Tuesday, 20 March 2012

SmartCooks Discovers 'Umami'-rich Vegetable Meat Loaf

March 2012

SmartCooks here.  

Vegetable 'Meat' loaf.  'Umami' indeed.  Made in Perfect Meat Loaf pan. Adapted from Cooking Light.  It all comes together beautifully in this dish.  Meat lovers may just be fooled into second helpings!

First, 'Umami' or 'Savoriness'  

When I plan meals, I gravitate toward recipes that are 'umami-rich'.  Umami has recently (i.e., post my education days) been added as one of the five basic tastes (the others are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty).  

Science around the sense of Umami hit the West around the year 2000.  Umami is the Savory taste, and is a name given by a Japanese scientist.  The word has two distinct words:  'Umai', which means Delicious; and 'Mi', which means Essense.  So I look for light foods high in Delicious Essense

The best way to explain it is via taste.  Try this:
Sweet: 1 cup water with 2 tsp of sugar
Salty: 1 cup water with 1 tsp of salt
Sour: 1 cup water with ½ tsp of cream of tartar
Bitter: ½ tsp unsweetened baking chocolate - do not mix with water but chew and coat the mouth with it
Umami: 1 cup water with 1 T dried shiitake mushrooms – boil it and then let it cool

Umami, savory, complex flavours. 

Now Back to Umami Vegetable Meat Loaf

This dish takes a bit of prep work but it is very straightforward and worth the effort.  Preparing  some of it the night before or on weekends are definite options.

I know I've profiled this before in a previous blog posting, but the Perfect Meat Loaf pan works, well, perfectly! for this recipe!  (Not to sound like a K-tel TV commercial BUT this pan, with its lift-out inner sleeve, is quite a find.) 

The original recipe called for ketchup, which, frankly, I find boringly bland and the essence of 'unhealthy'.  But if works just fine in both the 'meat' loaf and topping.  To vary it, I tried a bit of pure sauce tomato (which is thicker) and that worked fine too. 

Then, another time, for a bigger flavour kick, I used a bit of Sriracha sauce instead of ketchup, and preferred that taste over either ketchup or tomato sauce.  Although Sriracha sauce (a.k.a. 'rooster sauce') has only been on the Western scene since the 1980s, its unique flavour and combination of red chili peppers, garlic, and salt, is quickly taking the culinary world by storm (this household included). It is widely used in Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cooking and readily available in Ottawa at Asian stores like T&T Supermarket and the Asian Supercentre in Orleans.
Your choice!

Finally, the recipe calls for Panko breadcrumbs, which is the Japanese version of breadcrumbs made from crustless bread.  It looks more like flakes than crumbs because of the coarse grind.  Panko breadcrumbs stay crispy longer, absorb less grease, and mix well with seasonings. In a pinch, regular breadcrumbs found at Bloblaws can be used.  But, if possible, try looking for Panko breadcrumbs at either an Asian store, or at Herb and Spice stores. 

Meat Leaf:
1 large red pepper
1 large green pepper
2 lbs cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 T olive oil
1 cup 1/2 inch asparagus pieces
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 cup Panko (Japense breadcrumbs)
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 T chopped fresh basil
1 T ketchup, tomato sauce or Sriracha
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Cooking spray like Pam
Perfect Meat Loaf pan i.e. 9 x 5 inch loaf pan  

Meat Loaf Topping:
2 T ketchup, tomato sauce or Sriracha sauce  
1 T vodka or low-sodium vegetable broth
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard


1.  Put the oven on the broiler setting.  Cut red and green bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place them, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten them out.  Broil 12 minutes under broiler or until blackened.  Place them in a paper bag; fold, close tightly and let stand 10 minutes. Peel off the skin (this should be easy now) and finely chop. Place peppers in a large bowl. 

2.  Reduce oven to 375 degrees.  Toast the walnuts on a baking sheet for 5-10 minutes until they brown. Alternately, toast in a frying pan or skillet on the stove for about 5 minutes (picture right).  Then reduce oven to 350 degrees. 

3.  Place one-quarter of the mushrooms in a food processor, pulse 10 times or until finely chopped.  Transfer chopped mushrooms to a bowl.  Repeat this 3 times with remaining mushrooms. 

4.  Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil to heated pan; swirl to coat it.  Add mushrooms to pan and sauté 15 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally.  Add mushrooms to the bowl with the bell peppers.  Wipe out the skillet with paper towels.  Add asparagus and onion to skillet; sauté 6 minutes or until just tender, stirring occasionally.  Add the onion/asparagus mixture to the bowl with the mushrooms and peppers.  

5.  Put Panko breadcrumbs in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden.  Add breadcrumbs to bowl and then the walnuts, basil, ketchup (or tomato sauce or Sriracha), Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and eggs. Stir well. 

6.   Spoon the mixture into a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan (or Perfect Meat Loaf Pan) that has been coated with cooking spray like Pam; press gently to pack it in.  Back at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until the thermometer registers 155 degrees.

7.  For topping, combine 2 T ketchup (or tomato sauce or Sriracha) and remaining ingredients in a small bowl; and then brush the mixture over the meat loaf.  Bake an additional 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, let stand 10 minutes.  Cut into approximately six slices.  


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