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When my dad was a teenager, he spent two years living in Japan, fully immersed in the local culture. Luckily for me, the culinary traditions made a lasting impact on him, so meals at our house were often punctuated by Japanese staples: rice, seaweed, umeboshi plums. Perhaps the most versatile Japanese export consumed at our house was miso, a thick, salty-sweet fermented paste typically made from soybeans (though it can also be made with barley, rice, or other grains).
Miso is a sort of wonder food, not only because of its health benefits–it’s loaded with good bacteria that aids digestion–but because of its versatility. It can be used in so many novel, tasty ways, either cooked or in its raw state. At least once or twice a week I’ll add a heaping tablespoon of the paste to a pot of simmering vegetables—carrot, daikon radish, slivered onions—and voila! Instant miso soup. I also use it to enhance the flavor of vegetables, simply smearing it straight onto corn on the cob or giant mushrooms before tossing onto the grill or roasting in the oven. Miso comes in several varieties—red, white, and yellow are the most common—but I prefer white miso for its mild flavor that’s easily adaptable to different recipes.
One delicious way to reap miso’s probiotic benefits is with this multipurpose dressing. Miso gives it its salty tang and depth of flavor, while sesame-based tahini adds a creamy richness. The ginger and garlic kick in with a distinct Asian flavor that marries well with Asian favorites: sweet potatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, tofu.
Garlicky Miso-Sesame Dressing
Makes 1/2 cup
1 Tbs. white miso
1 Tbs. sesame tahini
1 tsp. fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup water
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Serve as a sauce for salads, steamed vegetables, or grains.
Here are three more must-try recipes that use miso: