Studying overseas for the first time in Japan five years back, I didn’t know much about the Sansho herb other than sprinkling it over Unadon (Unagi or Grilled Eel Rice Bowl) or its use in a herb salt created by the chef at the Taiwanese-Singaporean Restaurant I part-timed at. When dipped into, the salt imparts a subtle tangy yet numbing sensation in the mouth. This time on a summer fieldtrip to the countrysides of Kyushu, sansho appeared in its fresh form mostly as miso dipping sauces or garnishes in clear soups served at the inns visited, or appeared to grow ubiquitously along roadsides seemingly happy to be mistaken as a weed. Both the leaves and fruit may be used, but the only version I could conveniently take home with me was the dried, jarred form which can be easily bought off supermarket shelves in Japan.
This recipe makes a sauce of paste-like consistency, which you can spread on fresh silken tofu (known as a dish called Hiyayakko) or use as a dipping sauce for veggies or firm tofu if you like. I find it also makes an excellent spread on toast, which I make into a sweet ‘Asian’ version with a squeeze of agave, toasted sesame seeds and sesame oil, or a savory version with EVOO and herbs. Enjoyed with a hot cup of herb tea or milk tea, miso toast makes a very tastebud-satisfying morning experience, made even more perfect with an enjoyable read on hand. Sansho miso generally has a bright flavor and is quite tart giving it plenty of character as a dip or accompanying sauce but I’m sure its versatility can be further exploited by the adventurous cook.
Sansho Miso Dipping Sauce (1-2 servings)
- 3 T miso (might want to use one with a mellower flavor. I happen to be using barley miso)
- 1 T lemon juice (I added extra 1 tsp lemon juice)
- 1 tsp tahini
- 1/4 tsp sansho
- 2 tsp water
- drizzle of sesame oil
- squeeze of agave
- toasted sesame seeds
Mix ingredients in the order above, tasting for the right balance of salty, sweet and sour. It tastes quite harsh so I recommend leaving for at least a few hours for the flavors to mellow. Use as is on steamed vegetables or plain tofu, add to vinegrettes/dressings for a kick or use it as a miso spread on toast for breakfast. Recipe follows.
Sansho Miso Toast, Two Ways
- sansho miso
- basil or preferred herbs (rosemary, mint, sage)
- sesame seeds
- agave (or honey if this is your preferred non-vegan go-to syrup)
- sesame oil
Toast bread if liked. Tear or finely chop herbs. For the first type, drizzle EVOO liberally over toast, spread as much sansho miso as you like (not too much considering it’s saltiness and tartness), scatter torn herbs over. For the second, do the same leaving out the herbs. Instead, drizzle sesame oil judiciously over the miso, squeeze just a little agave or honey. Use your knife and mix it around a bit to blend the flavors. End off with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.