Umami ingredients add meaty flavors to vegan dishes

Mushrooms, yeast add heartiness to recipe
2013-04-17T00:00:00Z Umami ingredients add meaty flavors to vegan dishesSusan M. Selasky Detroit Free Press Arizona Daily Star
April 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

This recipe, from the December issue of "Vegetarian Times," caught my eye. It's a vegan version of the classic linguine with clam sauce, minus the clams.

This dish gets its hearty taste from shiitake mushrooms and nutritional yeast. These ingredients, along with another, arame, can be classified as umami - also referred to as the fifth taste.

Arame is a dried seaweed ingredient used in many Japanese dishes. I had a hard time finding some so I opted not to use it.

Along with salty, sweet, bitter and sour, umami is said to add savoriness to dishes (story at left). In essence, using umami ingredients gives a meaty flavor without using meat.

Mushrooms are a common umami ingredient. Shiitakes have a mild steaklike flavor and add a nice mellow umami taste to this dish.

When using shiitakes, wipe the caps clean with a damp paper towel and remove the stems. Shiitake stems aren't too thick; I use scissors to snip them. The stems tend to be tough and are best used to make stocks.

In addition to the nuts that are sprinkled on last, this dish gets a nutty and semi-cheesy flavor from another umami ingredient, nutritional yeast. It's often described as having a salty, Parmesan cheese taste.

Nutritional yeast is yellowish in color and sold in flake or powder form. Flakes are the best for this dish. Nutritional yeast is similar to brewer's yeast: They come from the same strain of yeast and are used as nutritional supplements. But brewer's yeast is a byproduct of beer-making, according to the online Cook's Thesaurus, and that's what makes it bitter. So don't substitute one for the other.

And don't confuse nutritional yeast with yeast used in baking. Nutritional yeast is not active, so it is non-leavening. It's pasteurized, which deactivates it.

Once the nutritional yeast is deactivated, it becomes a good source of nutrients, the thesaurus says.

Most health food stores carry nutritional yeast. Prices range from $6.50 for a 4 1/2-ounce container to $18 for a 16-ounce one.

Vegan Linguine With Shiitake Cream Sauce

Serves: 6

• 12 ounces dry linguine

• 2 tablespoons arame, optional

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 6 cloves garlic, peeled, minced (about 2 tablespoons)

• 3 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

• 1/2 cup dry white wine

• 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

• 1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy, rice or macadamia nut milk

• 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

• 2 tablespoons Earth Balance margarine, optional

• 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

• 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

• 4 teaspoons pine nuts or walnuts, chopped and toasted

Cook pasta in boiling, salted water according to package directions. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta. Meanwhile, if using arame soak it in 1/2 cup hot water.

In large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add mushrooms, wine and lemon juice; saute 5 minutes, adding about 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water (if needed) to prevent sticking.

Reduce the heat and add soy milk, nutritional yeast, margarine (if using), red pepper flakes and arame with soaking liquid; season with salt and pepper, if desired. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Divide linguine among 4 plates, top with shiitakes and sauce, and garnish with parsley and pine nuts.

Per serving: 386 calories (21 percent from fat), 9 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 65 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams protein, 114 milligrams sodium, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams fiber.

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