Monday, February 11, 2013

Umami Love

Salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and...umami?

Yep.  There's a fifth taste out there.  Umami is that deliciously savory taste usually found in meat and seafood.  However, many vegetables are filled with umami.  Tomatoes, celery, cabbages, mushrooms, and spinach are rich in umami flavor, as are soy sauce and green tea.  So if you are looking for something that satisfies your savory urges without eating anything with a face, try incorporating these flavors into your food. (My favorite new trick:  grating dried porcini mushrooms into vegetable soups and stews before adding the liquid and using soy sauce instead of salt.)

So try this quick umami-licious recipe!

Mushrooms and Wilted Spinach with Barley

I felt like a rock star when I discovered Trader Joe's has a quick-cooking barely!  Ten(-ish) minutes and you have something satisfying on a cold Chicago night.  It's been raining all day, so I needed the savory comfort of umami.

8 oz baby bella mushrooms, sliced
8 oz oyster mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
16 oz. baby spinach
2 tsp olive oil
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 Tbl fresh parsley, chopped
3 cups cooked barley, divided.

In a large skillet, heat oil until it shimmers.  Add onions, season with salt and crushed red pepper, and saute until tender (about five to seven minutes).  Add mushrooms and saute until browned, roughly 10 minutes.  Stir in garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and cook for two minutes.  Deglaze pan with the vinegar, and add spinach, parsley, and 1 1/2 cups of barley.  Remove from heat and toss to wilt the spinach.  Divide remaining barley onto four plates, and spoon mixture on top.  Serve immediately.

Note:  You can use only one kind of mushroom.  I just like the subtleties the variety provides.  This also turns into one heck of a soup.  Just add all of the barley with 4 cups vegetable stock or water, bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes.  Add spinach at the very end.

Tip:  Dried rosemary and thyme are great in this dish, if you don't have fresh herbs on hand.  General rule of thumb, use half the amount of dried herbs as fresh.  But never use dried parsley.  It's gross and flavorless and annoying.

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