ArchiveDecember 12, 2021


This week, in answer to readers’ enquiries about how to use some ‘new’ ingredients, I’ve chosen to concentrate on miso for this article out of a list of more than 10, n’djuja, miso, sumac – I’ll get to the others in due course…
Some of you who enjoy cooking Asian and Japanese food particularly, will have been enjoying miso in both raw and cooked dishes for years but others will have noticed it popping up in random recipes in cookbooks and articles with increasing frequency.

What is miso – the word simply means fermented beans in Japanese. It’s nearly always made with soya beans, sometimes with other grains, beans and koji (a totally safe type of mould that grows on rice). It’s a staple of Japanese food. It lends a deeply savoury umami flavour to many vegetarian dishes but also makes meat and fish taste more intensely delicious. It’s packed with ‘good for your gut’ probiotics.

Miso has been made in Japan for millennia. The traditional process considered to be an art form in Japan involves inoculating a grain usually rice with the mould called koji, then using that to ferment a protein rich legume usually soy.  However, now that miso is no longer niche but quickly becoming mainstream, artisans, particularly in the US are experimenting with other grains – chickpeas, lima, aduki beans, farro, even sweet potatoes.

As the demand for this ‘must have’ sweet, salty flavour enhancer grows so does the demand for a non-soy version for those with allergies. So there can be lots of varieties, over 1,000 in Japan but for most of us here, there are just two choices. White (light) or red miso (dark). It varies in colour, texture and flavour and can be fermented for anywhere from a few weeks to several years.

Paler miso tends to be sweeter, dark miso has a more earthy, robust taste. The salty funkiness ramps up the flavour of a myriad of dishes. It can be eaten raw or cooked, used to add a burst of flavour to anything from gravy, polenta, stews, marinades, sauces, salad dressings, butters even bikkies or apple pie, so much more than miso soup which is many people’s introduction to miso.

It’s also super nutritious, brilliant for your gut biome and a terrific source of antioxidants, dietary fiber and protein. It’s now become a global flavour enhancer that no pantry should be without.  You’ll find it in your nearest Asian/Japanese store and in many supermarkets in a tub or jar – it looks like a paste resembling peanut butter. If you are fortunate to have a Japanese store near you, you’ll have a wider choice. Even the pale miso lasts for ages, darker miso, fermented for longer lasts for years in an airtight container in your fridge.
Chefs inspired by the NOMA Food Laboratory are experimenting with making their own.

So stock up and start to experiment. Pale miso is sweeter, less complex, more versatile, use it in soups, dressings, sauces, marinades, it also dissolves more easily and is dairy-free and vegan.

Aki Ishibashi’s Miso Soup

This is so easy to make and soon becomes addictive.

Serves 4

600ml (1 pint) dashi (see recipe)

3-4 generous tablespoons miso paste

175g (6oz) tofu, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

1 dessertspoon wakame (dried seaweed)


1 spring onion, thinly sliced

Heat the dashi, and dissolve the miso paste by stirring it into the dashi.  When it has dissolved completely, add the tofu cubes and wakame.  Bring it to the boil.  As soon as it starts to boil, turn off the heat.  Ladle miso soup into warmed individual soup bowls and garnish with spring onion.


Dashi (bonito fish stock) is essential in many Japanese dishes.  It provides a savoury flavour which cannot be attained by using seasoning only and it is much easier to make than meat or fish stock.

425ml (15fl oz) water

10cm (4 inch) piece konbu (dried kelp)

5-7g (1/8 – 1/4oz) dried bonito flakes

Wipe and clean konbu with a dry cloth.  Do not wipe off the white powder on the surface, as that is the one element that provides a unique savoury flavour.  Put the water in a saucepan and soak the konbu for 30 minutes before turning on the heat.  Remove any scum that forms on the surface.  When the water begins to bubble, just before boiling, take out the konbu.  Do not overcook or it will become slimy and the flavour of the stock too strong.  Add the bonito flakes, bring back to the boil, turn off the heat and set aside until the bonito flakes sink to the bottom.  Strain through very fine muslin and discard the bonito flakes.  Use fresh garnished with spring onion or freeze immediately. 

Heavy Dashi

Follow the above recipe but increase quantity of bonito flakes to 15-25g (1/2 – 1 oz) and the water to 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints).  Add two thirds of the bonito flakes and simmer the mixture uncovered for 20 minutes.  Add the remaining bonito flakes and proceed as above.  Keeps in the fridge for 3 days.

Instant Dashi

Instant dashi can be found in the form of a liquid extract as well as powder.  Just dissolve a liquid dashi or powdered dashi in boiling water.  But the flavour is nothing like as good as homemade dashi.

Roast Garlic and Miso Mash

An Asian twist on our fluffy mashed potato.

Serves 4

900g (2lbs) potatoes, mashed with a good dollop of cream and lots of seasoning

2 medium heads of garlic

sprig of thyme

sprig of rosemary

salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil


1 tablespoon of white miso

25g (1oz) butter

Split the heads of garlic in half around the ‘equator’.  Put them into a small round, ovenproof dish, add the herbs. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add a little water and a good drizzle of olive oil. Cover the dish, bake in a preheated oven 160˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3, for 30-50 minutes depending on the size of the bulbs.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water, peel and mash with cream, season with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper.

Squeeze the soft roast garlic out of the skins, mash coarsely. 

Add the miso to the butter, mix well (save a blob or two).  Fold the remainder through the hot mashed potato, taste and serve with some roast garlic miso butter melting over the top.

