy ingredient.
This is by far my favourite miso based recipe. It’s surprisingly simple and produces a flavoursome dish, with the saltiness of the miso paste going really well with the soft, moist texture of the aubergines. The recipe mixes sweet miso paste, sugar, ginger, shoyu (soy sauce) and mirin into a thick sauce. All you do is gently fry the sliced aubergines, and then spread the mix on top before grilling. It only takes a few minutes under the grill for the mixture to start bubbling away and soaking into the aubergines. Delicious. Because the dish is quite salty, I like to serve with some plain vegetables, a creamy mash or some simply cooked meat to make up the perfect plate.
This is a really popular miso dish, and an impressive one to use if you’re having a fancy dinner party. It’s great for party occasions too because you can prepare it two or three days in advance, letting the fish soak up all the flavours and then all you need to do on the day is about 15 minutes worth of cooking. The mixture is made up of miso paste, sugar, mirin and sake, which you boil in a specific order to burn off the alcohol but not ruin the sweetness. After cooling, you add the cod fillets to the mixture and refrigerate. A classy dish that will make a wonderful centre-piece for any fancy meal.
In most Japanese supermarkets, you can get small sachets of miso soup that you just mix with water – a ready meal waiting to go. But if you fancy making miso soup from scratch with some added ingredients (such as cubed tofu) then here is a recipe that uses miso paste and mirin.
A variation on the traditional marinated black cod recipe, this is another dish that marinates fish in a miso sauce. Salmon is a favourite of mine and the creamy taste goes well with the sweet, salty flavour of miso. The sauce is made using a combination of white miso paste, mirin, sake and sugar.
While miso is usually used in fishy dishes, this recipe (by food genius Yotam Ottolenghi) uses chicken as its protein base. The chicken thighs are marinated in white miso paste, ginger, vinegar and and mirin, before being grilled and fried. The addition of walnuts to the recipe gives a rustic and inventive edge to the dish – a great one for foodies and experimental chefs.
While these recipes are (mostly) fairly traditional, miso has risen in popularity in recent years and so is being used in a variety of unusual dishes. As well as the miso chicken recipe (above), many entrepreneurial chefs have been using miso paste to create unique dishes. This website provides links to some such recipes, including apricot-miso jam, miso clam chowder, apple cobbler and burger sauce. Check it out if you’re feeling brave!