Preserving food has always been part of Yoko Nakazawa’s life – from when she was a child, growing up north of Tokyo, to today in Melbourne.
“My dad was working full-time, but he was also growing all the vegetables for the family in the garden. My mum would cook with them or preserve them because each season was full of one thing or another thing," she says.
There would be so many tomatoes, cucumbers – "everything at one time" – and a rush to preserve them before the produce went to waste.
"Fermentation and preserving was a natural activity in our family, it was always around me,” she recalls.
When she moved to Australia in 2012, to be with her husband, she first struggled with what to do in a new country, so she turned to something familiar: “I made miso to see if it would work in Melbourne, because the conditions are different here. I tried, and a year later, I opened the container and it had worked. I was so happy that I posted on Facebook and somebody asked if I could sell some to them.”
This name comes from the first step when making miso: creating koji, the "Japanese national mould" behind fermented staples such as soy sauce, sake and mirin. The koji (which is derived from rice) is mixed with salt and cooked soybeans, and then left to ferment until the miso is ready, which can take from a few weeks to several years.
Nakazawa has adapted a recipe that her grandparents had passed on to her parents. “I didn't specifically ask for the recipe, but by doing it with them, it became my life’s work. Every year, I’d make miso with my parents. We’d wait and taste and eat it together,” she says.
Nakazawa has adapted a recipe that her grandparents had passed on to her parents.
At markets around Melbourne, she sells five to six types of miso. One is made with soybeans and white rice, and is fermented for about six months. Mild and sweet, it falls under the white miso umbrella. But her favourite is the brown rice miso because of its more complex and rich umami taste. It’s left to ferment for at least a year. She also has a three-year vintage brown rice miso, which has a "very dark and strong flavour" and is a bestseller. For people allergic to soybeans, she offers alternatives to the traditional condiment: there's a version crafted from lentils, another flavoured with chickpeas and a variety made from adzuki beans.
Getting creative with miso
Certain recipes might require a specific miso, but Nakazawa simply uses her favourite miso, and adjusts the quantity. “All miso works for every recipe, even if a recipe specify a miso, I don't care. I use the one I want," she says.
Other than the obvious soup, she likes her miso spread on toast in the morning, with egg and avocado, or simply tossed with vegetables like potatoes or carrots.
At the moment, Nakazawa makes a seasonal brown rice and yuzu miso, using the peel and juice from the Japanese citrus fruit – some picked from her own tree.
Because this yuzu miso contains sugar and mirin, it works well for glazing eggplant, daikon and taro. “My friend says it's the best with Pink Lady apples. Slice the apple and put this miso on. I tried it and it’s quite nice; the sourness from the Pink Lady and the really aromatic miso, it works,” she says.
Nakazawa also makes seasoned miso balls, which you can pop in hot water to make a quick and flavourful soup.
“I think I educated people by standing at the market. The first year I started, I often received the question, ‘what’s miso, what are you selling?’; now it feels like more people know about miso and are looking for good quality miso, so the education is working,” she says.
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