TOFU was discovered about 2,000years ago by a Chinese cook who accidently curdled soy milk when he added ‘nigari seaweed’.
It contains all eight essential amino acids and lots of protein  It is also an excellent source of iron and calcium and minerals  ——- manganese, selenium and phosphorous.
The soy protein in tofu may be beneficial for heart health, menopause, and is also known to fight breast cancer.  Like cheese, there is more than one variation available of tofu.  There is ‘silken tofu’, extra soft, firm, medium and extra firm too.  Also, owing to its generally neutral taste, tofu is culinary chameleon, lending itself to an infinite number of food preparations ——- it can be pickled, fermented, stir-fried or even used in miso soup.
Tofu is packed with water, then it is packed in water.  We need to get that water out and replace it with flavour.  Not pressing the water out of the tofu is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.  Open the package and drain the water.
In Japan, a common lunch in the summer months is HIYAYAKKO  —— silken or firm Asian tofu served with freshly-grated ginger, green onions with soy sauce.  In winter, tofu is frequently eaten as YUDOFU, which is simmered in a clay pot with some vegetables.
In China, tofu is traditionally used as an offering when visiting the graves of deceased relatives.  It is claimed that since the spirits (or ghosts) have long lost their chins and jaws, only tofu is soft enough for them to eat.
Tofu soaks up all the flavours you cook it with.  You can quickly toss it with a sauce just before cooking, or let it soak up all the flavours of the dish you are using it in.
One of the founding fathers of the US, Benjamin Franklin, was the first American to mention tofu in a letter dated January 11, 1770.
Not much is known about the art of pairing tofu with wine, probably because of its versatility.  When soft and silky, it pairs well with light white wines, while the firmer versions cooked with spicy ingredients call for more robust whites or reds.
Silken tofu is very creamy, almost like custard.  It is used to make delicious desserts  ———- from chocolate pudding and pumpkin pie to cheesecake.  —————–


COLOCASIA (Hindi : ARBI or ARVI), a “powerhouse vegetable” is one of the oldest vegetables of the Indian Subcontinent.  —————– Much before that nouveau upstart, the POTATO taking over the Subcontinent kitchens in such a comprehensive manner, COLOCASIA was the “preferred tuber.”  In fact, Colocasia is not just indigenous to India, but large parts of Eastern Asia as well.  In the Philippines, it goes under a name similar to our ARBI/ARVI ——– ABI, and is a popular veggie.  Besides, of course, it is most popularly used as TARO everywhere.

ColacasiaCOLOCASIA was always the go-to-veggie in homes.  The aloo-meat curry, one of the most basic ways of combining goat meat and potatoes in a spicy thin gravy in Northern India may be deemed “home-style” today, but it was quite likely to have been preceded by ARBI-MEAT curry as the original starch-protein combination.  Fried Colocasia fingers make for an interesting textural counterpoint in this style of gravy dish, popular in U.P., primarily in Muslim but also KAYASTHA homes.
The favoured way to cook the tuber is, of course, to FRY IT.  Since Colocasia is also a “monsoon ingredient”, this makes sense given the fact that the Indian kitchen, whose functioning was based in AYURVEDA, preferred a switch to “heat-inducing” foods gradually as the monsoon cooled the Subcontinent and to fried foods to keep diseases at bay.
That is also perhaps why ARBI & AJWAIN make for such a perfect marriage.  AJWAIN (carom) is known for its digestive properties, and a perfect recipe to use the “monsoon spice” (carom), warding off stomach infection, common this time of the year, to coat fried Colocasia.
Even the leaves are fashioned out into PATODE in UP, Bihar & Gujarat use a sprinkling of carom in the masala spiking gram flour (BESAN).  PATODE is a recipe for the rainy day : The leaves of the Colocasia need to be cleaned and washed, spread out and then coated with a thin batter of spiced gram flour.  They can be layered, folded and then rolled (like a Swiss Roll), before being steamed.  Cut into rounds and deep fry for a tea-time snack.  You may not find more exotic PAKORA anywhere.
Arbi Masala FryColocasia is an invaluable source of dietary fibre.  The CORMS have more calories than potatoes, and these come primarily from “complex carbs”, which are slow-digestive”, will thus help fill you up more and also help elevate blood sugar levels gradually —–unlike simple, easy-to-break- down carbs.
The leaves, on the other hand, have antioxidants beta-carotenes and a significant amount of Vitamin A that is good for your eye-sight amongst other things.  And the CORM has some essential minerals as well —- zinc, magnesium and potassium that help regulate heart rate and BP.  So, Colocasia is actually a “powerhouse of nutrients” ——- a “super food”  —– in its own right.
Colocasia is trending as an ingredient, especially at “modern” Indian establishments.  ARBI TUK, for instance, has suddenly made an appearance on many menus, including at “The Bombay Canteen” in Mumbai, pegged on local gastronomy and a re-invention of forgotten regional recipes.
Arbi dishesTUK is a Sindhi term, essentially for deep frying vegetables and then tossing them in dry masala.  For ARBI TUK, all you need is boil the Colocasia, flatten it and the deep fry till it is crisp and golden.  Then toss in a masala of dry coriander powder, red chilly powder and dry mango (AMCHOOR) powder.  This recipe is essentially the same as followed in many parts of UP as well, where, one other spice is added to the crispy ARBI / ARVI, and that is AJWAIN (carom).  It elevates the dish to another level.
In Punjabi-influenced cooking, ARBI may of course be cooked in a generic onion-tomato masala.  But its charm can be better appreciated if you use the spices discerningly and selectively.  Dried fenugreek (METHI) is another ingredient that goes well with Colocasia.  Pan-roast the tuber and then coat it with a masala that includes a whiff of KASOORI METHI.  You won’t forget the flavour.
———–Anoothi Vishal.    

Some salad basics

Not all salad greens are equally healthy.  Just because there are fresh fruits and vegetables on your plate doesn’t mean you’re eating healthy.
avocado-mango-salad-fgWe all know that Salad is health and well-being tossed in a bowl.  But how to get that right balance, proportion, colour and flavour out of your crunchy meal is a question that still daunts most of us.  Here are some “salad basics”. ——–
* THINK OUTSIDE THE BOWL : Give up on predictable staples like chickpeas and sprouts and spruce up your salad with new entrants every week.  Go for fresh herbs, beet slices, avocado, low-fat goat cheese or power-packed pumpkin seeds.  This will not only keep you interested in the salad regime, but also pack in different nutrients and flavours.
* DAKER THE BETTER :  Not all greens are equally healthy.  Iceberg lettuce is crunchy and attractive on a salad plate, but not very high on the nutrition metre.  Go for darker leaves instead, like baby spinach, rocket leaves, red and green leaf and Romaine lettuce or kale as they pack in more vitamins and minerals.  These plant-based wonders may help protect you from heart disease, diabetes.
*DON’T FALL FOR CRUNCH :  Adding those crispy noodles or croutons to your Thai or Asian salad might up the yummy spring pasta and chicken saladquotient, but it doesn’t favour your waistline.  Croutons are made from processed white bread, which equates to empty carbohydrates and high calories.  Walnuts or water chestnuts are a much healthier way to get the crunch you want.
* EAT SALAD FOR DESSERT :  There’s an on-going debate about when to have your salad ……….. before or after the meal ?  Well, in Italy and France, they have it after aperitifs and the main course.  Not bad, say health experts, since salad improves digestion after a long and heavy meal.  If your after-dinner snack is high in fat, it can lead to indigestion that makes it difficult to sleep soundly.  Salad, however, is lighter and is less likely to affect the quality of your sleep.
* DON’T PILE ON MINDLESSLY :  Keeping the ratio right, in a salad, is the key thing.  Try to take up about three-fourths of your plate with greens, so you’ll have less room for high-calorie stuff.
* MUNCH BEFORE A RUN :  Salad in the morning helps your body re-hydrate after a mad night-out and provides enough antioxidants and slow burning carbohydrates for a run.  ——— So, are you having your salad right ?

