Chicken and Waffles with a Thai Twist

When you tell a chef to stay inside, things are bound to get a little wild in the kitchen. This week Chef Alex Saggiomo turned dinner up a notch with Thai-inspired chicken & waffles.

chicken and waffles
Chicken and waffles with a twist

I’m a big fan of chicken & waffles, but making them at home always seemed a little too indulgent.

Until now. 

When I started quarantining, I threw out the rulebook. Cooking these days is about what makes you feel good. For some that might be a salad, but for me…it’s chicken & waffles. I wanted to do something a little different, and after opening the fridge for inspiration, it hit me (literally, a jar of sambaal fell on my foot), do a Thai version!

Things started to come together quickly with ingredients that I already had on hand: I made a marinade for the chicken out of fish sauce, garlic, ginger, chili powder, brown sugar, and cilantro.  I used boneless/skinless thighs for their quick cooking time and ability to stay juicy. The flavors in the marinade are so intense that it only needs to marinate for an hour. A quick 50/50 all-purpose flour and cornstarch breading meant that I’d have super crispy chicken with hardly any effort. 

Now for the waffles: I decided to use coconut milk in place of traditional dairy, and added some grated ginger and lime zest to ramp up the flavor. A last minute splash of sambaal and an addition of toasted coconut flakes (leftover from a baking project) gave the batter the jolt it needed. 

While the waffles cooked, I knew I’d need a sauce to bring it all together. Using the flavor profiles of a traditional satay, I blended peanut butter with lime juice, a splash of fish sauce, coconut milk, a little more sambaal, and some maple syrup. I don’t know what to call it, but it was delicious. To top it all off, a quick compound butter infused with cilantro, mint, and basil gave the dish a much needed hit of brightness.

While they weren’t traditional by any stretch, they did exactly what they were intended to: keep a smile on my face and transport me to somewhere far away from my apartment…at least until it was time to do the dishes.

Recipe: Thai-Style Chicken & Waffles

serves 2-4

For the chicken:

  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce 
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornstarch

For the waffles:

  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon sambaal oelek
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ¾ cup toasted coconut flakes (optional)

For the sweet and spicy peanut sauce:

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons sambaal
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

For the herb compound butter:

  • 1/4 Cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1. In a bowl, mix the garlic, ginger, cilantro, fish sauce, brown sugar and chili powder; rub over the chicken and let stand for up to 1 hour.

2. While the chicken marinades, prepare your waffle batter. In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; set aside. In another medium bowl add the eggs, coconut milk, sambaal, and melted butter. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be slightly lumpy). Stir in coconut flakes.

3. To make the peanut sauce, in a blender, combine all of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

chicken and waffles peanut sauce
Finished peanut sauce

4. On a large plate, combine the flour and cornstarch; season with salt and pepper. Working one at a time, pat any excess marinade off the chicken and transfer to the flour-cornstarch mixture; toss to thoroughly coat. In a large pan, heat a thin layer of oil on medium-high until hot. Once hot enough that a pinch of flour sizzles immediately when added to the pan, add the breaded chicken. Cook 6 to 7 minutes per side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the cooked chicken to a paper towel-lined plate; immediately season with salt and pepper.

5. While the chicken cooks, pour 1/2 cup of batter onto grids of a preheated, lightly greased waffle maker. Bake according to manufacturer’s directions (mine took about 3 minutes). When done, finished waffles can be kept warm in a 250°F oven. Repeat with remaining batter.

6. While the waffles cook, in a small bowl, combine the butter and minced herbs; season with salt and pepper. Using a fork, mash to combine.

7. Place a waffle (or two—lean in!) on a plate; top with the fried chicken. Drizzle with the peanut sauce and top with the herb butter. Eat until your smile takes up your entire face.

Consider pairing with an adventurous cocktail.

Yes, You Can Make Hibachi at Home

A homemade hibachi meal

What comes to mind when you hear the word hibachi? A giant grill, flashes of flame, and an onion volcano? You’re not alone.

Technically, hibachi refers to a style of grill, but the hibachi experience in the U.S. is about way more than food. It’s dinner and a show rolled into one. Hibachi chefs rose to fame for their knife twirling and shrimp tossing antics, even though several of the most famous examples are actually cooking on a teppanyaki grill. 

