This recipe was inspired by a lovely client who had heard about the health benefits of the traditional Japanese seasoning called miso, and wanted to learn how to incorporate it into her cooking. This recipe is a simple roasted butternut squash biqsue, but rather than seasoning with salt, we are replacing the salt with miso. Why? Miso has umami flavor, which is the 5th taste (alongside sweet, sour, bitter, and salty) often described as rich and savory. While miso is still considered a high-sodium food, it does not seem to affect our cardiovascular system in the same way that other high-sodium foods can.
Miso comes with a long list of potential health benefits - it's a great source of manganese, phosporous, copper, phytonutrient antioxidants, as well as protein and dietary fiber. Since miso is a fermented food, it also has healthful, probiotic properties from the fermentation process, which support the body's health with friendly bacteria, promoting a strong gut microbiome. A healthy gut is essential to our immune system, protection against disease, digestion, absorption of nutrients, hormone production, mood and emotions, and more.
So, what is miso?
Miso is a Japanese word that translates to "fermented beans," and although typically made with soy, it's can also be produced by fermenting rice, barley, chickpeas, or other ingredients (usually in addition to soybeans). It is a thick and flavorful paste, often used to create a soup base, but can also be used in sauces, dressings, gravy and for general condiment uses, like spread on a sandwich.
The type of miso that you use depends on personal preference and intended use. The darker the miso, the more powerful and pungent in flavor. Lighter colored miso is more delicate, slightly sweet, and more appropriate for subtle flavors. Lighter miso ferments for a shorter duration than darker miso, which can undergo the process for many months or even years. I recommend starting with white miso before trying the darker versions.
When cooking with miso, be sure not to destroy the beneficial bacteria and enzymes with intense heat. For example, when making soup, it's best to mix the miso with a small amount of water or broth on the side, then adding it at the end, when the temperature is far below a boil.
Look for certified organic miso, as there is widespread use of genetically modified soybeans in the U.S. If it's miso from another country, it's less likely to be GMO, but best to still look for an organic label. Miso should be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container where it can keep for up to one year or even several years.
For this recipe, I decided to start by roasting the butternut squash. This adds additional flavor, as well as makes it easy to scoop the flesh out of the tough skin.
Alternatively, you could peel yourself, or buy peeled squash, and cook the cubed squash right in the soup pot. Either method will be delicious!
3-4 lbs. butternut squash (about one large squash, or 2 small), cut in half lengthwise and seeds removed
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 tablespoons coconut or avocado oil, divided
1 shallot, diced (or 1/2 white onion)
2 tablespoons miso paste (white is more mild, darker has stronger flavor)
2 cups vegetable stock or water, plus more as needed for desired texture
1/2 cup canned coconut milk (full fat)
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Chopped chives or scallions for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425 F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly rub oil over the inside of the squash and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Turn the squash cut side down and roast until it is tender and completely cooked through, about 45 to 50 minutes. Set the squash aside until it’s cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Then use a large spoon to scoop the butternut squash flesh into a bowl and discard the tough skin.
Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, warm 1 tablespoon coconut oil over medium heat. Add the shallot or onion and saute until it is soft and turning golden on the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the chives. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup until totally creamy (could also transfer to a blender). Once the soup is hot and ready to serve, add the miso paste and use the immersion blender to fully blend it into the soup.
Give the soup a quick taste, and add more miso (salty flavor) or black pepper, if needed. If you like a bit of heat, add a small pinch of cayenne pepper. If you would like to thin out your soup a bit more, stir in additional liquid until desired consistency is reached.
Serve drizzled with a small spoonful of coconut milk, sprinkled with chopped chives, and topped with a twist of cracked pepper. Let any leftover soup cool completely before transferring it to a proper storage container and refrigerating it for up to 5 days (leftovers taste even better the next day!). Or, freeze this soup for up to 3 months.
More recipes to love: