I remember the first time I stumbled upon tamari-flavoured mushrooms… it was a good day. The subtle earthy and meaty flavour of the mushrooms combined with the salty umami -flavour of the tamari was a hands-down winning combination. Mushrooms, tamari, and sesame seeds are all used in traditional japanese cooking. The result is a dish that will (hopefully) leave you smiling from ear to ear and give you a taste of something outside of the traditional western food combinations that we are used to.
Food is catagorised into four basic flavours: salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. Then there is the elusive fifth flavour known as umami. It was not until the late 19th century that Japanese chemist and food lover, Kikunae Ikeda, endeavored to describe the umami flavour. When foods age (like cheese), or when meat is cooked the proteins within the food undergo a molecular change. Protein chains are broken down into smaller units. One such molecule is L-glutamate — the singular molecule responsible for the umami flavour. The umami flavour is most commonly described as having a savoury and meaty taste.
A characteristic of traditional Japanese food is the sparing use of red meat, oils and fats, and dairy products. Instead of relying on animal products to flavour food, the Japanese turned to naturally preserved ingredients like miso paste, dried kombu, and dried shiitake. These traditional foods, in effect, impart a meat-like savoriness in dishes, but without the meat. It is for this reason that the umami flavour is so closely associated with Japanese cuisine.
This dish has become my go-to dinner to stay nourished during a busy week, because it is so simple to throw together. It involves chopping a few ingredients and getting your quinoa on the boil. Once that step has been taken care of you can get to work on caramelising the onions and the salty tamari mushrooms. Although not included as part of the photo shoot for this recipe, I can highly recommend adding half an avocado on the side. The buttery-creaminess of the avo balances the salty tamari so well and takes this dish to a whole new level.
1 C quinoa
1 3/4 C water
3 cloves garlic
2 T sesame seeds
450 g mushrooms (I used a combination; 200 grams oyster mushrooms and 250 grams button mushrooms)
2 medium onions
2 knobs coconut oil
1 T rosemary (and a few sprigs for garnish)
1 T mixed herbs
1 T thyme
3 T tamari
3 T lemon juice
1 t honey
1. Rinse 1 cup of quinoa in a sieve under running water OR soak overnight or for a minimum of four hours in fresh spring water and a couple of pinches of salt. Rinse, and drain.
2. Before you start on the quinoa, give your full attention to the sesame seeds (they burn easily!). Place them into a pan and dry fry on a low heat for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.
3. Place the quinoa you have prepared into a pot with 1 3/4 cups of water and a few pinches of salt and bring to the boil. Once boiling put on the lid, turn the heat down to low cook for 15-20 minutes.
4. Whilst the quinoa is cooking prepare your ingredients: slice the onions, chop the garlic, slice the mushrooms, and juice a lemon.
5. Place 2 knobs of coconut oil into a pan on a medium heat. Once the oil has melted add the onions and 2 pinches of salt. Cook for 5 minutes until translucent.
6. Add the garlic and herbs and cook for another minute.
7. Mix the mushrooms into the pan and leave them to cook on one side without mixing for 5-10 minutes. This allows them to brown on one side.
8. Add the tamari and lemon juice and cook for another minute allowing any liquid to evaporate.
9. Take the pan off the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of honey.
10. Plate up by dishing your quinoa into bowls, followed by a couple of spoonfuls of your tamari mushroom mixture.
11. Decorate with a couple of sprigs of rosemary and tuck in.
Note: You do not need to stir the quinoa at all once the cooking process is underway as it interferes with the cooking process. Rather wiggle a fork back and forth in the center of the pot to check when there is no more water.
A Note on Tamari:
Tamari is another form of soya sauce, and is a buy-product of fermented soybeans (traditionally miso paste). This is definitely the soya-bean-based flavouring that I use the most in my kitchen. Although tamari is traditionally used in Asian cooking, I have come to use it for all kinds of things ranging from soups and stews to dressings and sauces.
I stumbled upon tamari when I found out that I had to cut out wheat and gluten from my diet (soya sauce is highly processed and does contain wheat and gluten). I was delighted when I found out that tamari is typically wheat and gluten free (you need to check the label to be 100% sure) and is a great substitutive for soya sauce. Yay, I thought! I remember a whole new world of possibilities opening up to me in that moment. It was like a sign from the heavens that there was a whole other food-world out there just waiting for me to explore it.
It is very important that you buy high quality soya products whenever possible. Look our for the words organic and non-GMO. The conventional and less expensive versions of this seasoning often contain food dyes, preservatives, refined sweeteners and chemical residues from processing.
I am still constantly being introduced to and learning about new and exciting healthy, wholesome and tasty food ingredients. They’re all out there, just waiting to take some unsuspecting dish from zero to hero. These experiences forever keep me grateful. Thank you universe! I hope that from trying some of the recipes on the blog, you too will experience the joyful world of all of these wonderful and beneficial foods.