A beginner’s guide to miso

By Annette Klinger, 7 April 2015

Annette Klinger acquires a packet of the Japanese fermented soy bean paste known as miso and uses it as the starring ingredient in a soothing soup.

Through my work writing for TASTE, I’ve read quite a lot about miso and its uses, but have never gone out of my way to try out the ingredient for myself.

While the online oracle that is Wikipedia had explained to me that miso is a seasoning made from fermenting soy beans, salt and a certain type of fungus, I had no idea what it tasted and smelled like, or in fact, what it looked like – until yesterday. Together with my fiancé, I went on a quest to find it – a task which is easier said than done on a public holiday, when most Asian supermarkets are closed. After arriving at dead man’s door at a Korean supermarket we’d heard about in Observatory, we headed towards Sea Point, parked our car, and set about finding New Asian Spice Supermarket, one of the places that answered their phones on Easter Monday. We arrived at a poky, yet incredibly well stocked store, where the owner helpfully told me exactly how to make miso soup – the recipe I’d decided on beforehand.

Armed with a packet of miso paste, a bottle of mirin (Japanese rice wine), some fish stock granules and fresh tofu, we headed home. I’d done a bit of recipe research before and came across quite an accessible looking one from Jamie Oliver  as well as one from TASTE’s very own Phillippa Cheifitz  and decided on a combination of the two – both recipes included tofu, but where Phillippa’s called for vegetable stock, Jamie’s asked for mirin (Japanese rice wine) and fish stock, which I thought I’d give a whirl.

The look of the miso paste is not unlike a coarsely ground red curry paste, while the taste is quite unique – savoury and a little bit sweet with a bit of a bean-like tang. The recipe couldn’t be simpler and took about ten minutes from start to finish: I added the required amount of fish stock granules to simmering water, took the pot off the stove, added the miso paste (apparently it takes on a slightly unpleasant taste if boiled), a dash of mirin, some chopped chives (I forgot to stock up on the specified spring onions) and lastly the cubed tofu.

Combined with all the other ingredients in the reddish brown broth, the taste of the miso was enhanced to become hearty and soothing with a distinct vegetable-like savouriness. This simple meal proved to be a welcome reprieve from the weekend’s overindulgence and one I’ll definitely fall back on when I need a quick fix of something delicious.

If, like me, you’re bit of a miso novice, you’ll soon see that a little goes quite a long way, and that you’ll definitely have some left over after making soup. I for one can’t wait to try out this miso and corn chowder and slow roasted pork belly with miso, Sichuan pepper and honey.

Annette Klinger

Article by Annette Klinger

Woolworths TASTE’s features writer maintains that almost any dish can be improved with butter and cream. She’s a stickler for comfort food, especially German treats that remind her of her late grandmother, such as pork schnitzel with sauerkraut and spätzlen. She is a voracious reader of food magazines and recipe books, and instinctively switches over to the cooking channel whenever she checks into a hotel or guesthouse.
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