There is nothing quite so perfect in this icy cold winter than a steaming bowl of soup. And a really delicious, healthy way to make a simple soup sing is miso. If you are not already a convert, miso is a salted, fermented paste from the Japanese pantry, and is often used in traditional Korean fare, too. It’s usually made from soybeans, although it can be made from other beans, grains, and combinations of all of those.
Miso has always had a reputation as a nearly magical health food, and has racked up many studies showing that it fights cancer and builds immunity. It may also be because of the nuclear bomb. It’s a sad story, the US bombed Japan, and once the smoke cleared, scientists descended on the area to study the after effects. One big surprise was that people who ate miso soup every day, the traditional Japanese breakfast, suffered far less damage from radiation. It’s been studied extensively since, and continues to show significant protective effect. So if you are looking for protective foods, miso is for you.
In all the controversy around soy, experts always recommend eating whole, fermented soy products above processed soy, and miso is the ultimate fermented soy food. In the process of fermenting the beans, many elements are broken down by the good bacteria, freeing them up to be easily absorbed by your body. Anti-cancer and anti-oxidant phytochemicals are multiplied, as they are divided into their components by microscopic friends.
But one of the other magical things miso has is umami, that sensation of meatiness that makes light, vegan food more satisfying. All fermented proteins have the amino acids that add umami. That’s the reason a simple cup of hot water and miso has more satisfaction in it than a cup of hot water alone.
So how do you add miso to your life? Buy some organic miso, start with red, or maybe one red and one white. That miso soup for breakfast thing is actually a good model, or even for snacks. Keep a tub of miso handy, and instead of your usualy between meal nosh, boil water, pour it in a cup, and whisk in a teaspoon or two of miso. If you have more time and appetite, drop in some spinach leaves, or leftover veggies, or even cooked beans.
Miso can replace salt in things like salad dressing, dips, spreads, even on sandwiches. The funky, salty flavor will give your usual vinaigrette a new twist. Add a gob of white miso to hummus, or spread a smear of red miso under your almond butter, and enjoy that sandwich even more.
Bean soups, always good in winter, can be so simple with miso. Just cook lentils or beans, add carrots, onions, celery, whatever you have, and when the beans are done, stir miso and water in a cup to make a past, then stir into the soup. Taste and adjust. Don’t boil, or you will lose the bacteria and enzymes.
And feel the tasty, hearty magic of miso as you feed yourself well.
Miso Peanut Dressing
This dressing is quick and easy. Embellish with grated ginger, crushed garlic, whatever you feel in the moment.
Makes about 2/3 cups
2 tablespoons of red miso
3 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup apple juice concentrate, thawed
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
In a cup, mash the miso and peanut butter together with a fork, then stir in the apple juice concentrate gradually. Whisk in the remaining ingredients, and drizzle over salads.
Link to a Winter Squash Salad with Miso on my blog at Stronger Together.com