So GoodJune/July 2008 Issue

Soy-Free Miso Makeover

I have spent many years avoiding miso, the thick, fermented paste that’s a key ingredient in Japanese cuisine and the base of miso soup. Miso, often made from barley, has been a no-no for anyone who’s gluten free. But recently I discovered several varieties of gluten-free miso made from rice or beans. In fact, there’s even miso made from adzuki beans or chickpeas that’s soy free.

Why all the fuss? Eaten alone, miso is hardly worth a mention. Yet combined with vinegar or citrus, garlic, ginger and a little honey, the taste is truly memorable. More than just a seasoning, miso is high in protein and essential nutrients and is touted for its digestive properties.

This ancient Asian food is made by combining koji (cultured grain, beans or soybeans) with cooked soybeans, salt and water. The mixture ferments in wooden casks at natural temperatures. Gradually, enzymes supplied by the koji, along with microorganisms from the environment, break down the complex structure of beans and grains into readily digestible amino acids, fatty acids and simple sugars. By varying the type of koji used (usually rice, barley or soybean) and the proportions of ingredients in the recipe, traditional makers can create a wide range of miso pastes with different textures, aromas and flavors, from light and sweet to dark and robust.

Since discovering gluten-free miso, I’ve been tossing it into dressings, marinades and other recipes. It lends fascinating and delicious properties to a wide range of foods. Try these summertime dishes and taste for yourself.

Miso Marinated Sea Bass


This tangy sauce can be used with other fish (salmon, cod, orange roughy, swordfish) or chicken thighs. It also makes a flavorful marinade for grilled meat.


3 tablespoons sweet white miso

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1½ teaspoons Asian sesame oil

2 teaspoons ginger, pureed in a food processor

¼ cup dry sherry or white wine

1½–2 pounds sea bass (2 to 3 thick pieces)


1. Make marinade by combining first 6 ingredients.

2. Wash fish and pat dry. Arrange in one layer in a  a shallow dish.  Top with marinade. Turn fish to coat both sides. Let sit 2 hours.3. Preheat broiler. Brush off excess marinade. Set fish on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil 5 to 6 minutes, about 6 inches from flame, leaving broiler door slightly open. Gently turn using two spatulas so that fish does not break apart. Broil another 2 to 3 minutes or until center of fish is opaque. Transfer to plates and serve immediately.

Asian Slaw with Miso Dressing


Adjust the flavor of this salad by increasing the amount of miso in the dressing. For a soy-free version, use chick-pea or adzuki miso and omit the soy sauce.


¼ cup sweet white miso

¼ cup honey

¼ cup water

¼ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lime juice

2½ teaspoons Asian sesame oil

1 tablespoon wheat-free soy sauce or tamari

1 teaspoon grated or pureed fresh ginger root



4 cups Chinese cabbage, leafy portion removed, remainder

cut diagonally into ¼-inch

wide strips

1 cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, cut into thin strips

1 red bell pepper, seeded, cut into thin strips

1 carrot, peeled, cut into thin strips

4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 green onions, green tops removed, remainder chopped

1. Whisk together dressing ingredients.

2. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Just before serving, add half the dressing to the salad and toss until vegetables are lightly coated. Add additional dressing as desired. Serve at once. LW


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