Miso is one of Japan's culinary trophies. Made from fermenting soya beans or grains with a live culture, miso is high in enzymes, good bacteria, female-friendly isoflavones, cancer-fighting selenium and that elusive vitamin B12. Look for unpasteurised miso in the refrigerator section of all good food stores. You'll notice there are lots of varieties and grains to choose from, a bit like wine. Some are sweet, others are earthy and full-bodied. I've even noticed happy versions with fermented hemp for the die-hard hippies among you.
Live bacteria and raw enzymes are miso's trump card, making it easier for us to digest and to tap into its goodness. But if you're vegan, then miso's vitamin B12 is far more important to you. That's because B12 is primarily found in animal-based foods, and is critical for your body's spark plugs.
Then there's isoflavones, important plant compounds that protect cells from oxidative damage. Isoflavones are part of the phytoestrogen clan that prove particularly useful for menopausal felines and other hormonal quakes. Fermented soya is high in isoflavones, which possibly explains why the rate of breast cancer in tofu-eating countries is significantly lower than it is in non-tofu munching nations. Its role in influencing hormonal balance and the spread of malignant cells has made isoflavones a popular addition to anti-cancer diets. Especially anti-breast cancer ones.
I bet you're already familiar with the taste of miso. Miso soup is traditionally presented as a course before sushi, just as sake comes after. Chopped scallions, tofu or nori are popular friends with miso, but I urge you to Gaelicise it and try strips of seaweed -- or sea vegetables as restaurants prefer to call them -- and some potato, chard or parsley. This is what I call real fast food.
Miso paste should be a part of every cook's artillery. It's my secret weapon in the kitchen. When a sauce, soup or dressing is missing that certain richness or misbehaves, in goes a tablespoon of barley miso and out comes Beethoven's seventh symphony.
A small nutritional caveat -- never boil fresh miso. Its flavour and bacterial culture will get the guillotine. Instead, in a separate cup, add a little of the cooked liquid to the miso. Pour this brew back into the soup or sauce and then serve it without any further cooking.
Miso Chilli Butter
Miso butter can seriously excite any fish or any guest. Try smearing the centre of a plate with it, dropping a few plump cooked scallops on top and scattering chopped chives to finish. Celestial stuff. This recipe is also terribly tasty with baked salmon and trout. Smudge a teaspoon of miso butter over the cooked fish and serve alongside a quick peanut, lime and cucumber salad. Nothing difficult about the latter -- just tumble it all together and gloss it up with sesame oil if you have it lying around.
You will need:
1 tablespoon sweet white miso paste
2-3 tablespoons soft butter or ghee
1 mild chilli, deseeded and chopped
With a fork, bash the sweet white miso paste, the soft butter or ghee, whichever you're using, and the chopped, deseeded mild chilli together against the side of a bowl until they are all thoroughly blended. Taste, and add more butter if it's too pungent. Ghee is ideal to use if you are sensitive to milk as the problematic milk solids such as casein have been removed.
Refrigerate until needed.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine