Friday, July 24, 2009

Food Advice Fridays: Pantry Meals & Umami

Dear Roganista:

You often write about "pantry meals". What do you consider a pantry meal? What's your favorite?

- Hungry in Ashburn


Dear HIA:

A pantry meal is the product of an improvised, make-it-up-as-you-go recipe created by pulling together whatever ingredients you have in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer. Of course the ingredients should make sense together, but sometimes odd combinations can result in something pretty tasty. At the very least, I try to up the umami-ante. What's umami you ask? It's the "fifth taste" as they say. It's that savory, brothy, earthiness found in things like red meat, hard cheeses (like Parmesan), soy, and mushrooms. I find that whatever I make, as long as I focus on highlighting that fifth taste, it can turn humble pantry ingredients into something delicious.

I always have the following ingredients on hand: Parmesan, soy, chicken bouillon, Worcestershire, fresh garlic, garlic and onion powder, canned tomatoes, beef stock, dried mushrooms, and some sort of protein.

My favorite thing to make is the pedestrian, but accessible chili. It's never the same recipe twice, but we love it in our house.

Ever since we returned from our honeymoon, we've been busy with entertaining and going out, but have not been very good about grocery shopping for our daily needs. So one night last week we had to make due with a pantry meal.

I had all the staples I highlighted above. Looking in the freezer, I spied some ground turkey and I knew I had some kidney beans and brown rice. In the refrigerator there were a couple stalks of green onion leftover from a dinner party. In the spice drawer, I had cumin and some smoked paprika someone had given me for my bridal shower. Perfect. That was all I needed to whip up a nice, hearty chili.

Roganista's Never-really-a-recipe Chili recipe:

All you do is saute about two cloves of chopped garlic in oil. Add the meat (about one pound) and brown it. Add 1/4 cup of Worcestershire or a few splashes of soy sauce. (These savory condiments add a lot of rich umami depth.) Then add a large can of crushed tomatoes, a can of kidney beans (liquid and all), 1 to 3 tablespoons of smoked paprika, 2 tablespoons (or more if you like) of chili powder, 1 tablespoon cumin. Blend it all together. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and let it simmer. To give it that long, slow-cooked taste, mix a bit (about 1 tablespoon) of chicken bouillon with 1/4 cup of water and add to the mixture. After about 45 minutes, you got yourself easy chili. Serve over brown rice. Umami-lishes

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