It’s unfortunate that you can’t be in my kitchen to taste or smell what’s cooking since sometimes delicious meals just aren’t attractive. Describing how food tastes isn’t always the easiest either but perhaps you can relate to the word- “umami”?
The concept of “umami” has become more known in recent years and is sometimes referred to as “the fifth taste” (after the four basic flavours: sweet, salty, sour and bitter). The literal translation of the Japanese word is “pleasant, savoury taste” or “deliciousness”…hmmm, not terribly helpful.
I find it easier to think about those foods which are rich in umami flavour- vegan options include fermented soy (soy sauce/tamari, miso, tempeh), tomatoes, mushrooms, nuts, avocado, olives and seaweed. Although umami is not a particularly desirable flavour on its own, it really balances and rounds out the flavours in a dish.
[Check out this article if you want to know the science behind it all]
All that to say that this dish packs a serious umami punch! Sweet roasted squash is a winner in itself of course, but the cavity you find when you split open a butternut is just crying out to be filled with something rich and savoury.
I go on and on about how much I love lentils but they do need plenty of seasoning to bring them to life. Here I’ve used umami-packed miso and tamari, along with a couple of spoonfuls of nut butter to create a beautifully creamy and rich filling.
- 1 Medium Butternut Squash
- 1/2 Tbsp Olive oil
- 1 Onion, chopped
- 1 Clove of Garlic, minced
- 3/4 tsp Dried thyme
- 1/2 C Green or Puy lentils*
- 1 C + 3/4 C Water, divided
- 1 Tbsp White miso
- 1 Tbsp Tamari
- 2 Tbsp Almond OR Cashew butter
- 1 C Chopped kale
- Pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Cut butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and any stringy bits. Place, cut side down, on a baking sheet and bake for approx 45 minutes, or until tender. Remove from oven and, with a spoon, remove a little of the squash flesh to create a hollow to fill**.
- Meanwhile, in a pan over medium heat, cook the onion in the olive oil for 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, for a further minute.
- Add the lentils, miso, tamari and 1 C water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15-25 minutes (depending on type of lentils used), or until lentils are cooked but not mushy.
- Add the kale, nut butter and remaining water, 1/4 C at a time. Stir and simmer for a few minutes until the kale is cooked. Add enough water so you have a thick, saucy mixture. Season with pepper, to taste.
- Spoon the lentil mixture into the hollowed-out squash, return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
*You can also use 1-1/2 C cooked lentils in place of the dry lentils and first cup of water to save time.
**Save this squash and use in pancakes (in place of pumpkin or sweet potato) or simply season with salt, pepper and a little olive oil and serve as a simple side-dish to any meal.
What are your favourite ways to add umami to your meals (vegan only please)?
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