Addendum re Lentil Soup and Umami

Yesterday I hurried to get my first post in months done and forgot to include lots of things in the text. Rather than editing the post I decided to do a new one with some explanation and deeper analysis. Before writing the post on lentil soup I had planned to give suggestions about what else to add and elaborate on veggie umami stuff a bit more.

Lentils, even beluga lentils, aren’t that rich in umami stuff themselves, and may need a helping hand. Stock usually gets the task done, but people are often wary of MSG these days (mostly without reason, since it doesn’t cause migraine, ADD or cancer at all, at least not when used sensibly. Read up on ‘Chinese Food Syndrome’ for more fun facts).

My soup didn’t contain lots of tomato, but it’s high in glutamic acid, another umami agent. Especially sizzled tomato paste or ‘sun dried’ tomatoes are handy tools in this aspect. Even a dollop of ketchup in the right place can enhance many a bland dish.

Onions are another useful umami vegetable as long as you let them cook properly to give off maximum flavor. In the soup I used fried onions because it’s a rather odd thing to do, but also because they’re more thoroughly fried than one would ever bother to do at home and packed with flavor, both from natural umami compounds and from maillard reactions associated with frying. The batter also acts as thickening – it’s funny how things work out sometimes.

Mushrooms are also a classic umami ingredient, but the combination with lentils in soup felt a bit out of place.

Ssamjang, Korean chili paste with garlic and soy beans, has been a trusty companion in the kitchen for several years. The umami content is largely due to fermentation, one of the common methods for getting more umami.

Enough about umami. The other thing I forgot to write at the end of the last post was the suggestion of adding a splash of wine, either red or white, to deepen the flavors in general. Those of a less vegan persuasion can add for example grated cheese, a splash of cream or fish sauce, especially if you’ve made a large batch and are having it for lunch for the fifth day in a row…

I’ve had the images for the next post ready for publication since just after Christmas, but other things got in the way. Hopefully that post will be up soon.

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6 Responses to “Addendum re Lentil Soup and Umami”

  1. Ok, I raised an eyebrow at the fried onions but umami is one of my favorite things, and have always thought of MSG as a guilty pleasure.

    • the onions literally melt away during cooking, leaving only lots of flavor behind :)

      I keep a bag of pure MSG around, but I’ve overdosed on occasion, resulting in a boring metallic taste, so I’m more careful these days – but not because of health concerns.

      • I read up on Chinese Restaurant Syndrome as per your suggestion and that was an eye-opener. Shouldn’t have been a surprise though. Now I can snip the ‘guilty’ off pleasure.

      • Then again, there are those who brush scientific results aside as conspiracy and blame MSG for nearly everything :)

        I might still have to file MSG under guilty pleasures, since it’s usually considered cheating in western cuisine, like other ‘chemical’ additives.

      • There are also those who blame fluoride for everything. Me, I just blame Republicans.

        Hey, by that measure salt is cheating, too.

      • it is, according to some. Fruitarians for example… :)

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