For John Adler, head chef of Blue Apron, hibachi is defined by its flavor profile. Namely: a balance of sweetness and pleasant bitterness. The sweetness comes from the sauces and natural sugars in the ingredients, the bitterness is from creating hard sear over high heat. 

Luckily, those flavors don’t have to come off of a hibachi grill. Maybe you can’t make an onion volcano at home, but according to chef John, “you can create all the same flavors with a really good pan.” 

If you’re looking for a cooking challenge, grab a pan and keep reading. This is everything you need to know to attempt hibachi at home. 

Steak and shrimp, all plated up

Go for a diversity of proteins: 

Chef John chose steak and shrimp for a luxe and delicious dinner 

Turn up the heat

Hibachi is all about high heat. You need a super hot surface to achieve the signature char flavor of a hibachi meal. Don’t despair if your stove top is a little finicky; Chef John recommends taking your oven safe pan, and preheating it in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. That will give you a jump start, and make sure your pan is up to temperature before you start searing. Just watch out for the hot handle! 

Searing a steak
Just look at that beautiful carmelization

Don’t fear the sear 

This part is important. After you’ve made sure that your pan is truly hot, you need to let the heat do its work. Don’t be afraid to leave your proteins in the pan without touching them for a few minutes. You’ll know they’re ready to be flipped when you start to smell a slightly sweet charred aroma. 

Choose your vegetables wisely 

Chef John says vegetables with a high natural sugar content will stand up to the high-heat and caramelize beautifully. 

peas in a pan
Peas, cabbage, and carrots will all hold up the the high heat

Don’t forget a rice element:

A hibachi rice dish could incorporate cooked vegetables, like fried rice, or it could be a simple steamed rice with a few nice herbs.

hibachi shrimp in a pan
Tip: keep the shrimp tails on for extra flavor

Season with a vision

In a restaurant, the hibachi experience isn’t exactly subtle: protein is flying through the air, knives are flashing, and everyone is laughing in delight. By cooking hibachi at home, you’ll be able to appreciate some of the more delicate flavors in a more subdued environment. One of Chef John’s favorite hibachi elements is the continuity of flavor that is found throughout the elements of the dish. For his version, Chef John chose to season his proteins with togarashi, a spice blend that includes orange peel. To complement that flavor, he also created a citrus ponzu that’s served alongside the meal. These two citrus elements serve to tie the meal together. 

Learn about making hibachi at home, and other advanced cooking techniques, with Blue Apron Premium

Ginger-Poached Chicken & Congee with Spicy Marinated Cucumbers

Chicken and rice is a time-tested combination, and this version shines in its ability to be both light and filling, warming and bracing. Poached chicken (flavored subtly with ginger and garlic) tops a heaping scoop of congee, a thick rice porridge. Crunchy marinated cucumbers add a bit of heat and freshness, and a drizzle of soy sauce seasons the whole bowl to perfection.

Ginger-Poached Chicken & Congee with Spicy Marinated Cucumbers & Scallions

Serves: 2
Time: 65 to 75 minutes


2 chicken breasts
½ cup jasmine rice
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 2-inch pieces of ginger, peeled
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced into rounds
3 scallions, white bottoms cut into 1/2-inch pieces, green tops thinly sliced on an angle
1 tbsp soy sauce, plus more for serving
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
⅛ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the congee:
In a medium pot, combine the rice, chicken stock, ½ cup of water, 1 piece of ginger, and a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally to keep the rice from sticking, 45 to 50 minutes, or until thickened. Turn off the heat. Carefully remove and discard the ginger.

2. Marinate the cucumbers:
While the congee cooks, in a bowl, combine the cucumbers, sesame oil, crushed red pepper flakes, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to marinate, stirring occasionally. Carefully remove and discard the ginger.

3. Poach the chicken:
Once the congee has cooked for about 20 minutes, in a separate medium pot, combine the chicken, ginger, garlic, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 2 ½ cups water, and white scallion bottoms; add more water as needed until the chicken is just covered. Heat over medium until just simmering (a slow process which will take 10 to 15 minutes, don’t rush it!). Reduce the heat to low and cook 13 to 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through (when pierced with a knife in the thickest part, the juices should run clear). Transfer the chicken to a plate; cover to keep warm. Strain the poaching liquid to remove the solids. Reserve the liquid and ginger.

4. Slice the chicken & serve your dish:
Slice the cooked chicken crosswise. Serve the finished congee topped with the sliced chicken. Drizzle with the soy sauce. Top with the marinated cucumbers (draining before adding), sliced green tops of the scallions, and sesame seeds. Enjoy!

