‘Test Kitchen’: How To Make Vegetarian Dishes Pop With A Little Umami | 88.9 KETR

By Editor, Posted March 10, 2015

Just because a meal is vegetarian doesn’t mean it can’t be “meaty.” One trick to heighten the depth of flavors in plant-based dishes? Use ingredients that offer a pop of umami, say Bridget Lancaster and Jack Bishop of America’s Test Kitchen, who have released the new cookbook The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.

Umami (which means “delicious” or “yummy” in Japanese) is the name of the savory flavor in meat and fish — and it’s recognized as one of the five tastes, along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami “incites our taste receptors on our tongue to kind of pick up that savory note from foods,” Lancaster, the executive food editor of the Test Kitchen, tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

And umami isn’t limited to meat. Mushrooms, tomatoes and soy sauce are foods that are high in glutamates, which are the natural compounds that stimulate our umami receptors.

“As a whole, a lot of vegetarian foods, especially a while back, were kind of one-dimensional,” Lancaster asserts. “They were a little bit sweet or a little bit bitter. Especially our main courses in this cookbook really satisfy a lot of the flavors on our palate.”

Bishop, the editorial director of the Test Kitchen, says a favorite recipe of his in the book is the mushroom Bolognese.

It’s the soy sauce, he says, that makes the flavor snap.

“You would think, ‘Soy sauce in an Italian recipe?'” he says. “It doesn’t read as soy sauce in the final dish. But again, it’s adding more depth than if you were to just add an equivalent amount of salt. … If you add soy sauce, you get salt and you get the glutamates.”

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