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I’m very excited to participate in the blog tour for The Vegetarian Flavor Bible with a guest post by Karen Page about one of my favorite food topics: umami.  After you read Karen’s wonderful post, be sure to leave a comment to enter my giveaway to win a copy of this amazing book.

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible

How to Get More Umami Flavor From Plant-Based Ingredients by Karen Page

KarenPageAuthorShotFlowers300dpiWT800 In our 1996 book CULINARY ARTISTRY, my husband Andrew Dornenburg and I were two of the first American culinary authors to mention “umami,” a then-  fledgling concept vying to become known as the “fifth taste.”  The fact that our book became a bestselling classic didn’t hurt umami’s rising profile globally as the Japanese-originated concept of savoriness / deliciousness gained new proponents among our readership of professional chefs.

When we came out with THE FLAVOR BIBLE in 2008 and shared our now infamous “Flavor Equation” that FLAVOR = TASTE + MOUTHFEEL + AROMA + “THE X FACTOR,” the TASTE section featured the four basic tastes of Sweetness, Saltiness, Sourness, and Bitterness, alongside a mention of Umami (Savoriness) with the note, “…There is growing evidence of a fifth taste, umami…It is often described as the savory or meaty ‘mouth-filling’ taste that is noticeable in such ingredients as anchovies, blue cheese, mushrooms, and green tea, and in such flavorings as monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is the primary component of branded seasonings such as Ac’cent.”

By the time we came out with THE VEGETARIAN FLAVOR BIBLE in the fall of 2014, umami had taken its place in the book as one of the five tastes responsible for “every delicious bite you’ve ever tasted…coming together on your taste buds.” Since we started eating a plant-strong diet in May 2012, the concept of umami has taken on even more importance to us we seek its satisfying effects without meat or cheese.

RobinRobertson_UmamiMushroomsInBushel

Where to find umami:  beer, beets, broccoli, carrots, corn, fermented foods (e.g, bean pastes), green peppers, green tea, ketchup, miso paste; mushrooms (dried, e.g., matsutake, shiitake), nutritional yeast, onions (esp. caramelized), peas, potatoes, sauerkraut, sea vegetables (e.g., dried, kombu), soy sauce, spinach, sweet potatoes, tamari, tempeh; tomatoes (e.g., ripe, paste, sauce), truffles, umeboshi plums and plum paste, vinegar (e.g., balsamic, sherry, umeboshi), walnuts, wine (esp. red)

 

It’s easy when it comes to Asian dishes, such as miso soup with shiitakes, tofu, and wakami, which is an umami bomb.

 

RobinRobertson_UmamiZucchiniPasta

But what about Italian food?  Pastas with tomato sauce and mushrooms seem to cry out for something to take the place of umami-rich Parmesan cheese.  Happily, some of the Parmesan substitutes we’ve tried seem to be getting better (e.g., Parma brand vegan “Parmesan”), as have been the “cashew ricottas” we’ve been served on pasta dishes (including the zucchini pasta pictured here).

The number-one seasoning in our spice cabinet these days is smoked paprika, which gives legumes an irresistable flavor.  Andrew uses it in marinades for portobello mushrooms as well as seasoning his signature split-pea soup.  Kalustyans.com sells porcini powder made from powdered porcini mushrooms, which you can use to coat tofu as well as to season dishes.

Miso’s umami-enhancing properties are so extraordinary that it was a staple in our kitchen long before we started our plant-strong diet.  Japanese fermented soybean paste is available in as many varieties in Japan as there are types of cheese in the U.S., so it’s incredibly diverse.  We use it exactly the same way as we did as omnivores:  rub your choice of ingredients – such as tofu – with miso paste, cover, and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, wipe off the excess paste before throwing the tofu on the grill or baking it.  You’ll be amazed by its extraordinary flavor. You can mix light and dark misos for more complex flavors.  As another tip, you can add miso to mashed or pureed vegetables and use this as a sauce.

Just as importantly, umami can be created through cooking techniques, such as browning, caramelizing, grilling, roasting, and sauteeing.  The most masterful examples can be found at temples of haute cuisine with celebrated veg tasting menus, such as The Inn at Little Washington and Picholine.

 

RobinRobertson_UmamiDishAtInn

During what turned out to be the best vegetarian meal of our lives, The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia kicked things off by serving us popcorn with shaved truffles on top – later followed by a “Club Sandwich of Eggplant, Grilled Shiitake Mushrooms and Fried Green Tomato on Charred Onions with Burgundy Wine Sauce.”  At Picholine in New York City, we were wowed by the savory “braised shortrib-esque” qualities of “Grilled and Smoked Eggplant with ‘Chinoise Flavors’ and Tapioca Pearls,” which was served with a crunchy nori tempura accent.

