Three Cultures – Three Umami-packed Recipes
The common denominator in these three culturally different recipes is umami broth – used in different ways but with the same effect…creating delicious vegan food.
Last week, I introduced my umami broth – a delicious vegetable-based broth packed full of umami sensations.
Umami broth forms the underlying flavors of rich soups, stews, rice dishes and my vegan brown sauce. I also use the broth to flavor seitan, marinate mushrooms and infuse it with kombu to make a killer vegan dashi.
This week, I offer three amazing recipes that have different cultural origins to demonstrate how I use umami broth in my recipes to develop complex flavor profiles that…well…make the food taste incredible.
The Japanese-style Potatoes and Mushroom recipe depends on umami broth to seep deeply into the potatoes, then with the help of some sugar, the broth is reduced into a mouth-watering sweetened rich brown sauce. The Creamy Onion Soup recipe uses a similar reduction technique to develop intense richness that balances perfectly with the sweetness of caramelized onions. In the final recipe, I am replacing the traditional ‘beef-flavored’ broth with mushroom-infused umami broth to create necessary earthiness to balance the acidity coming from the sauerkraut in my vegan take of a classic Hungarian-style Potato and Sauerkraut Goulash.
Next up in my umami series are my strategies and kitchen secrets I use to create umami-rich seitan recipes. I hope you continue to follow me on this fascinating journey…and use the information I offer to help you develop your own style – or at least explore some ways that may help you cook incredibly satisfying vegan meals.
As always, I want your feedback…so, please feel free to spark a conversation with me or other readers by leaving a comment below – this contributes enormously and helps others discover VeganWeekly. Of course, sharing this newsletter with your friends, family and social media contacts also helps and sustains me… and maybe this newsletter could help others who may crave valuable insights into the art of vegan cooking.
Japanese-style Potatoes and Mushrooms
This preparation is based on the classic Japanese recipe called Niku-jaga (literally meaning meat and potatoes). It’s intended to be rich in a dark beefy sauce that seeps into the potatoes as they cook together.
My vegan version replaces the meat with mushrooms, and together with the traditional onions, they are cooked in a rich umami broth that further intensifies after reducing. The richness of the broth is balanced by a sweetened hit of mirin and sake, which leaves a wonderful, delicious broth that tastes a lot like…should I say it...well, it taste a lot like beef.
Difficulty: simple- to moderate
Yield: makes about 6-8 servings
250 grams (1/4-pound) fresh snow peas
4 medium onions
500 grams (one pound) fresh mushrooms (see tips)
unrefined rapeseed oil (amount varies)
1 kg. (2 pounds) starchy potatoes
750 ml. (3/4-quart) Umami Broth
75 grams (1/3-cup) granulated sugar
40 ml. (1 1/2 ounces) mirin
80 ml. (1/3-cup) sake
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1-2 teaspoons cornstarch (optional)
sea salt for seasoning
Remove the fibrous string along one side of the snow peas – just pull it off like a zipper. Fill a small to medium-sized pot with water and bring it to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt, stir to dissolve and then add the peas to the water. Cook for 1 minute, then drain and rinse quickly under cold water. Reserve until everything else is finished.
Heat a large pan – ideally with straight sides – over medium heat. Peel and cut each onion into 8 wedges. Add the onions to the preheated pan along with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Stir and cook over medium heat until the onions soften and just begin to turn color. Add 1-2 tablespoons water periodically to prevent the onions from burning. Remove the onions and reserve.
Return the pan to stovetop. Prepare the mushrooms by slicing into thick pieces – they will shrink by about half during the cooking process. Add the sliced mushrooms to a bowl, then add enough oil to completely coat them. Add the mushrooms to the hot pan, turn the heat to medium-high and cook the mushrooms until softened and slightly colored. Work in batches if your pan is not large enough to hold the mushrooms in a single layer. Reserve the cooked mushrooms and return the pan to the stovetop.
Peel the potatoes, then portion into large chunks. Add the potatoes to a bowl and coat with oil in the same way as the mushrooms. Add the potatoes to the hot pan and cook over medium heat until lightly browned.
Add the cooked onions and mushrooms to the cooked potatoes. Add the umami broth, stir to combine and turn the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to maintain a lively simmer. Combine the sugar, mirin and sake together and add to the broth. Cook for 15 minutes. Check the potatoes – a knife should easily pierce the interior (or just bite into one and see if it is soft). Remove the potatoes, mushrooms and onions with a large skimmer and reserve separately. Return the broth to the stovetop and cook until the broth reduces by about one half. Add the soy sauce. Thicken the sauce by mixing together the cornstarch with 1-2 tablespoons water and whisking into the broth off the heat. Stir well, then return to the heat and gently cook the broth until it is thick.