Healthy substitutes

With Maggi under the scanner, here are a few HEALTHY SUBSTITUTES to instant noodles.


HOMEMADE ATTA NOODLES :  The same kneaded flour that is used to make chappatis on a daily basis can be put into a sieve and pressed into the shape of noodles.  You can also add soya chunks and spinach paste to flavour these noodles and add to its nutritive value. Boil them with a few drops of olive oil to get a non-sticky texture.  They are extremely simple to make, and are a healthy option.  Home masalas like dry coconut, onion paste, tomato puree or leftover vegetables can spice these ATTA NOODLES up.

HOW TO MAKE AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE TASTEMAKER : Mix some turmeric, chilly powder, coriander powder, amchur (dried mango powder), ginger-garlic paste and onion paste.  Add these to your healthy noodles to make it tastier.
SEMOLINA VERMICELLI :  Most people think that vermicelli is best used to make desserts, but this rice variant can be had for breakfast or as an evening snack.  Simply add a few vegetables like carrots, beans, green peas and sauté it with ghee.  You can also add a dash of sauce to give it a Chinese flavour.  If you want to savour it the Indian way, you can also add some freshly grated coconut to the cooked vermicelli.


SPAGHETTI : Made of milled wheat and water, this long, thin, cylindrical pasta is any day a healthy alternative.  A simple preparation with boiled veggies and scrambled egg is a perfect quick dish after a long day at work.  You can always add some homemade masalas to enrich the taste.

WHOLE WHEAT/SEMOLINA PASTA : Another healthy alternative, this pasts can be had for breakfast, lunch or snacks.  Just boil it for 5-7mins and toss it with any kind of sauce (preferably a creamy sauce that will enrich the taste of pasta).  There’s a variety of healthy sauces like pesto (basil-based), coconut cream and tomato that are easily available or can be easily made and stocked.  A few veggies are all you need to make up a sumptuous snack.


NOOL PUTTU / IDIYAPPAM :  Popular in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it’s a desi homemade version of rice noodles.  Known as Iddiyappam or Nool Puttu, these string-like noodles are prepared by kneading a mixture of rice flour with hot water, ghee and salt.  They are then pressed out of a sieve (or an iddiyappam press) and steamed.  They are usually served with a dash of grated coconut and eaten with a spicy coconut-based curry (potato, gourd, egg, fish or chicken).


Mouthwatering Malaysia


Until the 15th century, the cornerstone of Malay flavour was a paste made with mainly roots —— lemon grass, small red shallots, garlic, fresh turmeric and galangal.  Spices and chillies were added later when the spice trade began. —— There is a main street food area called Jalan Alor.  Here the entire neighbourhood is dotted with stalls, selling everything from fish head curry to sambal and satay.  Malays can easily tuck into up to six meals a day.

Beef Rendang

Normally, the day starts with breakfast, then a mid-morning snack, followed by lunch.  A light bowl of noodles fills any gaps between 4pm and 5pm, and dinner is the main meal of the day.  To cater to this non-stop nosh, the hawker culture works around the clock to feed the hungry with platefuls of delicacies like satay, laksa, redang and roti jala.

Malaysian cuisine

Rendang made with tempeh (soya bean cake) is quite delicious.  Curries, mainly made with coconut milk, have their roots in Indian cuisine.  Malay culture is a smorgasbord of modern Indian, Thai, Arab and Chinese influences and has been strongly influenced by people of neighbouring lands, including the  Siamese, Javanese, Sumatran and Indians.  The influence of Hinduism was significant and the Malay were primarily Hindus before converting to Islam in the 15th century,  For 2,000 years, the traffic of traders between the Malayan Archipelago and India resulted in frequent inter-marriages, especially from Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.


