To try Sally's recipe for an earthy miso broth made with porcini mushrooms, click here.
It took me 30 years to discover miso, the homely soybean paste that is a cornerstone of Japanese cuisine. I had been stuck in my antiquated notion of it, formed in the '70s, as a stodgy health food store staple.
Then I spent an afternoon tasting misos—a fraction of the more than 1,000 kinds made in Japan but enough to get an idea of their extraordinary range of colors (from palest tan to yellow to red to brown), textures (from silky to chunky), and flavors (smoky, sweet, tart, bitter). The simple act of tasting changed all my ideas about this mysterious ingredient and made it an essential ingredient in my pantry. It is the prime mover in several of my most treasured recipes.
Misos are made by blending cooked soybeans with water, salt, and a grain, generally rice or barley, that's been inoculated with Aspergillus mold. The mixture ferments for three months to several years before it is ground to a paste. Each miso is a product of the artfulness of the maker, the kind of grain used, the quality of the ingredients, and the vagaries of fermentation. Rich in protein, calcium, and trace minerals, miso is extraordinarily healthful.