Sesame Citrus Soba Noodle Salad

At Blue Apron, we know the power of food. That’s why, for the second year in a row, we’re proud to be a part of the Warrior Revolution Retreat. Warrior Revolution is an organization dedicated to helping women battling cancer or currently in recovery to “navigate life on the way back to wellness”; their annual retreat is a multi-day experience featuring speakers, experts, activities and, this year, a cooking demo and meal from Blue Apron chef and nutritionist Jessica Halper.

Halper co-created the recipe she’ll be preparing at the event with her mother Laurie, a breast cancer survivor, to highlight a nutrient-dense variety of protein, produce, and legumes. The result is a unique and exciting dish that considers the sensitive palates of those currently undergoing or recovering from chemotherapy. At its base is chilled soba tossed with protein-rich tamari sauce and a bit of bright yuzu (for a gourmet Blue Apron touch)—the perfect match for a bevy of wholesome toppings. Scroll down for the recipe in full.

Donate to Foundation4Love, a nonprofit started by the founders of Warrior Revolution, that supports individuals and families through their cancer battles.

Blue Apron chef and nutritionist Jessica Halper with the Warrior Revolution recipe

Sesame Citrus Soba Noodle Salad
with Chicken or Tofu

Serves: 2
Time: 35 to 45 minutes, plus marinating time


2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 1 14-oz package extra firm tofu)
1/2 lb dried soba noodles
1/2 cup tamari sauce
3 tbsps mirin
1 tbsp date syrup
1 clove garlic
1 1-inch piece ginger
2 tbsps sesame oil
1 tbsp yuzu juice
2 tbsps rice vinegar
1 carrot
1/2 cup shelled edamame (drained or thawed)
1 Persian cucumber
2 tsps sesame seeds
2 tbsps thinly sliced scallions (green tops only)
2 tbsps pickled mushrooms (optional; see below)


  1. Prepare & marinate the chicken or tofu:
    Fill a medium pot 3⁄4 of the way up with salted water; cover and heat to boiling on high. Wash and dry the fresh produce. Peel and finely chop the ginger. Peel the garlic; using a zester, finely grate into a paste (or use the small side of a box grater). To make the marinade, in a large bowl, whisk together the mirin, chopped ginger, garlic paste, date syrup, and half the tamari sauce. Pat the chicken or tofu dry with paper towels. Place in a baking dish and top with the marinade; turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and place in the refrigerator to marinate, 30 minutes to 2 hours. 

  2. Prepare the remaining ingredients & cook the edamame:
    Meanwhile, peel the carrot and cut into matchsticks. Thinly slice the cucumber into rounds. Cook the edamame according to the package instructions. 

  3. Cook the chicken or tofu:
    Remove the marinated chicken or tofu from the marinade (letting any excess marinade drip off). In a medium pan (nonstick, if you have one), heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. If using chicken, cook 6 to 7 minutes per side, or until browned and cooked through. Turn off the heat. If using tofu, cook 1 to 2 minutes on all sides, or until lightly browned. Turn off the heat. 

  4. Cook the noodles:
    Meanwhile, add the noodles to the pot of boiling water and cook according to the package instructions. Drain thoroughly and rinse under cold water 30 seconds to 1 minute to stop the cooking process. 

  5. Make the dressing:
    Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the vinegar, sesame oil, yuzu juice, and remaining tamari sauce

  6. Assemble & serve your dish:
    In a large bowl, combine the cooled noodles and half the dressing; toss to coat. Taste, then season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve the dressed noodles topped with the cooked chicken or tofu (sliced or chopped if desired), sliced cucumber, carrot matchsticks, cooked edamame, and pickled mushrooms (if using). Drizzle with as much of the remaining dressing as you’d like. Garnish with the sesame seeds and green tops of the scallions. Enjoy! 

Quick Pickled Mushrooms 

Yields: 2 Tbsps 
Time: 35 minutes


2 oz cremini mushrooms 
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/8 cup water
2 tsps date syrup
1 tsp kosher salt 


  1. Prepare the mushrooms: 
    Cut the mushrooms into bite-size pieces. Place in a medium heatproof bowl.

  2. Pickle the mushrooms:
    In a small pot, combine the vinegar, water, date syrup, and salt; heat to boiling on high. Once boiling, transfer to the bowl of prepared mushrooms. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally, at least 30 minutes. When ready to use, drain thoroughly. 

