Finger Licking Good

Growing up, my family was never much for fast food. My parents weren’t food snobs or health nuts, they just saw the value in a sit-down meal at a casual restaurant if we were going to eat out. There were certainly sporadic trips to golden arches on occasion, especially during road trips where alternative options were few and far between. There were no forbidden foods, no deprivation, no unmet cravings; I just never really developed a taste for it.

Only later as an adult did I really come to appreciate the art of fried chicken. Of course, I was already vegan by then, having never sampled the original animal. Though it wasn’t a rule, the only thing that my mom could not abide was a trip to KFC. Emotionally scarred by a hot, greasy summer flipping the bird back as one of her first part-time jobs in her youth, we never paid Colonel Sanders a visit. The details she shared were few and far between, but it’s not hard to imagine how that kind of gig could turn someone against such deep fried delicacies.

I’m still leery of it, not so much for the health aspect, but for the heat, mess, and waste. It’s already sweltering here in central Texas, and it will only get worse. The last thing I need is to steam up the kitchen while redecorating the walls with oily splatter. No thanks! This sounds like a job for the air fryer.

Taking everyone’s favorite, most versatile vegetable, cauliflower stars in this classic comfort food. Coated in a light, crisp batter infused with eleven herbs and spices, the secret formula is one I’m quite happy to divulge. Instead of buttermilk, I use yogurt to add tangy flavor and tenderness, amplified by a splash of lemon juice and balanced by the sweet kiss of maple syrup. It’s a delicate harmony in every bite.

If you’re craving something a bit more meaty, never fear. You can use the same batter to blanket tempeh, tofu, rehydrated soy curls, or any of your favorite chicken alternatives. I can’t lie, I really love using cauliflower because that way, I can still call it “KFC” – Kentucky Fried Cauliflower.

This fresher, lighter, easier rendition won’t leave grease on your hands, but it’s still finger licking good!

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Tanmi, the Latest Ancient Taste Sensation

Umami is well known and highly regarded as the fifth taste, the savory flavors we all know and love, but do you know about the sixth taste? Tanmi is a bit harder to describe, defying direct translation from Japanese to English, which explains a large part of its much slower ascent into widespread awareness.

Working in concert with the rich, robust tastes associated with umami, it provides a balancing counterpoint. “Natural” and “fresh” are the best words to explain it; the light, delicate touch of a practiced chef, emphasizing the inherent goodness of an ingredient without heavy seasoning. Start with the best food and allow it to shine for the greatest example of tanmi in action.

The gentle whisper of kombu infused into pale amber dashi broth? The subtle nutty, toasted green tea leaves that go into a hojicha latte, brightened with whole bean soy milk? You guessed it: those utterly enthralling gustatory experiences are all thanks to tanmi.

Shiitake, though typically associated with heavy, bold, hearty dishes, can also pack a punch of tanmi that will enhance any meal when properly harnessed. Especially when employing Sugimoto Shiitake Powder, just a pinch goes a long way to amplify the carefully layered flavors already developing, without creating an overwhelming mushroom sledgehammer that obliterates delicate nuances.

In the case of seared hearts of palm “scallops”, in fact, there’s no discernible mushroom character at all. It just serves as a spotlight to let the vegetables themselves shine. Like when salt is expertly applied, the results shouldn’t taste overtly salty, but some how, almost imperceptibly, indescribably, better.

Resting on a lush bed of cauliflower puree, tender sliced hearts of palm seamlessly take the place of seafood. Crunchy bites of pistachio punctuate the creamy base, which is all at once light yet decadent. Seasoned with bright, fresh lemon and parsley, the gentle savory undercurrent running through the complete plate could easily sweep the unsuspecting diner out with the tide.

Tanmi is also associated with the satisfaction after eating; a state of zen and contentment, rather than a food coma. One plate will crush all food cravings without leaving you feeling weighed down.

Create the best versions of your favorite dishes with the secret power of tanmi in your tool belt. Sugimoto Shiitake Powder is your ticket to instant culinary elevation, and ultimately, gratification.

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Holy Shiitake

Umami, the fifth taste, is no longer a mysterious phenomenon, relegated to dusty textbooks in chemistry labs. Everyone who’s marveled over the incredible depth of flavor of contained in a single drop of soy sauce, or savored the juicy flesh of a ripe tomato knows, just how compelling this sensation is. Coined in Japan over a century ago, umami refers to the taste of glutamate, inosinate, or guanylate, chemically speaking. These components are found in a variety of plant-based foods, which are critical for creating satisfying meatless meals. The greatest wealth of umami, and my personal favorite secret ingredient, is the shiitake mushroom.

