Our local gardens are bare this month, so it’s time to dig deeply into the pantry for nutritious winter staples like miso. This wonder import from Japanese cuisine is made from fermented soybeans and other grains and is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with protein and a good source of trace minerals like zinc, manganese and copper.
Of the two most common types in the U.S., white miso is lower in salt and more subtle in flavor, while red miso is saltier, sturdier and more rustic. They can be used almost interchangeably, although some culinary logic applies: white miso is lovely as a more delicate, simple soup. Red miso can stand up to the robust demands of a stew.
Because of the belief that the fermentation cultures in miso have a health benefit, miso should never be boiled and should only be added to foods after they have been cooked.
Try this hearty miso stew:
To a pot of water, add a variety of chopped vegetables, such as sweet potato, shiitake mushrooms and scallions. (Add them in order of cooking times: first the potato; after a few minutes, the shiitake; and moments before done, the scallions.) In the meantime, mix two tablespoons of red miso in a cup of water. Add a block of firm tofu (cut into bite-size squares) to the miso mixture and let marinate. When the vegetables are cooked, add the miso and tofu and gently stir. You can add cooked soba noodles, too, if you like.