"uhhh. miso?" was the expression of the day. i had been to several grocery stores in search of an ingredient needed for a recipe that i had committed to making a month earlier in reviewing ann gentry's new book, vegan family meals.
i understood the confused look, i didn't know what miso was either. one grocer asked me if it was a drink. honestly, i wasn't sure. all i knew was i needed 2 tablespoons of the stuff to finish off my shopping list so i could get to work preparing the vegan version of a nicoise salad.
finally, someone told me to try an asian grocery store. after looking through several listings in the phone book, i went to the closest one (still a 40-minute drive) and walked in, not knowing what to expect.
The woman behind the counter had a pleasant smile ready when i walked in her store. in her broken english, she asked me what i was looking for.
"miso?" i said, hopeful.
"ahh. miso. over here." she stated and with a quick whip of her hair, she darted to the refrigerator and just like that pulled out the mysterious grail i had been on the hunt for.
only, as i found out later, miso isn't so mysterious afterall. it's only fermented bean paste that is hugely popular in the asian food industry and i bet a regular at any major grocery chain in a bigger city. maybe not in southwestern indiana, but in more diverse places, surely.
let's go back. in late april, i was contacted by much and house public relations to do a review for a new cookbook. i am definitely not vegan, in all the sense that the word implies, but I do like to prepare more meatless meals in a week's time than not. so, i took the challenge.
the book is filled with all kinds of recipes with ingredients I can't even pronounce, things like tahini and tempeh, which is usually a turn-off for me. but, since I had committed to it, I decided to make the best of it and see what I am missing out on.
out of several recipes to choose to duplicate, i chose the nicoise salad. a traditional nicoise has a grilled tuna steak to top it off. In ann gentry's version, she uses tofu chevre, which is essentially a "tofu cheese".
Yeah. tofu cheese. i was a little out of my league here, for sure. but, i gathered all the ingredients with the help of my newly found little asian market and started preparing the salad. and the tofu cheese.
the salad? awesome. it combines interesting flavors pulled from kalamata olives, capers, and fresh cherry tomatoes plus steamed new red potatoes and green beans all settled in between chopped butter lettuce. if you haven't tried butter lettuce, or boston lettuce as it is sometimes referred, you are missing out. the texture is different than your standard romaine. it's big thick leaves almost seem 'buttery'. and if you are a reader of my blog at all, you know i loves the butter.
the kicker, though, comes from ann's vinaigrette; a melding of minced shallot, fresh thyme, lemon juice, dijon mustard, and a big dose of ground pepper and sea salt. perfection, really, and i could only think of how many other types of salad it could be perfectly drizzled over.
but the tofu cheese? a big fat failure. even following the instructions on how to mix it properly with the garlic, miso, and olive oil, and then refrigerated, and rolled in black peppercorns and baked until warm....uhhhh, no. mine completely fell apart and was just weird. plus, it tasted like....well, probably how tofu is supposed to taste.
but that's the thing about this book. even though i didn't really enjoy the tofu part of the recipe, i loved the salad, and it's not really a salad i would have tried to make otherwise. it got me out of my comfort zone when it comes to ingredients, which i think is what a good cookbook should do. the tag line "real food for everyone" in the title is just that. real food for everyone, because if you don't prefer the freakin' tofu cheese, just leave it out and you still have a pretty rad salad. and you can say you at least attempted. plus, hello! my new favorite soup came out of this book: black-eyed pea and red pepper soup. seriously delicious. not to mention the desserts! summer blueberry crumble? definitely yes. and several smoothie recipes, too.
oh, and that asian market? while i was there i picked up several other items that i can't wait to try, which i also wouldn't have done otherwise. i mean, i didn't even know we had an asian market in our city. and the owner even got to me to consider trying the sushi she makes, right there in her store on the spot. i definitely wouldn't have done that otherwise, and i promised her i would try it next time i come back.
and if nothing else, i definitely know what miso is now.
check out celebrity chef ann gentry's blog.
Buy your copy (and read an excerpt) of vegan family meals: real food for everyone, here.