I first got friendly with miso when I began to eat a mostly vegetarian diet and wrote my fourth book, Simple Green Suppers. But even though I’m now a lapsed vegetarian (though still veggie-centric), I still find miso to be a powerful pantry ingredient. I use it in salad dressings (like this delicious Crystallized Ginger-Miso dressing), soups like this Spring Miso Broth with Stir-Fried Asparagus, Romaine, Scallions, Tofu and Mint (of course!), and in a quick little condiment – Lemon Miso Butter. It also makes a tasty addition to glazes, like in this dish of Miso-Glazed Scallops from Sam Sifton.

If you’re not friendly with miso yet, here’s a little background: Miso is a nutritious fermented bean paste, and making it is an ancient Japanese craft. Usually, fermentation begins with soybeans, salt, and koji (a fermenting fungus); sometimes grains or legumes like barley, rice, or chickpeas are added. The miso is aged for varying lengths of time; generally older misos will have more umami flavor and the saltiness will have mellowed somewhat.

The color of miso will tell you something, too. Generally, the lighter colored misos are the mildest (and most versatile). I use white (sometimes labeled yellow) shiro miso most often, especially for dressings and sauces. But I also like the darker misos — in broths and soups especially. You might find that you use a little less of a darker miso or add a little more water (or broth) to taste.

A good starting point for soup is one tablespoon per cup of water. If using a chunky miso, you can strain your broth if you like (but I don’t). Keep in mind that all miso pastes destined for soups should be dissolved in hot water, but never boiled. Boiling can destroy flavor and nutrients.

Great miso is now made in the U.S. In fact, my favorite miso is made right here in Massachusetts, by the South River Miso Company in Conway, Mass. I especially like their one-year azuki bean miso and their three-year barley miso, but all of their varieties are delicious and worth seeking out. They’re available at Cronig’s, too.