Fresh shiitake mushrooms boast approximately 70mg of naturally occurring glutamate per 100g, but drying them increases their umami more than tenfold. Concentrated into an even smaller area, 100g of dried shiitake contain about 1060mg of glutamate AND 150mg of guanylate. I’m not much for math, but it’s easy to understand why even a single small mushroom cap can amplify any recipe to new savory heights.

Of course, not all shiitake are created equal. Like their luxurious fungi brethren, truffles, imposters in the marketplace offer tempting deals, much to the detriment of quality. Small, woody, bland, and muddy, bad mushrooms are the bane of any eater’s existence. Don’t gamble with your cooking; seek out high-quality shiitake from those who know them best. SUGIMOTO sells only premium, forest-grown shiitake mushrooms straight from Kyushu, Japan. Harvested from the natural sweet sap oak log, a collective of over 600 independent growers use 1,000-year-old Japanese techniques to cultivate sustainable harvests, producing the best tasting and textured shiitake possible.

Gently dehydrated over the course of 24 hours, freshness is locked in without the use of preservatives or pesticides, all while developing their distinctive umami essence. Separated into two categories based on size, Koshin are more dainty and delicate, while Donko are thicker and more robust. Both yield an incredible intensity of flavor and aroma, suitable for all sorts of soups, stews, salads, snacks, and just about anything else you want to add a greater depth of flavor or meaty bite. For the best results, both varieties should be soaked in cold water overnight, and ideally 24 hours, contrary to many instructions for a quick dip into boiling water. This slow rehydration process allows for every cell to plump with moisture, making even the tougher stems soft enough to enjoy.

For those who shrink at the sight of fungus in general, shiitake powder will become your new best friend. Mushroom haters needn’t fear these spores; unlike dried porcini, shiitake can enhance the taste of your cooking without adding the funky, earthy mushroom flavor that turns many away. The coarse grind allows for even dispersion through the dish, while lasting longer on your tongue, enveloping your whole mouth in savory flavor.

Umami-rich foods are not only more delicious, but have clear health benefits as well. They’re literally mouth-watering, and that saliva helps with digestion. Recent studies have also shown that they’re more filling, thus helpful for curbing appetite and aiding in weight management. Additionally, shiitake mushrooms are surprisingly rich in Vitamin D, containing your full daily recommended allowance in just 1 gram, or in other words, about 1/10th of a cap. Move over, milk!

Plant-based proteins really shine when the power of umami is applied with a deft hand. You don’t need to be an accomplished chef to harness the culinary capacity of dried shiitake mushrooms, though. As summer approaches, it’s time to dust off those grills and fire up some juicy burgers. Leave the cows out at pasture for this party; mushrooms do all the heavy lifting in these massive, meaty patties.

Chickpeas and mushrooms join forces to create supple yet sturdy burgers that are sure to satisfy the heartiest of appetites. Crisp on the outside, the initial crunchy bite yields easily to a tender interior, bursting with an intense depth of savory flavor.

Melting sumptuously into those supple centers isn’t cheese, but a generous dollop of homemade garlicky aioli, infused with even more shiitake goodness. Further amplifying the bold flavor that can only come from top notch shiitake powder, this spread comes together in mere minutes. I’d recommend making it in advance and keeping it on hand for smearing on all sorts of sandwiches, using as a dip for French fries, or drizzled over salads for a creamy dressing. In fact, you might want to double that recipe right off the bat. It’s irresistibly tempting to pour it on thick.

Where’s the meat? Right here, between two buns! Vegan meat is the new beef, make no mistake. You don’t need to buy into expensive, fancy, or highly-processed alternatives to get the same satisfying experience. Homemade burgers utilizing simple pantry staples are elevated to new heights when umami comes into play. SUGIMOTO dried shiitake mushrooms, in both whole and powdered formats, guarantee an unrivaled taste sensation with every bite. No one will guess your secret ingredient, but everyone will know in an instant that these aren’t your average, humdrum veggie burgers.

No matter how you top them, this entree will secure your spot as the grill master at your next cookout. Relish summer and all the seasons with the richness of umami close at hand!

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Breakfasts to Savor

A new day is dawning in the kitchen, jostling the soundest of sleepers awake. Far removed from the dusty boxes of cereal and granola bars, bold, bright aromas infused with spice and umami fill the air. Though the standard American diet leans heavily on sweets for the “most important meal of the day,” polls have shown that the majority of those chowing down before noon prefer a savory breakfast.

