"People usually think of miso as salty," says Kuniko Yagi of L.A.'s Hinoki & the Bird. "But when I was a kid, we ate yaki manju, which are sweet, miso-glazed buns."
The fluffy, steamed buns are a specialty in Yagi's hometown in the Gunma prefecture of central Japan: skewered, grilled and brushed with sticky, lightly sweetened miso paste.
"They're very regional, sort of like a New York bagel," she says. "Few people outside the prefecture know about them."
When Hinoki & the Bird opened a couple of years ago, Yagi decided to throw an Americanized version of the childhood favorite—with slices of baguette standing in for steamed buns—on the menu.
Her lightly charred pumpkin toasts (get the recipe), slathered with honey-sweetened miso jam, have been a staple ever since.
Yagi adds a few original touches: thinly sliced, steamed kabocha squash, crumbled goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds, a pinch of Maldon sea salt and a squeeze of lemon.
Kuniko Yagi's miso jam | Chef Kuniko Yagi
The jam itself is easy to make. Equal parts honey and miso are whisked together with a little water and reduced for 10 minutes until thickened. With such a short ingredient list, it's important to use the right miso.
"In Gunma, we use red miso," she says of the stronger, saltier aged dark paste. "I like it because it's what I grew up with. And kabocha is my favorite variety of squash. It's dense and full of flavor, and the red miso adds a wonderful earthiness that a white miso just wouldn't."