The secret of adding umami to plant-based dishes?  Layering the flavor on, through the right selection of ingredients and application of cooking techniques.  If you’re making risotto, take the time to caramelize the onions and/or butternut squash you add to it.  If you’re making mushroom gravy, add a bit of nutritional yeast – or, better yet, toasted nutritional yeast, to enhance the flavor even further.  Every layer can help you make an even bigger flavor impact!

P.S.  Chef Nathan Lyon developed a recipe for “Vegan Umami Paste” that combines several ingredients renowned for their umami (e.g., balsamic vinegar, molasses, nutritional yeast, porcini powder, soy sauce, tomato paste) that adds wonderful umami flavor to a wide variety of dishes, including the roasted eggplant sandwich featured on his website.

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I have a copy of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible for one person. (U.S. residents only, please.) To enter, leave a comment below telling me what your favorite way to add umami to your food when cooking is. For extra chances to win, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and leave a separate comment for each one to let me know.   This Giveaway ends Wednesday January 14 at midnight, EST.  A winner will be announced on Thursday January 15.

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Pissaladiere

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In keeping with our minimalist theme of this year’s holiday season, I’m taking a break from my usual New Year’s Eve parade of appetizers.  This year I’m only making one dish: a pissaladiere – and a shortcut version at that!
This savory caramelized onion tart hails from Nice in the Provençe region of France. Known for its thick dough and flavorful topping of caramelized onion and luscious Caillette or Niçoise olives, this sophisticated pizza can be enjoyed as an appetizer or main dish.
I’m going to make an adapted version of the pissaladiere recipe from Vegan Without Borders, using a ready-made pizza dough for the crust, instead of making one from scratch.  (I like the dough sold at Trader Joe’s and keep some in my freezer for occasions such as this!)
Here’s my adapted recipe, in case you want to try it for yourself!

Thanks to everyone for making this a great year.  I wish you all a Happy New Year!  See you in 2015!

Short-Cut Pissaladiere
Adapted from Vegan Without Borders by Robin Robertson © 2014.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large sweet yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced (about 2 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon herbes de Provençe or dried thyme
1 ready-made pizza dough, at room temperature (I use Trader Joe’s brand)
1/3 cup pitted and halved Kalamata olives

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion softens and turns golden brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the herbes de Provence.  Cover and cook 20 minutes longer, or until the onions are soft and caramelized.  Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.  Set aside to cool.  Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly oil a rectangular baking pan and set aside.
Stretch the dough to fit the baking pan and arrange it on the prepared pan. Spread the onion mixture evenly onto the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border of exposed dough around the edge. Arrange the olives on top of the onions, spacing them evenly.  Bake for about 16 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned.   Cut into rectangular pieces (small or large, depending on how you are serving it) and serve.

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Phyllo_Pens_Ajvar_-620

I love the idea of the Virtual Vegan Potluck and am excited to participate.  With the holidays around the corner, I thought I’d share my recipe for one of my favorite pick-up foods — so fun to serve at holiday gatherings. Variously known as sigara (cigarette) or kalem (pen) böregi (or börek), these delicious appetizers are believed to have originated in what is now Turkey. These small cylindrical phyllo pastries filled with a savory stuffing are popular throughout the Middle East, as well as the Mediterranean and parts of Eastern Europe. My favorite filling is made with kale and white beans. Wrapped tightly into little phyllo “pens,” they look a bit like crispy spanakopita spring rolls. I hope you enjoy them!

Kale-Stuffed Phyllo “Pens”

This recipe is from Vegan Without Borders by Robin Robertson © 2014, Andrews McMeel Publishing. Used with permission.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to brush phyllo
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 ounces kale, tough stems removed, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • ½ teaspoon dried mint
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1½ cups cooked white beans, or 1 (15.5-ounce) can, drained, rinsed, and mashed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 (14 by 18-inch) sheets phyllo dough, thawed
  • ¼ cup finely ground walnuts
  • Ajvar (recipe follows), optional

Preparation:

Heat the oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the kale and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano, dill, mint, and lemon zest. Add the mashed white beans and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl and mix well. Set aside or refrigerate to cool completely before using.

