Want to have a hilarious conversation with your children at dinner time? Try explaining the concept of umami to them. The discussion will quickly resemble the comedy routine “Who’s on First?” by Abbott & Costello. Sort of like this: “Oooh what?” followed by “Mommy who?” followed by “Oooooh Mommy?” You get the point…
Umami, a Japanese word, can be translated as a “pleasant savory taste”. It’s considered one of the five basic taste categories, along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. In technical terms, the umami flavor is imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, which occur naturally in many foods. Way too abstract for my kids (or me) to understand so we settled on umami to mean just plain yummy or extra extra delicious.
Obviously, the best way to explain this concept was to cook a dish rich in umami flavor. When I ran down a list of potential ingredients (mushrooms, tomatoes, parmesan, soy beans, fish sauce, anchovies) I could tell I had some serious skeptics on my hands. Still, I was curious to see how it would go. At the very least it will make for some amusing dinner commentary!
1 pkg. rice vermicelli
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup portobella mushrooms, roughly chopped into bite-size pieces
1 cup shitake or oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cups, chicken stock, low-sodium
1/3 cup soy sauce, low-sodium
2 Tbsp fish sauce
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp chili garlic paste, optional
1 package extra firm tofu, drained, cut into 1” cubes
1 cup broccolini, about ½ bunch, cut into 1” pieces, stem and florets
Crunchy lo-mein noodles, optional garnish
Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse in cold water, and add to large mixing bowl. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat sesame oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, just until fragrant, do not brown. Add the mushrooms and cook until they caramelize, about 10 minutes.
Add chicken broth, soy sauce, fish sauce, pepper, and chili paste, scraping bottom of pan for any brown bits.
Add tofu and broccolini, cover and simmer for about five minutes, until broccolini is tender.
Remove from heat and pour mushroom tofu mixture over rice noodles. Toss to coat, the noodles will soak up most of the sauce. Serve hot or cold. Top with crunchy noodles and see if your kids can taste the umami!
And the VERDICT is:
Matthew: “Is this goat cheese?” “I can taste flavor”
Liam: “Tofu tastes like chicken”
Dylan: “Thumbs up then thumbs down”
Did they notice the umami? Absolutely not… but they did try the tofu!