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Simple and Savory Eating: Think Umami

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A food may taste sour, salty, bitter, sweet, or umami. Most of us occasional chefs do not know what umami is, though it is obviously about a food’s overall flavor.

The umami taste is difficult to pin-down. Described as rich, savory, or meaty, it tends to enhance the flavor of other foods without overpowering them. If you are building healthy eating habits, umami foods are an excellent way to enrich the flavor of a recipe without adding a lot of fat or salt.

Umami comes from foods such as:

  • aged cheeses and eggs
  • aged beef and venison
  • duck and other poultry
  • fish and shellfish
  • fish, soy and Worcestershire sauces
  • tomatoes and asparagus
  • mushrooms and walnuts

While it is true that sauces and cheese can add salt and fat to a recipe, you only have to add a small amount to get their umami benefit. For instance, just an ounce of finely grated aged cheese provides an amazing amount of flavor.

Having some umami foods on hand can help you turn an ordinary dish into something memorable. The next time you shop, consider picking up some dried shiitake mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, a small block of Parmesan cheese or dried seaweed.

Zesty Garlic Green Beans (with sun dried tomatoes)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 cup sweet onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon-pepper seasoning
  • 2 packages (16 oz each) frozen French-style green beans

Preparation

  1. Drain the tomatoes saving 2 tablespoons of the oil. In a Dutch oven, saute onion in the reserved oil until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, garlic and lemon-pepper. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add frozen green beans, stir to coat. Cover and cook for about 8 minutes - until heated through - stirring occasionally.
  3. Uncover. Cook 2 to 3 more minutes or until the liquid is nearly evaporated.

Make 10 servings.

Sources: Mayo Clinic; Taste of Home
Photo credit: Rene Schwietzke / flickr creative commons