The Yum Factor: Small Additions to Make your Plant Based Meals More Satisfying through the Wonder of Umami

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If you're a fan of this blog, our online program or our videos, I think by now I've convinced you that this idea some people have that vegan food is boring, bland or would come in second place to meat centered diets in a vegan key lime pie eating contest, are just completely false. It's false because any flavor profile you used to love, any dish that was an old time family favorite, they can all be made in their vegan version and be utterly scrumptious. All you need is a good recipe and to start experimenting a bit.

What happens however, with those daily meals, the ones we don't really want to fuss over? The ones we need to get on the table quickly and with which we can't spend a whole lot of time, let alone measure out 10 different ingredients.

Is it possible, to assemble simple vegan meals and still have them be a total treat to our taste buds? Yes! We can achieve this through the beauty and delicious natural flavors of fruits, veggies, whole grains etc, sure, but we can also take out some of what I call the magic jokers of cooking. That card you're holding secretly in your hand, that means you'll win the flavor game in the next round, and that people will keep asking you about when you serve them a simple veggie bowl and they try the first bite and aren't really sure what hit them. One word: UMAMI! No that's not the word they used in that Friends episode... this one is much cooler.

Umami is now considered the fifth taste next to sweet, bitter, salty and sour, and if I had to use two words to describe it, they would be "rich" and "savory". It's what makes you feel incredibly satisfied, what makes you feel a dish was hearty and gave you that stick to your ribs feeling we all love. It's a taste brought on by the presence of naturally occurring glutamates in food, and before you think I'm going to send you off to a specialty store to find the one little spice that carries this flavor, think again, as so many of our every day foods provide umami.

I love the meaning of the word umami in Japanese, it means "delicious" and "yummy", and when we think of satisfying a "meaty" craving without having to eat actual meat, this is what we're looking for. 

We tend to underestimate the need for pleasure and satisfaction when we sit down to eat. In this day and age, when many food choices (and especially within the plant based world) have to do with nutrients, superfoods, and what we should and shouldn't eat, few people are talking about pleasure. Unless you're French (yes, I'm talking about the French... Again!), who you know are masters in the art of eating for enjoyment as well as for sustenance. 

When we're assembling simple vegan meals at home, it's so important that these are not only easy to put together, but that they're also packed with satisfying flavor. I call this "the yum factor". If my dish doesn't have some of that yum factor (i.e. little additions that make it feel like a special treat), I head back into the kitchen and add some.

Today I'm sharing my top source of umami rich vegan foods, so you get plenty of YUM with your every day dishes:

1) Fermented foods

Think tamari soy sauce, liquid aminos, umeboshi paste or umeboshi plum vinegar, tempeh, miso, and even wine and beer!

Quick ideas: Add tamari to your dressings or stir-fries, start your meal with a delicious miso soup, add a splash of beer next time you're grilling those Field Roast sausages, or make our yummy tempeh bacon!

2) Tomatoes

Yup! These are full of umami! How cool is that?

Quick ideas: Make delicious tomato sauces for pasta or pizza, add some sun-dried tomatoes as a topping for your veggie bowls or to top hummus. Add tomato paste to your veggie burgers, or make our delicious chestnut and lentil meat loaf which of course includes lots of ketchup on top (as it should be).

3) Mushrooms and truffles (or truffle oil)

One of my favorite foods on the planet. Not only do they provide a lovely meaty texture, but that meaty, savory umami as well. Experiment with different kinds, and buy a bottle of truffle oil and use it just as a finishing touch for dishes, it will last you for months and it's the perfect inexpensive alternative to fresh truffles which are packed with umami but very expensive.

Quick ideas: Make a yummy mushroom sauté with fresh herbs and garlic, our BBQ portobello and black bean sliders, roast some potatoes and drizzle them with a bit of truffle oil and coarse sea salt.

4) Soy

Soy sauce, tamari soy sauce and tempeh as mentioned before, not to mention my favorite: tofu. They're all great sources of texture and umami flavor in the plant-based world.

Quick ideas: Our yummy and quick tofu and veggie stir fry with pineapple, adding tempeh or tofu to salads, stir-fries or veggie bowls, eating delicious vegan sushi rolls with a little tamari for dipping. Yum!

5) Potatoes

Let me just say... I knew it! I knew potatoes possessed magical powers. I've always been a freaky fan of potatoes, and then I moved to Spain and realized everyone here is just like me!

Quick ideas: Two of our most viewed recipes, our tofu and potato breakfast for lunch burrito and our oil free crispy potatoes.

6) Nutritional Yeast

A deactivated form of yeast with the most amazing cheesy flavor. Not to mention a nutritional powerhouse as its name will tell you without even the mention of a spoiler alert.

Quick ideas: Adding it to salad dressings or sauces, making your own vegan cheeses, or as a total treat in our stuffed Provençal tomatoes.

7) Green tea

Sip it, drink it, cook with it... it's awesome.

Quick ideas: Have a cup as a quick afternoon or morning pick me up, use the powdered forms in smoothies or desserts, and why not, have some non-dairy green tea ice cream after your yummy veggie rolls.

8) Sea vegetables

These can be a bit intimidating at first, and some people are put off by their strong smell. Start with one you probably already love: nori! All sea vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, and are incredibly filling and satisfying.

Quick ideas: Sushi rolls or temakis wrapped in nori sheets, seaweed salads, and leftovers or even salads inside a nori wrap for a fun twist on these staples.

9) Some herbs and spices!

Many spices that you can typically find in your local grocery store are sources of the umami yum factor, especially cumin, curry, paprika, thyme and rosemary.

Quick ideas: Make delicious Mexican bean dishes by adding some cumin and paprika, our roasted corn and bean salad, roast potatoes with rosemary and thyme, and make delicious tempeh or tofu curries.

10) Crank up the heat!: Roasted, grilled or caramelized vegetables

Although all forms of cooking will amp up the umami in vegetables, these are my three preferred cooking methods to give you the maximum dose of yumminess. 

Quick ideas: Our crispy oven sweet potato fries, our stuffed roasted bell peppers, roasted root veggies tossed in a bit of dijon mustard, maple syrup and fresh herbs, roasted carrots with cumin and cinnamon, a grilled veggie platter with hummus for dipping. The options are endless.

Keep this list in mind next time you're assembling your meals, and add a bit of extra yumminess to make your dishes savory, hearty, and utterly scrumptious.


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