Heat the sugar peas in a small amount of water (or in the microwave). Slice into pieces and add to the potatoes and mushrooms. Serve right away.
Tips and Variations
I suggest preparing the onions, mushrooms and potatoes before cooking them – just keep the onions in a small bowl, the mushrooms in a bowl (go ahead and coat them with oil ahead of time) and the peeled and portioned potatoes in a bowl filled with water – ideally with a few drops of lemon juice. Once the vegetables, onions, mushrooms and potatoes are prepared, the rest of the dish only takes about 30 minutes to finish.
The type of additional vegetable used in this recipe is flexible. I like to choose a green vegetable that snaps a bit – the contrast with the soft potatoes and mushrooms is pleasing. Use snap peas, edamame or sweet peas as some suggestions. The key is to cook these vegetables lightly in boiling salted water just long enough to preserve a nice crunch. Reheat and add them to the dish at the very last moment to preserve their lovely green color.
I suggest using 2 or even 3 different mushroom varieties. I favor shiitake, king oyster and Shimeji mushrooms for this recipe.
I don’t think it is a good idea to use extra virgin olive oil in this recipe but it will do as a replacement if you don’t have unprocessed rapeseed oil. I avoid heavily processed oils in all my cooking, and I encourage others to do the same. Ultimately, the choice of oil you land on is yours to make.
I strongly encourage the use of my umami broth for this recipe. You can make a quick replacement version by combining 500 ml. (1/2-quart) vegetable broth or vegan dashi with 4-5 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari and 1 tablespoon of yeast extract.
Use a stronger sherry, like oloroso, as a substitute for the sake.
Creamy Onion Soup with Horseradish Béchamel Toast
I have a soft spot for the classic French Onion Soup – the one that is rich in caramelized onion flavors swimming in a dark and succulent beef broth and topped with toast and perhaps some melted comte cheese.
Ok, I know this French classic isn’t exactly stylish now, but I decided to refresh it and bring it back…in vegan form!
The base of the soup stays the same – it is packed with slowly caramelized onions. I replaced the traditional rich meat broth with an equally rich umami broth…and a hint of sherry of course. The toast is lathered with vegan béchamel that I gratinated and flavored with shredded fresh horseradish.
This is a simple and inexpensive soup to make. It is rich in flavor and oh so satisfying to enjoy when the weather turns cold and you crave food that warms your bones and satisfies your need for a bit of indulgence.
Difficulty: simple- to moderate
Yield: makes about 6-8 servings
750 grams (1 ½ pounds) onions, sliced thin
Extra virgin olive oil
2 liters umami broth
25 grams dried shiitake mushrooms
50 grams (3 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
60 ml. (1/4 cup) sherry (see tips)
6-8 slices bread
6-8 tablespoons (about 100 ml or 3 ounces) vegan béchamel
Parsley to garnish the toast
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
Heat a large wide pot over medium heat. Place all the sliced onions into a large bowl. Toss with 2 teaspoons sea salt and mix well. Add the onions to the preheated pot (you should hear a gentle hiss as the onions hit the pot – turn down the heat if the hiss is loud). Stir the onions a bit and gently cook, covered for about 10-15 minutes. You may need to occasionally remove the cover and add about 1-2 tablespoons of water to prevent the onions from sticking too much.
After 10-15 minutes, then onions should be wilted and turning golden. This is the point to add 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Stir well, then continue to cook the onions until they become deeply golden…again, add 1-2 tablespoons of water if the onions are getting dry and begin to fry. Once the onions are cooked and caramelized, remove the pot from the heat and allow them to gently cool in the pot.
Heat the umami broth in a separate pot until it simmers. Add the dried mushrooms. Cover the pot and gently simmer the broth for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, re-heat the onions over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. When the oil and onions are hot, add the flour and mix well.
Strain the infused umami broth into the pot with the onions, making sure to leave any mushroom residue in the strainer or in the pot. Reserve the rehydrated mushrooms for another use.
Mix well to get rid of any lumps and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the sherry wine and continue simmering the soup for 5-10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, adjust the seasoning and allow the soup to settle while preparing the toast.
Preheat the oven to 250°C (475°F) using only the top heat. Rub each slice with extra virgin olive oil – just enough to coat the bread. Spread about one tablespoons of béchamel evenly on each slice. Place the bread on a baking pan, then under the broiler (grill). Cook the bread for about 3-5 minutes – just until the béchamel takes on color and melts evenly. Remove the toast, top with grated fresh horseradish and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with the onion soup.