A wave of Indian and Chinese immigration occurred again 200 years ago when the country needed labour.  A Malaysian meal is influenced by all these communities and usually consists of a curry, fried, grilled or steamed fish in a banana leaf, sambal, ulam and a dessert made with coconut, jiggery and rice powder.
laksa5For a bird’s eye view of Malaysian food it’s best to go from one ethnic plate to another.  For a travelling foodie, Ramadan is the best time to experience Indian Muslim style food  ——– a culinary assimilation of Indian and Malay cooking styles at Mamak stalls. ” Malay-Muslim” dishes are basically a range of curries, the most prominent one being the Malaysian chicken curry.  Every street stall has a secret recipe for curry.  While the curries have a distinct Indian element, they are prepared using a varied spice mix called “rempah” ——- a complex paste of spices and aromatics roasted and cooked together forming the base even as coconut milk adds body.
Another coconut infused dish is the noodle soup called Laksa.  This is a Nonya dish (Nonyas are a community of Malay and Chinese descent where Malay men mostly took Chinese wives)  Their cuisine is popularly known as “Straits Chinese” and is represented by popular dishes such as Char Kuey Teow (stir-fried noodles with bean sprouts, prawns, eggs — duck or chicken, chives and thin slices of preserved Chinese sausages and the ubiquitous Hainanese chicken rice of poached chicken in a bland but fragrant broth.  Of course, trust the Malays to re-jig the recipe, so go easy on the dipping sauce laced with chillies, garlic and ginger, which gives it a spicy kick that will make your tongue twist and taste buds salivate.
——— Fareeda Kanga

Charcoal, the hot new flavouring

The latest trend in restaurants and bars, is feeling —– and indeed tasting —– THE BURN. It’s CHARCOAL as an actual ingredient —– bringing flavour, colour, texture and a touch of playfulness to plates of food and bottles of juice.  As is so often charcoal flavouringthe case with nascent ingredients, charcoal, is indebted to the health-food industry for much of its popularity.  Although it doesn’t taste of anything, it adds a surprisingly pleasant granular texture —– you feel like you could almost chew the juice as you gulp it down.  Christophe Reissfelder and Rebekah Hall, the duo behind Botanic Lab, are constantly on the lookout for unusual things to add to their concoctions (they’re currently investigating moth wings).  And according to Hall, charcoal “ticks all the boxes” with its unusual granularity, striking hue and a gut-cleansing function to boot.
Surprisingly, these good-gut virtues have also thrust charcoal into the world of delicate French pastries. charcoal flavouring Activated charcoal is a common ingredient in desserts in Asia, and Loretta Liu has brought it to her London-based company —— Super Cute Macarons.  She exclaims that the fusion of charcoal with the likes of  goji berries and green tea “is as healthy as macarons are ever going to get”.
Although many associate blackened food with carcino-genics activated charcoal in fact has a storied past as a medical treatment.  Nutritionist Jane Clarke says that it has historically been a remedy for food poisoning, but also calls it an “anecdotal” substance —–some doctors prescribe it, others dismiss it.
Whatever its merits as an elixir, reverence of the black stuff extends far beyond health enthusiasts.  The most renowned ——- and longstanding ——- purveyor of charcoal in food is Simon Rogan, whose potatoes with onion ashes and ox in coal oil have become specialities at L’Enclume and The French in Manchester, respectively.
———- Jamie Waters. 

