Umami – Pronounced Oo-mommy… is the 5th taste. It’s the savory taste. This taste is essential to many cuisines. Getting it into you dish can be as easy as adding meat but that doesn’t always work.
Personally I feel what a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes are missing is the umami component making it feel flat or less interesting. There are many other ways for introducing umami to a dish outside of meat. Maybe my favorite it through the use of mushrooms. Sure adding cooked mushrooms, even button mushrooms, can add some umami but I discovered a while ago that dried mushrooms, especially Shiitake and Porcini are amazing.
The best kept secret in cooking is dried mushrooms. Added to soups, stews, and stocks you can get a more interesting and more complex flavor. Ground up into a powder and they can add just the right amount of “meatiness” to a meatless dish. Soak them and you can use them just like fresh mushrooms. The broth you get after rehydrating them can also be a fun ingredient to use in a dish.
The issue I have been running into is cost. At the mainstream grocery stores and co-ops a 1 ounce bag of sliced Shiitake mushrooms is around $3.47. This isn’t so bad when you’re just doing things like making mushroom powder. That only requires about 10 grams. However, when I discovered how great of an ingredient this is to work with, I was using a lot more.
It wasn’t until my trip to my favorite Asian Food Store in Rochester, MN that I discovered they sold them in large bags for a fraction of the cost. Dried mushrooms and even spices are used a lot in Asian cooking. If you have a good Asian market check out what they have even if you don’t do any Asian cooking. They are also a great place to look for seafood of all things.
I bought a 3.5 ounce package of dried Shiitake mushrooms at the Asian Food Store for only $3.29! I bought a 1 pound bag of whole Shiitake mushrooms for only $11.00!
Now, I can experiment more with this great ingredient and not have to worry about the cost. Oh, and if you’re interested in that mushroom powder I mentioned it’s simply 10 grams of dried Shiitake mushrooms and 10 grams of dried Porcini mushrooms on a baking sheet for 5 minutes in a 300ºF oven. Cooled. Then blitzed in a spice grinder, mini chopper, or food processor until it’s a powder. You then use this as a final dusting on any dish you want to add a little umami kick. Warning: A little goes a long way so don’t over do it until you find the amount you like. You can always add but your can’t subtract…