Skip the batter, forget the flour, and stick firm slabs of tofu straight into the waffle iron for a high-protein foundation to hold a deeply umami lashing of espresso-spiked gravy. Waffled Tofu with Red Eye Gravy provides a hearty, gluten-free vehicle for enjoying this thick, creamy sauce enriched with sautéed mushrooms without any regrets.

If dry cereal is more your speed, you’ll be bowled over by Curried Coconut Granola. Warmly spiced clusters of thick oats and coconut flakes are baked to golden-brown perfection with minimal added oil. They’re perfect for sprinkling over unsweetened yogurt, plain oatmeal, soups, salads, or simply eating out of hand.

Craving buttery pastries, flaky and crisp? Skip the sugary frosting and syrupy fruit filling with Cheesy Broccoli and Bac-un Toaster Tarts. White bean-based cheese sauce fills flaky pastry pockets along with smoky bites of tempeh bac-un and tender-crisp broccoli florets.

Some Americans consume eggs in the morning, but have you heard of the latest Indian street food sensation taking the world by storm? Bread Omelets wrap up a fusion of French toast, scrambled eggs, and an egg sandwich all in one neat package. My vegan version is made with chickpea flour seasoned with black salt for the same sensation, without the eggs or dairy.

South of the border, Chilaquiles have been an essential staple for using up stale tortilla chips but take on greater flavor when prepared fresh, from scratch. Homemade corn tortilla chips are baked and not fried in this take on breakfast nachos. Little prep or planning is needed to throw together fresh salsa, black beans, and diced avocado in a meal that can be scaled for one or one dozen.

Tall stacks of pancakes dripping with syrup may sound dreamy, but the sugar crash soon to follow isn’t quite as satisfying. For a substantial morning meal that will power you through the day, skip the sugary stuff. The breakfast revolution will not be sweetened.

Get all these recipes in the 2021 Issue 1 of Vegetarian Journal, and online at VRG.org!

Lettuce Feast

Don’t lose your cool as temperatures rise. There’s no need to sweat the details in the kitchen or the dining room when you could whip up an easy, breezy, no-cook meal in minutes.

Equal parts spicy and refreshing, each crisp bite will wake up your senses with an invigoratingly spicy, creamy almond sauce. Staying perfectly chilled with a refreshingly juicy, sweet and savory mango-tofu salad, the combination of tastes and textures can’t be beat.

Swaddled in fresh lettuce leaves, you don’t even need to break out the forks or knives. It’s a party starter, last minute meal, and relief from the heat all in one.

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Cooking on Acid

How on earth did I end up with so much vinegar?

Surveying the state of my pantry, you’d think I was in the pickling business. Rice vinegar, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, coconut vinegar, champagne vinegar, all in attendance, front and center on the shelves, to say nothing of the reductions, infusions, and blends lurking in back.

Tart, tangy liquids made through the fermentation of ethanol alcohol are the secret ingredients in the earliest recorded attempts at home cooking. The evidence is there, literally written in stone, all cross this tiny blue marble known as planet earth.

Vinegar, or more broadly acid of any variety is the real secret ingredient to any successfully balanced dish. Instantly heightening flavors much the way that salt and sugar can, without spiking blood pressure or tempting hyperglycemia, just a splash goes a long way in everything from marinara sauce to ice cream. Weaving seamlessly into the grander flavor tapestry, you’d never know this humble player was the one knitting everything together behind the scenes. That is, unless you chose to fully embrace such a sour superstar.

Adobo is the acidic perfect example. Leaning heavily into a pungent brew of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, and black peppercorns, it’s punchy and bold, tart and tangy, unapologetically, fiercely flavorful. Adobo is not the kind of dish you serve with delicate white wine on your finest plates; adobo is a brash party-starter, promising a raucous good time.

Every Filipino family has their own recipe, claiming theirs to be the best of the batch, and I certainly cannot compete with such fervent claims. I can, however, approximate something wholly delicious inspired by the art form, making it quicker, easier, and of course, much more vegan than traditional renditions.

Meaty mushrooms and chunks of seitan take the place of long-simmered beef, automatically adding a rich, deeply umami taste. Speaking to the versatility of vinegar itself, even while prominently highlighted in this Filipino staple, any range of options, or even a blend will kick things up just as brilliantly. This is a good opportunity to clear out the pantry of any odd drips and drabs leftover, should you obsessively hold on to those little bottles, too.

Adobo is possibly even better the day after cooking, so I’d implore you to double the recipe for a generous second helping later down the road. It will be tough to keep around in any great quantity no matter what.

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