Tips and Variations
Try to use a very sharp knife to slice your onions. This helps when it comes to controlling those tears when cutting up an onion. Alternatively, use a mandolin or another type of slicer and work fast. Try to keep your onion slices about 1/3-cm (1/8-inch) in thickness. If you make them too thin, they will lose a lot of their texture and flavor when caramelized…in other words, they will become too sweet and that’s not pleasant in this soup.
This recipe works best when making your own rich umami or vegetable broth. The store-bought versions are too salty or highlight chemical flavors when cooked. I also avoid using any kind of instant broth – the little compressed squares or any dried version. The flavor from these substitutions just don’t work well, so it really pays to make your own broth for this soup.
I use dried shiitake mushrooms to create more umami flavor in the infused broth. I believe the color and flavor is richer than many other types of dried mushrooms. Use dried porcini (cep) mushrooms as a substitute.
I use Oloroso or Amontillado sherry. A Fino sherry works, but it is a bit weak for this soup. Alternatives include Madeira or Marsala.
You can also use a small blow torch to gratinate the béchamel. Just make some toast first, then spread the béchamel on the bread and use your torch to create the color and to melt the béchamel…it’s a great method if you own a small blow torch.
Hungarian-style Potato and Sauerkraut Goulash
When the weather is cold, I generally want food that is rich in flavor and filled with soul-satisfying goodness that delivers comfort and warmth to my bones and beyond.
I have plenty of ideas in my repertoire to fill these needs - one of them is this Hungarian-inspired goulash dish loaded with potatoes, mushrooms and sauerkraut. And to keep my version close to the classic Szegediner Goulash, I worked in a bit of shredded jackfruit and rich umami notes from the broth plus a healthy dose of sweet paprika.
Difficulty: simple to moderate
Yield: makes about 4-6 servings
180 ml (1 1/2-cups) water
15 grams (1/2-ounce) dried mushrooms
480 ml. (2 cups) umami broth (or vegetable broth)
1 teaspoon yeast extract
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into small dice
extra virgin olive oil, as needed (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons tomato paste
500 grams (1 pound) shredded jackfruit
1 kg. (2 pounds) sauerkraut
500 grams (1 pound) waxy style potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season
Soy sour cream and chopped parsley to garnish
Combine the mushroom-umami broth ingredients in a medium pot. Bring slowly to a simmer, then cover the pot and remove from the heat. Allow the dried mushrooms to soak in the hot broth for 20-30 minutes. Strain the broth carefully into a clean container, making sure to avoid adding any residue that may have gathered on the bottom. Reserve the re-hydrated mushrooms for another use.
Heat a medium-size casserole pot over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onions to the pot – it should make a slight hissing noise as the onions hit the heated pot. Stir the onions and add ½ teaspoon sea salt. Allow the onions to slowly cook over medium-low heat until they are completely softened and just beginning got caramelize. You may need to add 2-3 tablespoons water occasionally to prevent the onions from sticking too much to the pan. This step takes about 10-15 minutes, so be patient.
Add the extra virgin olive oil to the onions when they have softened and cooked completely.
Lightly toast the cumin seeds in a small non-stick pan over medium heat until they are fragrant – about 1-2 minutes. Remove the cumin seeds and lightly crush them, then add the cumin seeds to the onions. Add the paprika, smoked paprika, tomato paste and shredded jackfruit. Mix well and cook together over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
Add the strained mushroom-umami broth. Bring to a simmer, then stir in the sauerkraut. Cook over medium heat – just enough to maintain a gentle bubbling – for 45 minutes.
Add the prepared potatoes, cover the pot and cook until the potatoes have softened – that could be anywhere from 10-25 minutes depending on the size of the potato. If you’re unsure, just cook until a knife can be easily inserted into the potato.
Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, then serve with soy sour cream and chopped parsley.
Tips and Variations
Use a good vegetable broth – preferably homemade – if you don’t have umami broth available. Avoid using powders or pastes to make vegetable broth. These elements are often too rich in sodium and other chemical flavors.
The extra virgin olive oil is optional. I think some oil added provides additional moisture and flavor. The fat also helps the cumin seeds develop flavor.
The smoked paprika adds a nice layer of smokiness to this dish. Just leave it out if you don’t have any available. Another option is to add 6-8 drops of liquid smoke – just make sure to add liquid smoke during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
You can replace the shredded jackfruit with king oyster mushrooms if you prefer. Remove the caps from the mushrooms and shred the base into long shards by running a fork down the stem. Be sure to lightly sauté the mushrooms before adding them to the dish.
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