After part 1 on pantry basics, here’s the ingredients combining part of our one-pot miso udon. Cooking is a simple exercise in layering flavours with textures. Almost all foods give some texture, but not all can impart flavour.
It’s important to note that besides salty, sour, sweet and bitter, there’s a fifth sense of taste – umami (In Chinese it’s described as 鲜味). It’s the rich, appetite-inducing, lip-smacking savoury taste that characterizes soy sauce. It’s wrongly called the ‘meaty taste’ and while it’s true that glutamates, the amino acid responsible for umami, is higher in animal flesh, people forget that it occurs in plenty of plants too. Plant – based sources of umami include tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, fermented and pickled foods, green jackfruit, mushrooms, seaweeds, and many more! It takes more skill to coax it out from plants than from meat. Personally I believe that understanding umami and knowing how to layer it with other flavours is the key to making Asian vegan dishes delicious.
On to our one-pot example, miso udon’s ingredients and their roles. Of course it isn’t like the traditional dish, but point here is that seemingly random things in the fridge can be made to work as a tasty meal.
5 dried straw and shiitake mushrooms soaked in hot water – as flavour base.
1 tomato, cut into wedges – adds tangy and umami taste.
6 small pieces of sliced ginger – uplifting fragrance complements earthy miso and enhancing umami.
A few spices (black cardamom, star anise and Chinese red pepper) – enriches soup with smoky and warm tones.
4 stalks spring onion, chopped – gives an onion-like hint.
1 tablespoon miso – adds salt, umami and earthy tones.
1 pack udon noodles – main carbs, chewy and makes the meal filling.
3 pre-steamed yams – thickens soup while adding chunks of starchy textural interest.
Large handful of pre-soaked frozen split lentils – thickens soup and adds protein.
Here’s how everything melds together, plus possible ingredient substitutes for allergies/religious dietary restrictions:
Have an end flavour & texture in mind before cooking. Want less chewy noodles? Use thin rice noodles. More spice? Add chilli. Want less umami, more sour? Omit mushrooms, use tamarind instead of tomato. Don’t take onion/garlic? Garnish with parsley/coriander.
For daily meals just work with whatever there is – no need to fuss over what you have or don’t. Relax, enjoy the process of discovering new combinations and feeding loved ones!