Place a sheet of phyllo dough on a flat work surface. Brush the sheet evenly with olive oil and top it with a second sheet of phyllo. And brush the second sheet with oil. Keep the remaining dough covered with plastic wrap or a clean towel to keep from drying out. Use a sharp knife to cut the phyllo sheets into three strips. With the short side of the phyllo facing you, spoon a line of the filling (about 1-inch diameter) about 1 inch from the bottom edge of a strip of phyllo, about ½ inch from each side. Fold in the side ends of the phyllo toward the center, then use both hands to tightly roll up the phyllo to enclose the filling, evenly and firmly rolling it up into a tight roll, as you would a spring roll.

Transfer the phyllo “pen” to a platter. Repeat the process for the remaining phyllo until the filling is used up. When all of the böregi are assembled, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To bake, preheat the oven to 400°F. Arrange the böregi on a nonstick baking sheet. Brush the top of the phyllo rolls with any remaining oil and sprinkle with the walnuts. Bake until crisp and golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve with ajvar, if using.

Makes 1 dozen

 

Ajvar

This flavorful Balkan condiment made with red peppers can be used as a dip for pita chips or as a sandwich spread with crisp vegetables. It can also be enjoyed as a zesty accompaniment to the Kale-Stuffed Phyllo “Pens.” Ajvar often contains eggplant as well and can be made mild or spicy, according to taste. This recipe is from Vegan Without Borders by Robin Robertson © 2014, Andrews McMeel Publishing. Used with permission.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 fresh hot chile, minced or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 2 roasted red bell peppers (jarred or home-roasted), chopped
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the chile and tomatoes and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add the roasted red peppers and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and well blended. Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Pulse until the mixture is finely minced and well combined. You can leave a little texture remaining or you can puree it until smooth. Transfer to a bowl to serve. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator where it will keep for up to a week.

 

Makes about 1½ cups

 

 

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Chipotle Sweet Potato Bisque

Chipotle Sweet Potato Bisque

It’s been officially “soup weather” at my house for about a month now, and will be until Spring.  That means that on any given day, you’ll find a “soup of the day” simmering on my stovetop or in a slow cooker. Bean soups are my favorite because they’re satisfying and meal-worthy, so they make an ideal lunch, but I want to make something a little different today so I checked out the soup chapter of More Quick-Fix Vegan – I make the Shortcut Bean Soup from that book all the time and some of the other soups in that chapter have been calling my name recently.

Some favorites are the Hummus Soup with Pita Croutons, the Black Bean-Pumpkin Soup,  and the Guacamole Soup.  I also love the Creamy Tomato Soup, the Lemony Chickpea-Spinach Soup, and the Smoky Corn Chowder, but today my heart belongs to the Chipotle Sweet Potato Bisque.  There’s something wonderful about the flavor combination of sweet potatoes and smoky hot chipotles. This vibrant soup is also very satisfying, thanks to the inclusion of white beans.  I usually garnish it with a little parsley or chives for a nice color contrast, but you could also top it with your favorite cooked green vegetable such as chopped spinach or kale. I’m heading to the kitchen to make some right now.  Here’s the recipe, in case you’d like to make it, too.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Bisque

from More Quick-Fix Vegan by Robin Robertson  (c) 2014, Andrews McMeel Publishing.

1 tablespoon olive oil or 1/4 cup water
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes, chopped or shredded (about 3 cups)
1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 to 2 canned chipotles in adobo
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cups vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives or parsley

Heat the oil or water in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and sweet potatoes.  Cover and cook until softened, 5 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, white beans, chipotles, and soy sauce.  Add the broth and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.  Use an immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot or transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and process until smooth, then return to the pot.  Reheat, if needed.  Serve hot sprinkled with the chives.

IN OTHER NEWS….

There’s a great giveaway going on right now on Vegan.com. They’re giving away five of my cookbooks (including More Quick-Fix Vegan and Vegan Without Borders) to one lucky winner.  Enter now!

I’m also thrilled to announce that Vegan Without Borders made the Top 5 Vegan Cookbooks of 2014 in the OregonianIt also made the Top Vegan Cookbooks of 2014 list on Vegan.com and it was the only vegan cookbook featured in the San Francisco Book Review Gift Guide.

 

 

 

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Vegan Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce

Ravioli with Smoked Sal IMG_0650 2a

On a recent trip to civilization (what I call any place that has decent (vegan) food shopping and restaurants), I picked up some vegan smoked salmon made by Sophie’s Kitchen. I like to try new vegan products and I was curious to discover how they translated the high umami flavor of smoked salmon.