Dinner Ideas: Pad Thai

Since this month is all about what you cook at home instead of ordering take-out, today we’re focusing on translating one popular take-out dish into the home kitchen. Raise your hand if you’ve ever called out for pad thai more than once in a week. Yeah, us too.

Read more: Enter our #DIYtakeout contest here!

Here’s the thing about pad thai: in Thailand, it’s a much more versatile, simple dish than we’d imagine. The pad thai cartons at many Thai restaurants contain a bundle of stir-fried noodles that tastes pretty similar from one to the next.  There’s a note of sweetness, richness from oil, and usually a balancing taste of tartness from lemon or lime. Many restaurant versions also contain fish sauce, a classic element of Thai flavors.

In fact, the dish is actually of Chinese origin, but became popular in Thailand in 1939 when the Prime Minister tried to unify the country with a dish that made use of foods grown by Thai farmers: thus the global popularity of pad thai. But back in Thailand, you’re more likely to find variation in the stir-fried noodles you pick up from roadside stalls. The noodles are usually cooked in pork fat and aren’t necessarily adorned with all that many add-ins, though each cook may customize her dish with chicken or vegetables–and each eater with her choice in condiments, like peanuts, chili peppers, fish sauce, or sugar, which are set out in little bowls on every table.

And so we take creative license with pad thai when we make it, including anything from sambal oelek, a popular Asian chili paste to peanut sauce to baby tatsoi. How do you like your pad thai? Tell us in the comments!

Want to make pad thai at home? Check out our recipes for Veggie Pad Thai and Chicken Pad Thai tonight!

5 Classic Vietnamese Dishes

Vietnamese cuisine is the original fusion. Nearly a century of Gallic occupation meshed the sweet and tangy flavors of Southeast Asia with France’s rich flavors and obsession with good bread. You could eat your way through the country for months. One of the trends you’d notice is Vietnamese cuisine’s elevation of fresh vegetables and especially herbs–like mint, cilantro, and basil pictured above.

Today, we’re highlighting five of the most beloved dishes from the region, many of which have made their way to the U.S.–and to Blue Apron boxes.

1. Banh Mi

In Vietnam, “banh mi” refers to the baguette-like bread that was brought to the region during French colonial rule. You’ll find vendors peddling their fresh bread on the sides of highways and busy streets all over the country. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, the rolls are mostly sold as sandwiches stuffed with tons of aromatic herbs, vegetables, meats, fresh chili peppers, and mayonnaise.

2. Summer Rolls

Unlike spring rolls, which are usually deep fried, summer rolls are wrapped in fresh rice paper, or bánh tráng in Vietnamese. They’re almost always filled with fresh vegetables and herbs, and often also with pork or shrimp. In Vietnam, the bánh tráng are created by drying rice batter on large bamboo mats, leaving them with their signature crosshatch pattern.

3. Pho

Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a staple dish in Vietnamese cuisine. Throughout Vietnam, in the early morning, groups of people enjoy a bowls of it for breakfast on the sidewalk from street vendors. The soup is famous for the complex flavors that come from hours of simmering with beef bones and tons of exotic spices. Our express version uses the key spices (cardamom, coriander, black pepper, cinnamon, and star anise), a rich beef base, and all the essential garnishes.

4. Bun Cha

This dish of little flavored pork patties is traditionally served with a plate of fresh herbs, including cilantro, Thai basil, and bean sprouts. This array of greens transforms the dish, each herb adding distinctive fragrances and flavors. The best way to eat this is to customize each bite as you go, and trying different combinations of meat, herbs, noodles, and broth.

5. Noodle Stir-Fry

This dish is inspired by the cuisines of Southeast Asia where the focus is on the balance of sour, salty, sweet, and bitter flavors. In stalls at markets and on the sidewalk, vendors stir-fry their own combinations of ingredients: meats, noodles, sauces, vegetables, and aromatics.

Dinner Conversation: Chinese New Year

Every so often, we round up posts, videos, and even playlists to entertain you while you cook, and provide conversation fodder for tonight’s Blue Apron dinner. The lunar new year begins today, shepherding in the Year of the Horse, and so our minds have turned towards Asia, where new year’s traditions prove particularly delicious.

