Each time I open the refrigerator door, a substantial bag of miso stares me down. Even being a frequent guest at meals in our kitchen, the umami-rich soybean paste needs only smidgens to get its deeply savory point across. A teaspoon here, tablespoon there barely adds up, and I couldn’t bear the thought of watching it languish.
Little did we know that my proclivity for preservation would yield a recipe to make miso even more interesting.
The custom of predicting the persistence of winter or an early spring by observing a groundhog at sunrise likely predates the first official Groundhog Day in 1887. The superstition is rooted in the ancient Christian holiday Candlemas, celebrated on 2 February — the midpoint between the winter solstice + the spring equinox:
“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.”
Cold weather I can do. Cold weather partnered with an unrelenting dampness — this pervasive chill that creeps in through thin walls and windows of a home not designed to withstand it, bee-lining its way to the very core of my bones — leaves me helpless. And I’ve shivered every minute of it.
Not that I’m being dramatic, but it is still winter, and this business of really warming one’s self is a job for soup.
Like this creamy cauliflower number topped with oven-charred masala-spiced florets.
This post is part of a series meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.
Have you met… miso?
Perhaps as early as 2,500 years ago miso paste originated in Japan as a convenient, nutritious condiment that could be incorporated into a variety of dishes — most commonly hot miso soup for breakfast — without the need of refrigeration or much storage space in small kitchens. Miso since migrated first to neighboring Asian countries, then further west and beyond, to the point today that it is a familiar ingredient in kitchens around the world.
Miso paste is made from cooked soybeans that are pressed in cedar wood vats with sea salt, small amounts of steamed rice, barley or other grains + koji — a natural, live fungus called Aspergillus oryzae that kick-starts fermentation. Traditional methods vary in terms of fermentation times, ranging from 6 months to 1 1/2 years or longer. As a result of this fermentation process, miso is a source of umami, or the “fifth taste,” naturally enhancing the savory flavors of other foods.