Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tasty accents

One of the joys of being vegetarian is trying foods that aren't usually encountered in the Standard American Diet. If you're a little hesitant, though, condiments are a good place to begin - you can start with a little, on just a bite of food, to see if you like it.

If it doesn't suit you, it's not like an entire entree or side-dish that you have to make your way through. And if you do like a new condiment, you can invent all sorts of ways to use it. Here's a quick introduction to three out-of-the-ordinary condiments that have become staples in my pantry:

Umeboshi – This Japanese pickled plum (the fruit of Prunus mume, a.k.a. the Japanese apricot tree) is tart and salty, and adds a tantalizing "twang" to almost any savory dish. You can find whole umeboshi or umeboshi paste at natural foods stores. A very thin layer of the paste spread on corn on the cob is tastier, neater and less fattening than butter. Ume vinegar – the plum-pickling liquid – has the same tart effect and is handy to use. Whenever a soup tastes a little "flat," a dash of ume vinegar will pick it right up. Or sprinkle it on sauteed vegetables in place of salt. It is salty, but adds another taste dimension as well.

Nutritional Yeast – This comes as golden powder or flakes, and has a mild flavor that is cheesy and nutty. It's high in protein and B vitamins; and some types (but not all) are fortified with Vitamin B12, which is important in vegetarian diets.

There are so many uses for this: It can be sprinkled on top of spaghetti in place of Parmesan cheese. You can make garlic toast to go with the spaghetti by spreading margarine on bread, and sprinkling on garlic powder or chopped garlic, and nutritional yeast, and broiling in the oven. You can also make tasty popcorn by spraying the popped corn with soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Aminos and tossing with nutritional yeast. Or you can stir some into vegetable broth or gravy for an almost "chickeny" flavor.

Note that nutritional yeast it is not the same as brewers yeast or the active yeast used in baking. You won't be happy if you use those where you should be using nutritional yeast.

Sea vegetables – Sea vegetables come in many forms, from the sheets of nori that you may have seen wrapped around sushi; to dried fronds of wakame, dulse, hijiki, kombu and so on; to ready-to-eat sea-vegetable salad.... But perhaps the easiest way to get to know them is with the powdered "sea sprinkles" that are now available. They look like little salt-shakers, and because they come from the sea they can add a salty flavor with the bonus that you're eating less sodium and more minerals. I don't find them quite as versatile as umeboshi or nutritional yeast but they can add a welcome touch to soups, salads and vegetables.

What are some of your vegetarian favorite flavor-boosters?


At 12/14/2006 4:53 PM, Blogger Andy said...

Nut. Yeast...love it! Better than parmasean cheese. Here's my favorite vegan gravy recipe:

1 cup regular flour, half cup Nut yeast flakes. Brown in stove pot (put on heat and stir stir stir.

Once brown add mix of 1 cup water, a tablespoon of olive oil, healthy squirt of Mrs. Braggs Aminos, some black pepper, and stir like the dickens. Add a bit more water if mixture is too thick. Add chopped toasted walnuts. Put on everything. So easy and oh my! so tasty!

At 12/18/2006 4:16 PM, Blogger Julie said...

Thank you for the recipe, Andy! I'm going to try it soon as I can. Rosetta's Kitchen in Asheville had a nutritional yeast gravy that I wanted to know how to make, and this sounds like it may turn out like theirs....


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