Years ago, at a New York restaurant called Nishi, I tried a cheeky, cheeseless version of cacio e pepe made with chickpea miso. I was skeptical, but the hot, slippery noodles were so satisfying, so full of salty dimension and depth, so absurdly delicious, that I didn’t miss the cheese at all.
There’s both nuance and power in fermented bean pastes, like Japanese miso and Korean doenjang, which come in a huge range of flavors, textures and colors. They’re easily some of the most important and practical ingredients in my pantry.
I’d love to learn how to make my own, fermenting soybeans or grains for many months with koji, the same rice mold used to make sake and soy sauce. But for now, I buy my everyday white miso, most often from Omiso, a small business near me in Downtown Los Angeles.
Good white miso has a mellow, gently sweet and deeply savory flavor with a high, almost floral aroma. It’s stunning in Alexa Weibel’s easy vegan cacio e pepe. Along with miso, her recipe calls for a little cashew butter and nutritional yeast. It’s a perfect dinner with some cold, cut Persian cucumbers on the side, dabbed in the same miso, or a big green salad.
If your counter is still full of late-summer produce, roast eggplant with a simple miso glaze. Don’t rush it. Make sure to let it go until it’s practically collapsing, creamy and tender all the way through — no firm, spongy bits! Then chop up the eggplant, pile it on warm rice and cover with some roughly torn herbs and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil.
If there’s a chill in the air, few things are better than a big batch of mushroom miso soup. It’s easy to adapt this David Tanis recipe, adding a handful of frozen, shelled edamame into the simmering broth, or any other vegetables you’ve got on hand, including tender greens, fresh sprouts and soft herbs.
One More Thing!
Hoping you don’t need an excuse to restock on miso, but here’s one: miso-mustard dressing, which combines heat and sweetness in a way that’s completely irresistible. You can mix up the bean paste you use, as well as the mustard — I like it best with white miso and Dijon.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together about 2 tablespoons miso, 1 tablespoon mustard and 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar. Then add water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dressing is exactly the texture you want (thick is nice for a dip or for dressing cooked vegetables, and runny is nice if you’re using it on softer salad leaves).