Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ooh, ooh, umami

One of the psych courses I did at uni (I think it was called Biological Bases of Behaviour) discussed taste. We learnt that the sensation of taste could be categorised into four basic tastes, sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness, and at that time (in the 1990s) there was also discussion about whether there was a fifth category: umami. Umami is a word borrowed from Japanese, meaning 'pleasant savoury taste'. I was reminded about the concept of umami today when making a big pot of soup. Without the tomatoes and tomato paste, this soup is tasty but maybe a tad bland. With the addition of tomatoes the umami factor increases and it becomes positively delicious!

Umami? Yummy!

Big, satisfying soups are a winter staple in our house. I tend to make large quantities of soups, casseroles, and curries on weekends when I have plenty of time, and freeze meal-sized potions for quick lunches and dinners. Here's what went into today's batch of soup:

1 cup of soup mix (dried peas, barley and lentils)
3 carrots
2 parsnips
half a pumpkin
1 leek
3 tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
frozen peas

Firstly, cover the soup mix with water and bring to the boil. Then add all the other vegetables (chopped) and stir in the tomato paste. Boil all together until thick – maybe about an hour in an ordinary saucepan, or about 20 minutes if you have a pressure cooker. Cool for a few minutes, then ladle into freezable containers and refrigerate until cool enough to freeze. (The combination of ingredients shown above produced six servings. Our freezer is now full.)

Of course, the ingredients are very flexible. I based today's choices on whatever looked fresh and appealing at my local organic shop, but you can add or subtract things according to taste and availability. If you're feeling carnivorous, you can toss in (say) a smoked ham hock for an extra dose of umami.

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