TRISH DESEINE attempts to cut down on meat as vegetables, pulses and grains continue to disrupt her kitchen …
As vegetables, pulses and grains continue to disrupt my kitchen, my appetite, and a certain preconception about what constitutes a “meal” when meat is absent, my quest for robust flavour increases.
I crave the familiar flavour of meatiness as much as I miss the texture of meat. Let’s face it, there’s not much of a chew in a steamed leek and never will a sad plant-based meat impersonator ever set a phony foot in my house. I have too much respect for the noble animals who continue to die to feed us to stoop that low.
I’m getting around this intense winter need for meatiness by shifting proportions on my plate, with shredded chicken or confit duck, crisp and spicy lamb mince or bacon bits becoming something between a topping and a condiment to a large plate of vegetables, pasta or grains.
Eating more fish to replace the meat, however, continues to be tricky, and Alanis Morissette levels of irony are attained every morning as I enjoy my Schull harbour view. I find that, these days, any form of fresh supermarket salmon or seafood comes with too much unethical baggage although we are lucky, here in Ireland’s most wonderful food larder, to at least have easy access to Sally Barnes stellar smoked fish and very decent Union Hall prawns, crab and lobster. There’s also a marvellous direct-from-the-boat stall in the foodie cocktail party that is Skibbereen market every Saturday, and often I’ll make a special trip to the wonderful Friday morning Bantry market for a spanking fresh €5 lucky bag of sole and monkfish from the fisherman’s stall. Hopefully more pioneers such as Stéphane Griesbach, founder of Gannet Fishmongers in Galway, will help send more sustainably and ethically produced fish on to our plates over the coming years.
In the meantime, boosting meaty flavour in my cooking means packing it with umami. The mysterious “fifth taste” (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter) was christened by the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda from the University of Tokyo in 1908, yet only really stepped into the limelight a few years ago.
The word umami is constructed from the Japanese for “delicious” and “taste” – umai and mi – and identifies the familiar savoury flavour of the crisp or gooey bits left in the pan after roasting a chicken, the crust of grilled steak, tomato ketchup, brown sauce, parmesan, pizza, or sea urchin roe.
By seeking out umami and using it consciously, it becomes a more important building brick of flavour in our meatless cooking. The good news is that your allies in this mindful construction are all around you and easily found. Tinned tomatoes or in purée form, cooked mushrooms, onions, shallots, garlic and salted anchovies (when cooked they do not taste fishy, I promise) all add great flavour to vegetable soups or stews.
Two relative newcomers in my kitchen are currently doing the heavy lifting when it comes to umami boosting – particularly when a dish is ready and you know it’s missing something but it’s too late to cook in more onions, garlic or tomato. They are black garlic and miso paste.
Rich, funky, liquorice-black garlic paste is one of three forms of black garlic available in Sheridan’s gorgeous new space in Dunnes Stores, Bishopstown and it is so delicious and salty-sweet you can spread it on buttered toast like Marmite. It’s no wonder it pops up in lots of sweet chocolate recipes.
Miso paste, made mostly from fermented soybeans, is fabulously versatile and available in three levels of robustness. The “sweet” white form has a large amount of rice, the yellow contains soy, rice and barley and red, the most robustly flavoured, has high proportions of barley and a longer fermentation period.
I use it directly as a finishing condiment in vegetable chillis or soups, whisked in a little warm water and stirred through the pot, in a vinaigrette for a too-delicate raw vegetable dish or salad, or as a marinade ingredient with muscovado sugar, honey or maple syrup, mashed garlic, a touch of chilli, oil and lemon juice or vinegar. Thinly sliced carrots, parsnips or potatoes, brushed with this delicious mixture, then caramelised and roasted until crisp in a hot oven, could almost be taken for bacon. Almost.
Great for batch cooking, I served this dish with yoghurt and grated Hegarty’s cheddar (another excellent umami source)
For 10. 25 minutes preparation. 1 1/2 – 2 hrs cooking plus overnight resting if you can
2-3 tbsps vegetable oil • 3 onions, peeled, chopped • 5 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped • 2 carrots, peeled, chopped • 2 stalks celery, chopped finely • 2 to 3 tbsps ground cumin • 2 tbsps smoked paprika • 2 tbsps ground ginger • 2 tbsps ground coriander • 1 tbsp ground cloves • 2 tbsps ready chopped chilli (or more or less as you like) • 1 tsp salt • 2 x 400g
tins of whole or chopped tomatoes • 3 tbsps tomato paste • 300g ready to cook dried green lentils • 400g sweet potato peeled, chopped into 1–2 cm chunks • 2 x 400g tins red kidney beans • 2 to 3 tbsps red miso, diluted with some warm water • Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based casserole dish over a medium heat. Cook the onions, garlic, carrots and celery, stirring frequently, until they are soft.
Add the spices, salt, chilli and the tomato paste, stir well into the vegetables and cook for a further 3 minutes or so.
Pour in the tins of tomatoes, rinsing the tins with water and adding to cover everything. Add the lentils and the sweet potato, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and leave to simmer gently for an hour or so, topping up with water or vegetable stock, if needed as it cooks.
At this stage you can cool the chilli and leave it to rest overnight. The flavour will develop.
Thirty minutes or so before serving, add the (drained) tins of beans and the miso and allow the chilli to bubble away. Check the seasoning (the miso is salty) before serving up.
Serve with crunchy vegetables (I’ve accompanied the chilli with red cabbage cooked with apple here) yoghurt or sour cream, grated cheddar and tortilla chips if you like.
Miso Roast Root Vegetables
2 minutes preparation. 30/40 minutes roasting
2 tbsps miso paste • 2 tbsps maple syrup or honey • 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar • 1 tbsp soy sauce • 1 garlic clove, crushed • 2 tbsps olive oil • 1 kg or so carrots, parsnips and potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 – 2 cm chunks or sliced thinly
Pre-heat the oven to 180?C.
In a bowl, whisk the miso with the other ingredients. Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet, pour the sauce over and mix it through with your hands until all the vegetables are covered.
Roast for 30 minutes or so, stirring after 15 minutes to make sure all sides are nice and golden.
Remove from the oven and serve immediately with spiced yoghurt or hummus.
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