How to make your own mochi, the chewy dessert traditionally eaten at the near year.

An amazing, extensive, drool-worthy round-up of all the Chinese New Year favorites, from Use Real Butter.

Want to celebrate with something simpler? Check out our recipes for simple stir-fries, from Ginger Beef with Tatsoi to Kung Pao Tofu.

Who needs the Super Bowl? Get rid of the dips and pulled pork, and host a dumpling party instead!

Coconut Milk: From Tree to Can

We’re so pleased to welcome Suzanne Kahn, a history grad student and author of the food blog, An Overdetermined Life, to share this post on making coconut milk at home.

 When I started writing about how coconut milk gets made, I envisioned a Mr. Rogers-like adventure through a coconut processing plant. I did not picture myself standing in my kitchen at 11:00 o’clock at night with a coconut and a hammer.

But here’s the thing. The more research I did about how coconut milk gets from the coconut to the can, the simpler it all seemed. In fact, I learned, it’s so simple that home cooks can and do make it themselves. To really understand how coconut milk gets into all those cans at the store and in your Blue Apron boxes, I decided, I would have to do it myself.

In retrospect, it’s not particularly surprising that making coconut milk is simple. Coconut is a vital food for much of the world’s population. Despite the difficulty of opening one (hence the hammer), once inside, you find nutritious food and reliably potable water. Before setting out on long sea voyages, crews used to pack coconuts as an all-in-one food and water supply. The outside of a coconut is also more than useful—whole, it serves as a flotation device; its outside shell can be burned as charcoal; its fiber turned into rope. The coconut’s many uses have been known since ancient times. This means you don’t need much fancy equipment to make coconut milk (or other products)—although, of course, electricity does speed up the process.

Now, I would never suggest that making coconut milk is something you must—or really even should—do. There are plenty of perfectly delicious cans of coconut milk out there. But, I will say this. If you are someone with more hardware than flatware in your home, someone who doesn’t have a lot of kitchen appliances but does have a blender for the occasional margarita party, making your own coconut milk is an adventure that you could embark on.

So, here’s how it works—in your kitchen, or in the factory that’s making coconut milk to sell in cans:

First, you have to get in to the coconut. This is not the easiest task. Off the tree, a coconut has a thick husk, the part that gets peeled away to make rope. There are now industrial de-husking machines, but traditionally the de-husking was done by smashing the coconut into a spear anchored in the ground. (Try not to wince as you watch people do this on YouTube. The spear comes very, very close to their wrists.)

By the time you or I buy a coconut, the husk has generally been removed. This leaves a thick, hard, outer shell. In factories, they have whirring blades to cut through them. In your kitchen, you whack it with a hammer, a lot. Eventually it cracks open. (Note: If you are doing this at home, before you crack a coconut open it’s worth draining out the water, which puts the coconut water you buy in stores to shame. To get at it, just use a nail to put two holes in the coconut and pour.)

Once the coconut is open you have to pry out the white meat with a knife and then peel off the final layer of thin brown skin. This is where I started to wish I had factory-quality equipment to help me out.

Next, the meat then gets shredded. In a factory, the meat gets fed into a machine and comes out the other end looking a lot like the shredded coconut you can buy in bags in a store. The shredded meat then gets mixed with hot water. In your kitchen, you can combine these steps and throw chunks of coconut meat into a blender with 2 cups of water.

Finally, the coconut pulp gets strained through a mesh cloth (you can use cheese cloth or a cloth napkin). You end up with rich coconut cream and finely shredded coconut meat, which can be strained a second time to get a thinner coconut milk often used in soups. And that’s it. After you get into the coconut the whole process can’t take more than 5 minutes.

The coconut milk, left alone, behaves exactly like coconut milk in a can: it separates. You get a thicker cream on top and a more watery substance below. Here’s where factory-made coconut milk is different from what I made, many factories add emulsifiers to prevent separation. In some recipes, though, you want to be able to scoop that separated cream off the top of a can so you may want to check for coconut milk without emulsifiers. When choosing a coconut milk, you might also check the water content, as many factories thin their coconut milk with water or the second, thinner round of coconut milk. One way to check how much cream is in a can is by shaking the can and listening. You don’t want the milk to slosh too much.

