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Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.
Today: Miso is so hot right now -- here's why you should love it anyway.
Miso should be the least faddish of ingredients. It is age-old. It is the product of a slow, semi-wild process, at least traditionally. It’s controlled rot, for goodness sake.
But it is faddish nonetheless: in the last year or so, it seems like every other recipe I see has miso somewhere in it. There are miso desserts, people.
More: Guilty! Have you tried our Miso Caramel yet?
All this miso is unambiguously good. You should eat miso! You should cook with miso! But a very small part of me looks at all this and thinks, I wanted to go to the Albanian coast first, darn it.
I’m thinking about this -- the question of who came first, you or the culture -- in part because to be a parent is to be hyper-attentive to uniqueness. To what makes your child your child.
This isn’t a toxic side effect of helicopter parenting. (He says, desperately.) It’s just a human response to watching someone come into being before your eyes. You notice what makes your child different from the children around him. And you nurture that difference. It’s what makes him him.
It’s ironic, though, because at the very same time you start noticing how little makes you you. Fine: me. I spent a lot of my teenage and twenty-something years marking the territory of my taste: the cadence of Joan Didion’s prose, the timbre of Marty Ehrlich’s clarinet, the funkiness of northern Thai food -- an overly curated, semi-precious aesthetic worldview. (Think High Fidelity, but even more obnoxious.) But then, sometime after small humans took up residence in my household, I glanced up and realized that I looked a lot like everyone else.
I’ve always vaguely wanted to raise goats. Suddenly everyone vaguely wants to raise goats. I’ve always had a crush on John Darnielle. Suddenly everyone has a crush on John Darnielle. And suddenly everyone likes northern Thai food.
Also, everyone likes miso.
I want to say I cooked with miso before everyone else on the known internet did. But I know I am wrong. Like with so much else, I’ve been obliviously following along, so far behind I think I’m ahead.
It’s not hard to figure out why miso is everywhere. Cooking with it feels a little like using performance-enhancing drugs: you shouldn’t be achieving so much with so little effort. It’s a blast of umami, and although you can use miso very subtly, I haven’t here. These are root vegetables, tossed with a simple miso-maple dressing, then roasted at high heat. It’s the sort of recipe that makes you feel like Bobby Flay -- it is not afraid of flavor. Which is some compensation for having taken those millions of microorganisms -- the helpful offspring of all that controlled rot -- and blasted them into non-existence.
But that’s why you put miso in your dessert.
Miso-Maple Roasted Roots
2 pounds root vegetables, cut in roughly 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons miso paste (see recipe for more details)
2 tablespoons maple syrup (or honey, if you prefer)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
Photos by James Ransom