We first put it to the test on bagels with cream cheese, capers, and sliced tomato. The flavor of the vegan salmon was fairly mild and the texture was about what you’d expect from products made with konjac, a Japanese plant. (If you’ve tried those shirataki noodles you’ll know what I mean, as they are also made with konjac.)  All in all, we enjoyed the bagels, especially since we hadn’t had real lox and bagels since 1986.

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I also wanted to try the vegan salmon in a recipe, so I made Vegan Ravioli and Roasted Asparagus with Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce and wow – it really worked.

The secret to getting the desired flavor was amplifying the smoky/salty flavor of the vegan salmon by adding a tiny bit of liquid smoke and some capers. I think you could actually make the sauce without the salmon and it would still be wonderful – I hope so, since that’s how I plan to make it next time, now that I’m all out of the vegan salmon!

Here’s the recipe:

Vegan Ravioli and Roasted Asparagus with Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce
Instead of ravioli, feel free to substitute your favorite pasta. For an even more decadent sauce, blend a few tablespoons of vegan cream cheese or sour cream into the sauce, along with a little more nondairy milk.
Makes 2 servings

8 ounces fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces vegan ravioli or your favorite pasta, freshly cooked
2 tablespoons Earth Balance (vegan butter)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups plain unsweetened almond or soy milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1 1/2 teaspoons capers
1/2 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
4 ounces Sophie’s Kitchen vegan smoked salmon, chopped
1/4 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange the asparagus pieces in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and roast until tender, about 10 minutes.
Cook the ravioli or pasta according to package directions.
While the pasta and asparagus are cooking, make the sauce: Melt the vegan butter in a 1 1/2-quart saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat. Gradually stir in the milk and heat to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook, stirring for 1 minute to thicken. Stir in the dill, capers, Liquid Smoke, salmon, and roasted bell pepper, if using. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt if needed. For a thinner sauce, stir in a little more milk. Keep warm.
When the asparagus is cooked, stir it into the sauce. When the ravioli or pasta are cooked, drain well and return to the pot, then divide between 2 shallow bowls. Spoon the sauce on top and serve hot.

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Cavatappi and Chestnuts with Creamy Kabocha Sauce and Cranberries

There have been several requests that I post the recipe for my pasta with kabocha squash sauce — so here it is!  The first time I made it, there was no recipe because I put it together quite spontaneously using leftover roasted kabocha squash.  This particular type of squash is so deliciously flavorful that it barely needs any other seasonings to boost its flavor. So, unlike your typical pumpkin sauces or those made with a less flavorful squash, there aren’t a ton of ingredients in this sauce — the squash does most of the heavy lifting!

Look for kabocha squash (aka Hokaido pumpkin) at Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. The superior flavor of the kabocha squash makes a substitution difficult, but if you can’t find one, then use a buttercup or butternut squash instead.

To dress this up for Thanksgiving, I’ve added cooked peeled chestnuts and sweetened dried cranberries, resulting in a very festive and totally delicious dish.

Some variations:

  • If you can’t find cooked peeled chestnuts (I buy them at Asian markets where they are available in vacuum sealed bags for under $2.00), you can roast your own chestnuts or simply substitute lightly toasted walnut or pecan pieces.
  • To make this a “centerpiece” dish, transfer it to a large serving bowl and top with a sprinkling of  lightly toasted panko crumbs and a little minced parsley.
  • You can substitute any bite-sized pasta you like, but I prefer the fun shape and chewy texture of cavatappi (and it holds the sauce well).

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

Cavatappi and Chestnuts with Creamy Kabocha Sauce and Cranberries

1 small kabocha squash, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme or sage
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
12 ounces cavatappi or other bite-sized pasta
2 cups plain unsweetened almond milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cooked peeled chestnuts
1/4 to 1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Arrange the two squash halves, cut-side down in a lightly oiled baking dish. Pour about 1/2 cup of water into the pan and cover tightly with foil. Bake until the squash is tender, about 45 minutes. Uncover and set aside to cool.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the thyme and paprika, if using, then remove from the heat.
Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until it is just tender. Drain and return to the pot.
While the pasta is cooking, scoop about 2 cups of the cooked squash out of its shell and transfer it to a food processor or high-speed blender. Add the reserved onion mixture and 1 cup of the almond milk and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste, scraping down the sides of the processor, then process again until smooth and creamy, adding as much of the remaining almond milk as needed to make a smooth, creamy sauce.
Add the sauce mixture, along with the chestnuts and cranberries to the drained cooked pasta and toss to coat. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed. Heat over low heat for a few minutes, if necessary. Serve hot.

Serves 4

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