Having read lot about soy products and the havoc they can cause in our bodies – read this and this and this – I naturally try to avoid them. That is except for a few soy based ingredients which pass my nutritional acceptance test. These are naturally fermented soy foods such as tempeh, natto and miso.
The reason these particular soy products are not as harmful as tofu or soy milk is that they are produced through a fermentation process, which makes them more easily digestible and reduces the amount of present antinutrients such as phytates and lectins. In fact, they are rather healthy and nutritious – they are a great source of probiotics, have high levels of isoflavones (cancer preventative ) and a good amount of protein (especially tempeh), minerals and vitamins (especially Vitamin K in miso and B12 vitamin in tempeh).
Let’s chat about miso. I really like it and I think most of you are familiar with this ingredient as it’s fairly accessible from Asian grocers and health food stores.
Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning – usually a paste – that is made from fermented soybeans, salt, koji (this acts as a starting culture) and other ingredients such as rice, barley or buckwheat. It has a very complex flavour – savoury and rich – often described as umami (also known as the fifth taste after salty, sweet, sour and bitter). Basically, it makes food taste yummy and hearty, and of course salty. Now, unlike your ordinary table salt, the studies have shown that miso doesn’t have the same negative impact on the blood pressure (something to do with proteins and fermentation). I’m would gorge on it as it’s high in sodium but it’s definitely a more nutritious way to season your food.
There are many varieties of miso depending on key ingredients and the length of fermentation. Some of the most popular varieties are hatcho (only soy), ganmai (soy and brown rice), kome (soy and white rice), mugi (soy and barley, I would avoid this due to gluten), natto (soy and ginger) and soba (soy and buckwheat). Wikipedia has a long list! Lighter coloured miso pastes indicate shorter fermentation time and have a sweeter, less salty taste; while darker, richer colours and saltier, more concentrated flavour come from longer fermentation. The darker ones are usually considered more nutritious.
Miso has a strong, salty taste, which means that you only need to use a small amount to flavour the dish or a soup. I always look for non-GMO, gluten free, organic varieties of miso. And of course it should be unpasturised, otherwise all that beneficial, live bacteria that we are after aren’t actually there. Usually, organic and traditional miso is not pasturised. If you see miso dash iri on the label that means that this miso is for making miso soup and has an addition of dashi or broth. Some miso may contain monosodiumm glutamate (MSG) and preservatives, so make sure to read the label.
As miso is a living food, it should be stored in a refrigerator after opening. As it contains a lot of salt, it will last in the fridge for many months. Make sure to use a clean spoon every time you use miso as to prevent any foreign bacteria contamination. Another thing about miso is that it’s best used uncooked or rather only just cooked or heated as to protect its valuable live cultures. I use miso a few times a month, mainly to season sauces, such as in my favourite miso eggplant (see below), to use in salad dressings or to add to a soup right at the end.
Here are some ways you could use miso paste:
Image from Flickr by Adacito
- Mix half a teaspoon of miso with half a teaspoon of butter to melt over a piece of grilled steak or fish
- Stir a litte miso paste into salad dressings.
- Add it your chicken soup or bone broth at the end of cooking.
- Add a little miso to dips such as a nut based hummus or a variation of eggplant babaganush.
- Mix with a little water and add to stir-fries right at the end.
- Add a little miso paste to your sweet or cauliflower mashed potato.
- Mix with a little water and add to scrambled eggs right at the end.
My own miso eggplant recipe – always with a twist ;)
2 large eggplants cut into quarters, lengthways
3-4 tbsp virgin olive oil or coconut oil
For the sauce
1 1/2 tbsp coconut oil or 2 tbsp virgin olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
2/3 cup water
2 tsp tomato paste
pinch of red chill flakes
1 tbsp fermented miso paste
handful of chopped green onion
Preheat oven to 190°C (374°F). Brush eggplants with olive or coconut oil and roast in a baking tray for 20 minutes. Turn them over and roast for a further 10 minutes.
In the meantime, sauté onion in olive oil on medium heat for 7-10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add garlic, tomato pate, chilli and water. Stir and cook for 8-10 minutes until thickened. Turn the heat off, add the miso paste and stir through until well incorporated.
Spoon the sauce over roasted eggplant and garnish with chopped spring onion.
Check out my Eat Drink Paleo Cookbook for more delicious paleo recipes, introduction to paleo nutrition and philosophy and a handy inventory of foods to focus on and avoid. Available on my website and on Amazon.com.