Thursday, December 8, 2016

Week 50 - Umami

Umami, the "fifth taste" (which wasn't taught as one back when I learned them in elementary school), was the Week 50 challenge. I wasn't sure what to make, but mostly because there were lots of options. In the end, I decided to concentrate on a couple of Asian ingredients commonly associated with umami - miso and fish sauce.

The recipe that I was immediately attracted to was Bon Appetit's ginger miso glazed eggplant. It sounded so good, and after seeing the photo, I really wanted to make that. (I'm easily convinced by cookbook and recipe photos...)

The ingredients I used, slightly adapted from the original, were:

- 4 Japanese eggplants (about 1.3 lbs) ($1.82)
- olive oil (enough to brush all the eggplant slices) ($0.40)
- 1/3 cup miso ($1)
- a couple tsp of ginger paste ($0.25)
- a couple tsp of toasted sesame oil ($0.20)
- a tsp of reduced sodium soy sauce ($0.10)
- a tsp of white vinegar ($0.05)
- a few grinds of black pepper ($0.05)
- a few shakes of sesame seeds ($0.10)
- 1 bunch of scallions, chopped ($0.75)

(Is it obvious that other than the miso, I didn't measure anything precisely and just eyeballed it?)

The steps were:

- wash eggplant and cut into slices about 1 inch thick (I don't know if they really were since I didn't measure but they didn't look nearly as thick or cover as much of the eggplant as the ones in the photo)
- brush both sides of each eggplant slice with oil and put on parchment lined baking sheets
- bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through

- make sauce: mix miso, ginger paste, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and pepper, along with 1 tbsp of water
- once sauce is well combined and miso has broken up, add 2/3 of the chopped scallions and the sesame seeds, and stir well

- after the eggplant are done baking, add the sauce on top of each slice, covering as much of the eggplant as possible
- bake at 425 degrees for another 10 minutes or so (the original recipe says broiling, but we still haven't figured out how to use the broiler on this oven so I just baked it)

The eggplant came out so well, and as soon as I ate the first piece off the baking sheet, I knew I wanted to make this again. Even if I don't use Japanese eggplant in the future, I can see using this miso sauce for lots of vegetable applications, or even as the basis for sautéing things in general. The sauce was just so good, and it went so well with the eggplant. I just wish Japanese eggplant were easier to find closer to home.

For the second part of dinner (which I decided on that afternoon without much advanced planning), I made some tofu and mushrooms with a marinade that I found at A Love A Fare after googling tofu and fish sauce together.

The ingredients for this portion were:

- 1 package of tofu, cubed ($1)
- 6 large mushrooms ($1.94)
- 2 tbsp fish sauce ($0.10)
- 2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce ($0.10)
- 1 tsp sesame oil ($0.10)
- 1 large spoonful minced garlic ($0.10)

The total for the tofu portion was approximately $3.34, which when added to the eggplant and the brown rice we ate with it, made for a grand total of just over $9.

After making the marinade by mixing together the fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic, I marinated the cubes of tofu for at least 20 minutes (wasn't really keeping track). Then I added the tofu to a large pan with some olive oil (and whatever liquid marinade was left), let it cook for a few minutes, and then added all the mushrooms and cooked them together, stirring every so often, until they were done.

The tofu and mushrooms were really good, and you could definitely taste the fish sauce from the marinade. The marinade is really simple, and I think I should use it again sometime when cooking tofu with lots of vegetables. Overall, the umami dinner was pretty successful in our opinion!

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