Miso Maple Vinaigrette
I love salad. I love salad so much that it’s almost embarrassing, like that dirty little secret which isn’t exactly alarming at all but you’re incredibly self conscious about. You know, like, “I don’t actually like Tim Hortons coffee” (note: that was acting. I DO in fact enjoy Tim Hortons coffee, and if anybody felt a particular yen to bring me one on my way to work in the morning that would be okay). Oh — OH, or “I used to go to the gym because there was a hot guy that I wanted to pick up, but I was shy and instead I got so fit that I ran a half marathon last year.” Yeah. I have a few choice words for that woman, and none of them are, “My, what an embarrassing story.” But they’re also not very nice.
Lest you go thinking that I’m some sort of healthy and calorie-minded individual though, let me remind you: my love for salad is rivaled only by my love for cheese. And maybe red wine. Possibly dark chili chocolate too, but that’s it. Okay, and super crispy salt and vinegar chips, but now I’m really done for sure….for now….
So why so much talk about salad? You know that old saying, “While the cat’s away the mouse drinks all his vodka will play”? Last night Mike was out with an old friend and I had the house to myself. YES, TO MYSELF. I got all excited thinking about the things that I would make for dinner – things that Mike won’t eat, or he will eat but he won’t enjoy. And then he’ll quietly complain in the air of the long-suffering-mate, and then I won’t enjoy them. So I waffled between fresh oysters (couldn’t afford them for dinner-on-a-whim), stuffed squid (too lazy to braise and too cold to BBQ) and tofu, before my eyes set on the small pack of smoked tofu that I hid in the back of the cheese drawer, hoping that it looked enough like Gouda that he wouldn’t notice. Ah yes, tofu was meant to be.
If I had happened across firm tofu then maybe I would have been thinking tofu stirfry, Szechwan tofu, or Kung Pao tofu. It if was soft tofu, maybe a tofu casserole or soup. But this was smoked tofu, an item that I love so much that I will only eat it in it’s most raw and unadulterated form. And thus, a crispy fresh tofu-laden Asian salad was just meant to be. With maple syrup, because I’m a Canadian, eh.
Miso Maple Vinaigrette
Makes approximately 1.5 cups
- 3 heaping Tbsl shiro miso *
- 1.5 Tbsp sherry vinegar
- 2 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing) **
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 2/3″ fresh ginger root (about 1.5 tsp grated)
- 1/2 cup maple syrup ***
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 cup neutral oil, like grapeseed or sunflower
* Shiro miso is also sometimes referred to as ‘white miso’. It is one of the milder varieties of miso, particularly when compared to the saltier, richer red miso or pungent black miso. Shiro miso is the variety of miso most often mixed with Dashi to make miso soup. As far as miso goes, it is a salty but still has a somewhat sweet, fresher flavor than the others, and is much lighter in both taste and appearance.
** Chinese cooking wine runs the gamut from an incredibly salty liquor that burns your nose to a sweet and only slightly salty mellow and lush cooking wine. Shaoxing, when so labelled, is generally of a higher quality than many other Chinese cooking wines. If you can’t find good quality Shaoxing, you could use an equal amount of sake or dry sherry, and then adjust for seasoning at the end.
*** If you don’t have 100% real maple syrup, don’t even bother. Save yourself the effort and use honey, calling this “Honey Miso Vinaigrette”. I won’t be offended, I promise. I WILL be offended if you go all Aunt Jemima on the dance floor, because that’s simply not acceptable. And yes, I do like synthetic “pancake syrup”. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s true. When I used to waitress in a brunch stop, I would frequently mix 1/2 breakfast syrup with 1/2 milk and drink it. I know. I have a lot of issues. But back to the point – pure maple syrup is subtly sweet, with a warm caramelized flavor and that distinct -almost buttery- maple taste. Pancake syrup? Not so much. Substitute with honey, please.
I should also mention that although I love maple syrup, and I often use maple syrup in salad dressings, I strongly dislike a ‘maple-y’ salad dressing…I think it just tastes better when the sweetness is subtle and not overwhelming in a suckling-from-the-tree sort of way. Here, the maple syrup is like Polkaroo…you know that it’s there, but you don’t taste it until he’s back partying with his frat boy friends….I mean, creating a friendly arena of imagination for kids across the land. My mistake.
Have you noticed that I generally tend to overcomplicate salad dressings? I don’t know why that is. Frankly, I LOVE a simple vinaigrette of just oil and vinegar. Maybe some salt and pepper. Okay, and a light press of garlic. Possibly some lemon zest and fresh or dried herbs, but only if necessary. Okay. I see my point. Maybe this isn’t a complicated dressing after all.
In a medium bowl scoop out the 3 heaping tablespoons of white miso. If salad dressings were less of a joy and more of a science, this would likely be about 4 level tablespoons..but let’s not split hairs. Add the rice vinegar, sherry vinegar, cooking wine, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.
Peel the tip of a knob of ginger up about 2/3 of an inch high and grate it in. This will be about 1.5 teaspoons. Any more and it would be a ginger-miso dressing, but here the ginger is just a pleasant punch in the background.
Whisk it all together.
Slowly drizzle in the sesame oil and neutral oil, whisking constantly until the dressing is uniformly combined.
The reason that you would use grapeseed, sunflower or safflower oil is because there is so little flavor in the oil itself, so it won’t overwhelm the other ingredients. If you used olive oil, the dressing would be much heavier and taste of olive oil – which isn’t usually a bad thing, but sometimes a nice blank palate is nice to really let the colors shine.
When it’s all mixed in you can do a quick dip with a baby carrot and season with salt to taste. I find that the miso and Shaoxing provide enough salt for my palate, but if you were born half deer (like Mike) then you might want to add just a pinch.
For an Asian inspired salad, which was based entirely on what I had left in the fridge, we’ve got tender baby spinach, watery-crisp cucumber, crunchy thin sliced baby carrots, peppery radish, and richly flavored cubes of smoked tofu….all sprinkled with some toasted sesame seeds. I’d say that it’s dinner time.
Do you see those luscious chunks of smoked tofu? DO YOU? Oh dear god, smoked tofu is such a weakness of mine. It has a similar flavor and texture to smoked mozzarella – dense, creamy, smoky and absolutely, lusciously, delicious. A long, slow smoke somehow transforms the tofu by drying it out ever-so-slightly into a dense and slightly chewy gem. When Mike is not around I also like to make myself a Midnight Caprese Salad with smoked tofu, purple Thai basil, and vine ripened tomatoes in a tamarind balsamic. Mmmmm. But I’ll save that for another time. He’s bound to leave me alone again at some point in the future.
Slightly sweet, slightly salty, that’s maple and miso. A tangy, piquant little dressing for your favorite tender-crunchy salad.