Traditional unpasteurized miso is a live, fermented food that can enhance both daily fare and special occasion dishes. Along with being a tasty treat, it contains beneficial bacteria to aid digestion and can bind with toxins in the body and carry them out. Miso usually contains soy protein in the form of whole soybeans, which, unlike animal protein, allows the regular excretion of sodium from the body, helping to keep blood pressure lower. There are recent studies suggesting that the fermentation process in miso creates anti-hypertentive peptides that may also help lower blood pressure.
The traditional process of making miso begins with cooked grains (usually rice or barley) being inoculated with aspergillus oryzae spores. Together, they are incubated overnight and become what is called koji (pronounced KO-jee). The next day the koji is mixed with cooked soybeans, chickpeas, or other grains and sea salt. Soybeans add complete, high-quality protein plus all the healthful benefits of the whole soybean, while natural sea salt adds an abundance of trace minerals. This mixture is packed into wooden vats, then covered and weighted down. The fermentation process can last up to three years, if done using traditional methods.
The culturing and fermentation processes change the soybeans into a readily digestible form. It also transforms both bean and grain components into a kind of protein booster. Since the essential amino acids in the soy and grains complement each other, the amount of protein that can be utilized by the body is increased. When shopping for miso look for the words “unpasteurized” on the label. This insures that the miso is still alive. It will usually come in a tub with a small hole in the top to let gasses escape. If the miso is in a sealed bag, it is likely pasteurized and not alive anymore.
There are scores of ways to include miso in daily meals and holiday feasts celebrated in my book, Miso Cookery. Here is one of my favorite recipes for holidays or anytime. It is an especially tasty addition to any kind of burrito. Try it with last weeks’ soybean burritos!
Cilantro Miso Pesto
Yield: 1 cup
This versatile bright green pesto is an east/west fusion food that makes an colorful appetizer served with sweet red and yellow bell pepper strips or crackers and chips. For a festive finger food, fill bite-sized pastry shells with this quick and easy pesto. From the first time I put it together, it became a frequent addition to daily menus. Try tossing Cilantro Miso Pesto with hot pasta or add a little more oil and some vinegar or lemon juice to make a tasty salad dressing. Hempseed has a unique nutty flavor plus all the essential amino acids and both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Quick and easy to prepare, this pesto makes a great last minute addition to any everyday or party fare. It can be made a few hours ahead of time and refrigerated in an airtight container–it will oxidize, so don’t make it too far ahead..
Process in a food processor until minced:
3 ounces (1 ½ cups chopped) cilantro
2 to 4 cloves garlic (to taste)
Add and process until well blended:
½ cup raw cashews, walnuts, or hulled hempseeds
2 tablespoons sweet white, mellow white, or sweet barley miso
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)