Coconut milk is a key ingredient in many South Asian and Caribbean cuisines as well as in the cuisines of the Pacific Islands and Brazil. Americans discovered coconut milk relatively recently and largely through these cuisines. Increasingly, Americans have also embraced coconut milk as a dairy alternative. There’s a lot you can do with a can of coconut milk, which is why I generally keep one on hand, but if you happen to get your hands on a coconut and a hammer you might also try making your own.

You’ll know you’re making it pretty much the same way people have for centuries. And, in the words of my boyfriend, mid-hammer whack, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in the kitchen.”

How Miso Came to Mainstream American Diets

We’re so pleased to welcome Suzanne Kahn, a history grad student and author of the food blog, An Overdetermined Life, to share her musings on what miso means to her daily diet in light of its long history and nutritious makeup, the second part especially relevant, as we’re talking wholesomeness on the blog all month. If you’ve ever had a period in your life where you subsisted on instant ramen (and haven’t we all?), you’ll definitely identify with Suzanne. 

Miso soup is the original instant soup. Not Cup Noodles, not cans of tomato soup, not those packets of dried Thai noodle soups.If you’ve got some miso paste in your refrigerator, miso soup can be as quick and easy to make as any pre-packaged soup. Toss in some rice, veggies, and maybe some protein, or try noodles and tofu and mushrooms, and you’ve got an instant, satisfying, and healthful meal. I started with some precooked brown rice, tofu, and avocado, but pretty soon was experimenting with other combinations. Miso soup was my gateway into more adventurous cooking for one. It felt like I had begun to feed myself like a grown-up.

Five years later, I still turn to my original miso-avocado-tofu combination when I’m running low on time or inspiration. When I’m throwing a dinner party and suddenly worry I haven’t made quite enough food, I often pull together a fast miso soup using garlic, tomato paste, miso, and maybe some tofu. Miso is a good thing to stock in your refrigerator, and, these days, it’s not hard to find. Whether in your local grocery store, natural foods store, or Asian grocery, you can usually find miso. In fact, you’re more likely to be overwhelmed by the options than have difficulty tracking it down.

This was not always the case. Until the 1960s, most Americans were not familiar with miso. Even today, though there is widespread familiarity with miso soup on Japanese menus, most of us don’t know the history of this ancient ingredient or much about the many varieties we might see available.

So, without further ado, a miso primer–the story of what miso is and how it became (almost) as popular with Americans as instant ramen.

First, the basics. Miso is made from fermented soybean. The process is generally started by mixing soybeans with a cultured grain (most commonly rice or barley). The cultured grain, known as a koji, is made by inculcating the grain with the mold aspergillus oryzae. The soybeans are mixed with the koji, water, and salt and then allowed to ferment for anywhere from a couple of months to three years. Miso is thus a living food like yogurt and many cheeses.

People have been making miso in Asia since ancient times. The practice is believed to have originated in China, where fermented soybeans are known as jiang. In the 700s, the fermentation practice spread to Japan. Centuries went by. Then, Japanese immigrants brought miso-making to the United States in the early 20th century. The first miso company in the U.S. opened in Sacramento in 1907. Over the next 15 years, four more miso companies opened, all in California and all founded by Japanese immigrants. These companies seem to have produced miso mainly for the tightly knit Japanese immigrant community and did not sell to a broader audience. It was not until the 1960s that Caucasian Americans began to try out the product.

Read more: Blue Apron Recipes with Miso

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Americans discovered natural foods (along with environmentalism, folk music, and the sexual revolution). This is when miso came into the consciousness of Caucasian Americans. It was the macrobiotic food movement that gave miso its first push into Caucasian American’s consciousness, according to John Belleme, one of the authors of The Miso Book. 

In particular, a Japanese immigrant Michio Kushi began to train people in macrobiotic eating. Consuming miso was central to this diet, because of miso’s many purported health properties. Kushi opened a natural food store in Boston, Erewhon Natural Foods Market, and began importing large amounts of miso and selling it to New Englanders. As people trained by Kushi spread out across the country they introduced Americans to miso and the natural foods movement embraced it wholeheartedly.

Around the same time, Americans began to embrace sushi, first at high-end restaurants in Los Angeles and New York, bringing a second audience to miso, via the ominpresent miso soup.

This was also the moment when researchers began investigating the health benefits of miso. Studies claimed a wide variety of bonuses derived from eating the paste: protecting people from radiation poisoning, helping prevent cancer, and lowering cholesterol. In an era of concern about radioactive fallout and nuclear war, these claims also helped aid in miso’s popularity.