Miso Butter Onions

Inspired by a recipe from ‘Flavour’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage. Delicious with a pan grilled steak or lamb chop.

Serves 8 as an accompaniment

8 medium onions, about 850g (1lb 14oz)

80g (3oz) unsalted butter, melted

80g (3oz) white miso paste

600ml (1 pint) water

Preheat the oven to 240°C/450°F.

Halve the onions lengthways, discard the papery skin. Remove the next layer, it can be a bit dry and tough (add to the stock pot). Trim the tops, and a little off the root end, not too much. The onion halves need to stay together at the base.

Whisk the melted butter, miso and 600ml (1 pint) of warm water together until fully combined.

Arrange the onion halves spaced apart, cut side down, in a 30cm x 20cm (11 x 8 inch) high-sided roasting tin or dish. Pour over the miso liquid. Cover tightly with damp parchment and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the parchment, carefully flip the onions over so the cut sides are upwards. Baste well and return to the oven, uncovered, for another 45-50 minutes. Baste every 10 minutes, until the onions are very soft, a rich brown on top, and the sauce has reduced to a light coating consistency.

Transfer the onions carefully to a serving plate, spoon the sauce over and serve at once.

Miso-Glazed White Turnips

Look out for winter white turnips in the Farmers Markets.  We love for White Globe, small white and crisp, delicious to munch raw but try this version with a white miso glaze.

Serves 4

25g (1oz) butter

450g (1lb) small turnips, scrubbed and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) wedges

2 tablespoons white miso

1 teaspoon sugar

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

Put the butter, turnips, miso, and sugar into a sauté pan.  Add barely enough water to cover the vegetables.  Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat.  Cook, turning occasionally, until the turnips are tender, and liquid has evaporated almost to a glaze, 8-15 minutes depending on age.

Continue to cook, tossing occasionally over the heat, until they are golden brown and caramelized, 3-4 minutes approximately.  Test with a tip of a knife, taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary.  Serve hot alone or a side with chicken, lamb, beef, game or whatever you fancy.

Roast Cauliflower or Romanesco Florets with Miso Mayonnaise

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Divide the cauliflower or romanesco into florets. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 15 minutes or until slightly caramelised at the edges.

Serve with miso mayonnaise on the side.

Miso Mayonnaise
White miso also known as Shiro miso is fermented for a shorter time and is sweeter, more mellow and less salty.

Serves 4-6

6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white miso (Shiro miso)
a splash of tamari
a squeeze of lime of lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl for taste and add a little more citrus juice if it needs it.

Pan-grilled Fish with Miso and a little salad

You can’t imagine how this miso ‘marinade’ enhances the flavour of the fish.

Serves 4

4 fillets of spanking fresh fish

2 tablespoons white miso

1/2 tablespoon of runny honey

1 teaspoon of Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce


salad of organic leaves

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together.  Coat the flesh side of the fillet, allow 15-20 minutes for the fish to absorb the flavour. 

Heat a grill-pan over a medium heat.  Wipe excess marinade from the fish.  Drizzle with olive oil, cook, skin side down for 2 minutes approximately, then flip over to cook the flesh side.  Continue to cook for a further 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  Serve immediately with a little salad of organic leaves.

Note: Alternatively just roast on a baking tray in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 5-6 minutes.

Chicken Breasts with Miso and Cabbage

Serves 4

2 large (or 4 smaller), organic chicken breasts (remove fillet if still attached)

4 tablespoons white miso
4 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons runny honey

450g (1lb) cabbage

a little extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6

Score the chicken breasts on both sides with a sharp knife. Put into a shallow dish, just large enough to fit the chicken.

Whisk the mirin and honey into the miso. Pour over the chicken, turn in the mixture to coat evenly and allow to marinade for an hour or so.

Transfer to a small sauté pan or oven proof dish. Cook, basting regularly in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes depending on the size of the chicken breasts (our organic ones are large, weighing about 225-300g/8-10oz each).

Meanwhile, cook some shredded cabbage quickly in a little olive oil and a splash of water in a sauté pan. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste. Remove the chicken breast from the tray, toss the sliced cabbage in the juicy marinade. Add back in the chicken. Toss gently, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve scattered with some shredded shiso perilla leaves or mitsuba.  Use flat parsley if they are not available.

The latter is a type of perennial Japanese parsley with a distinct celery flavour – worth growing to use in soups, salads and as a garnish.

Large, green leaves with purple undersides and a distinctive flavour with hints of basil, mint, anise, coriander and citrus. You’ll find yourself using it not just in sushi and sashimi and tempura but also in scrambled eggs, frittata, salads and stir-fries.  It grows easily in a tunnel in our climate so put the seeds on your list for next season.

NASU Dengaku (Miso Glazed Aubergines)

Serves 4

4 small or 2 large aubergines
extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons red miso (dark)
3 tablespoons runny honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons slivered spring onions

Slice the small aubergines lengthwise. If using large aubergines, cut crossways in thick slices. Score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern.

Heat the olive oil on a pan-grill. Cook the aubergines on both sides until tender and golden.

Meanwhile, whisk the miso, honey, soy and mirin together.

Preheat the grill.

Transfer the aubergines to a baking tray, coat with the glaze. Pop under the grill for 3-4 minutes or until bubbling and delicious.  Alternatively, cook in a preheated oven at 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8 for 8-10 minutes, keep an eye, they may be cooked earlier.  Transfer to a serving dish sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced spring onions.  Enjoy. 


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