Over the past several months, I’ve enjoyed playing with some umami-boosting ingredients in various dishes. Umami is sometimes described as a savory or meaty taste or, more simply, something that makes food taste good.
Despite its association with meat, it is quite possible to build umami flavor in vegetarian dishes — mushrooms or soy sauce are a quick and easy route (the title for this post popped into my head while eating a dish containing both mushrooms and soy sauce) — but there are other ingredients and methods.
I first started experimenting with dal (daal) back in August, when my food swap with Nupur started an Indian cooking kick. Dal describes any of a variety of split peas or beans. I began my explorations with two four pound bags of dal: toor dal (split yellow pigeon peas) and moong dal (split mung beans).
I discovered that well-cooked dal, simmered with bay leaf and seasoned with various spices, makes a rich, savory vegetable stock. I use the stock for a variety of soups and stews, and the dal provides a nice flavor and texture boost. I also made one of my best batches of chili ever with a dal base.
Depending on the size of your soup recipe, and assuming you aren’t trying to make lentil stew, start with 1/4 to 1/2 cup dry toor or moong dal (or a combination). Early in the day, cover the dal with water to soak. When ready to use, rinse in a mesh colander, add a bay leaf, and cover with water to cook. When tender, liquify with an immersion or traditional blender and incorporate into your soup recipe.
2. Nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is a fairly common ingredient in vegetarian cooking, providing a nutty or cheesy flavor. As its name indicates, it’s also rather nutritious, a great source of B vitamins in addition to being a complete protein.
I add nutritional yeast to a variety of one-dish meals (grain + beans + veggies) to boost flavor and nutrients.
Look for nutritional yeast in the bulk bins at natural grocers or WF. The price per pound (~$7-$8) seems high, but the yeast flakes are very light — one pound of nutritional yeast can enhance many meals.
To use, add directly to dishes, or mix with a small amount of hot water to make a sauce. It also functions as a nice component of salad dressings.
3. Miso paste
Like soy sauce (another fermented soy product), miso paste possesses real umami-boosting power. Think beyond miso soup and use this flavorful ingredient as part of a rich sauce:
Whisk two to three tablespoons miso paste with one cup of water and a tablespoon (or more, depending on desired thickness) of almond or cashew butter.
Serve sauce on top of a cooked quinoa or millet with sauteed or steamed vegetables for an easy, healthy lunch or dinner.
Mix and match
Try sauces, salad dressings, and soups that include a combination of two or more of these ingredients to really kick up the umami flavor in your cooking.