And so, it was in the 1970s that the first non-Japanese Americans opened miso production companies. Belleme, for example, founded his, the American Miso Company, in 1979. Since then, the popularity of miso has continued to spread. When the American Miso Company opened in the 1970s , it sold two kinds of miso and sold 80,000 pounds a year. Today, the miso makers produce seven kinds and sell 600,000 pounds a year.

So, how do you pick a miso? First off, buy a paste not the instant powdered stuff. The paste, which has the consistency of peanut butter, makes soup just about as quickly as the powder but retains more of the flavor and health properties. Miso paste varies both by what kinds of grains are used with the soybeans, the proportion of beans to grains, the salt content, and the length of aging. Sweeter misos are lower in salt and soybeans and ferment for a shorter time; darker misos are are higher in salt, higher in soybean content and ferment for longer. Which miso you buy depends on what you are making, but yellow (or medium, mild) miso falls somewhere in the middle of all of these measures and is the most versatile miso to keep on hand. It’s good in soups, dressing, and marinades.

You don’t have to be a microbiotic eater or a sushi enthusiast to keep miso on hand. I think it’s a pantry essential for the same reason I did just out of college—it’s not only delicious, it’s practically instant soup.

Saag Paneer at Home

Defining what makes a meal a good vegetarian main course is no easy task. Once you take the meat and potatoes off the plate, the format of dinner acquires a new freedom that we love.

Of course, we’re a little late to the party. Indian cooks mastered the art of vegetarian cooking long ago. Their recipes are a rich source of inspiration for us, since they produce dishes that are at once hearty, healthy, and flavorful, vegetarian food where you’d never think to miss the meat.

A good place to start is with Saag Paneer, which also goes by the name Palak Paneer. Unforgettable for its flavorful combination of freshly ground spices and silken spinach, you may have found that restaurant version of the dish are epically creamy–too rich for more than a few bites. At home, you have a change to balance the spicy-rich seesaw. We use fresh paneer cheese, which we crisp up in a pan. Towards the end, we finish with dollops of creamy yogurt, which add both tanginess and the appealing creaminess of dairy. One of our tricks for optimizing this dish is chopping the spinach after we’ve sautéed it. That helps the spinach really coat each morsel of cheese, helping you get a perfect bite each time: part crispy cheese, partly spicy, creamy spinach. You can get the full recipe over on our recipe card.

We’re happy to be participating in Food Network’s Fall Fest, a weekly blog tour of all the incredible produce we’ll be enjoying this season. This week, the topic is spinach! You can see the other bloggers’ delicious spinach creations by following the links below.

The Heritage Cook: Fresh Spinach with Maple Vinegar Vinaigrette
Blue Apron Blog: Saag Paneer at Home
Weelicious: Spinach Cake Muffins
Virtually Homemade: Creamy Spinach and Chicken Casserole
Haute Apple Pie: Parmesan Spinach, Broccoli and Chicken Bake
Red or Green: Spinach-Walnut Pesto on Bruschetta with Fried Egg
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Spinach with Sausage, Peppers and Tomatoes
The Sensitive Epicure: Spanakopita Minus the -Opita
Taste With The Eyes: Spinach and Chickpeas in a Bengali Mustard Sauce
Domesticate Me: Warm Spinach Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette and a Fried Egg
In Jennie’s Kitchen: Crispy Spinach Latkes
Devour: How to Make Spinach Gnocchi
Dishin & Dishes: Pear, Walnut and Blue Cheese Salad with Arugula and Baby Spinach
FN Dish: Eat Your Spinach Sides

Video: Secrets of the Best Bok Choy

Blue Apron is now on video! Every Thursday, we’re posting a new video on our YouTube channel and over here on the blog.

We’ve already helped you cut down your prep time in the kitchen by finessing your knife skills and making short work of onionsgarlic, and carrots.

Now, we’re taking you behind the scenes with our own Chef Matthew Wadiak to see how a professional gets inspired to make incredible food day in and day out. On a trip to New York City’s Chinatown, he feasts on the little-known bok choy at the well-known Hand Pulled Noodles restaurant. Not to be outdone, he then shows us how to take this inspired meal home, picking up some bok choy on the way to the kitchen. Once there, he shares a secret ingredient that will make your Chinese-style greens as good as Hand Pulled Noodles’–every time.

Watch the video, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and then get cooking!