Cold soups for hot days

A great and healthy way of staying cool in the summer is having a cold soup for lunch.  Instead of sugary beverages, opt for nutritionally rich and delicious soups.  Daniel Koshy, Executive Sous Chef at JW Marriot, has shared some contemporary recipes that use readily available local ingredients.
chilled-lemon-grass-8(1) CHILLED AVOCADO SOUP :  Use vegetable stock as chicken will overcome the flavour of the avocado
Ingredients : 2tbsp butter, 1-2 avocado, 3 potatoes (peeled and cubed), 3 leeks (trimmed and chopped), 4 cups vegetable stock, fresh coriander for garnish.
Method :  Melt butter in a large pot.  Add potatoes and leeks.  Cook for about 3mins, stirring until softened.  Add stock.  Boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20mins.  Puree, then let cool.  Stir in coarsely chopped flesh of one or two avocados before serving.  Garnish with chopped coriander.
avocado-soup(2) CHILLED LEMON GRASS & CORIANDER VICHYSSOISE :  Nutrition-wise it is a good source of vitamins A & C, folate, magnesium and calcium.
Ingredients :  4 thick stems lemon grass, 50gms fresh coriander leaves, 4 spring onions (finely chopped), 50gms butter, 2 medium onions (chopped), 275gms new potatoes (scraped and chopped small), 150ml milk, salt and black pepper.
Method :  First of all strip the coriander leaves from the stalks and reserve both the leaves and the stalks.  Remove the outer skin and chop the lemon grass quite fine.  Put all the trimmings (discarded lemon grass and coriander stalks) into a saucepan with some salt and 850ml of water and simmer (covered) for about 30mins to make a stock.  To make the soup, melt the butter in a large saucepan, then add the chopped lemon grass, onions (reserve the spring onions till later) and potatoes and keeping the heat low, let the vegetables sweat gently (covered) for about 10mins.  After that, pour in the stock through a strainer, discard the debris, then add the milk about three-quarters of the coriander leaves.  Season with salt and pepper, bring the soup up to simmering point and simmer very gently for about 25mins.  Allow the soup to cool a little before pouring it into a food processor or blender, then pour it through a strainer into a bowl.  Chill thoroughly till you are ready to serve.
cold soup(3) CHILLED BUTTERMILK SOUP WITH CORN & POBLANO CHILLI :  You can substitute poblano chilli (a Mexican chilli) with jalapenos.
Ingredients : 1tsp oil, 1/2 yellow onion (finely chopped), 1/2 poblano chilli (seeded and finely chopped), 1 large garlic clove (minced), 1tsp coriander powder, 1/2tsp cumin powder, 1/8tsp turmeric powder, 2 and 1/4 cups corn kernels, 3 cups buttermilk, 3/4tsp coarse salt.
Method :  Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion, poblano chilli and garlic, sauté for about 5mins.  Add coriander, cumin, turmeric and cook for about 2mins.  Add corn and sauté for about 5mins.  Remove from heat and let it cool slightly.  Transfer 1 and 1/2 cups corn mixture to the bowl of a food processor and add buttermilk and salt, puree till mixture is smooth.  Transfer to a large bowl, stir in remaining corn mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until soup is well chilled, at least 2 to 3 hours.
————– Shivani Kagti


AIOLI is a Provencal sauce made of garlic, olive oil, usually egg yolks and seasonings.  The proper recipe did not include lemon juice, though many people add it.  There are many variations, such as the addition of mustard.  It is usually served at room temperature.  The name AIOLI comes from Provencal ‘alh’ (garlic) (Latin — allium) + ‘oli’ (oil) (Latin — oleum)


AIOLI is like mayonnaise, an emulsion or suspension of small globules of oil and oil-soluble compounds in water and water-soluble compounds.  Egg-yolk can be used as an emulsifier, and is generally used in making AIOLI today.  However, mustard and garlic both emulsify oil and some variants, such as Valencia allioli omit the eggs.
Egg yolks, garlic and seasonings are whisked together, then the oil and the lemon juice are added, initially very slowly, whisking to emulsify, once the emulsion has started to form, the oil can be added faster.
 In Occitan cuisine, AIOLI is typically served with seafood, fish soup and croutons, in a dish called MERLUCA AMB ALHOLI.  In the Occitan Valleys of Italy, it is served with potatoes boiled with salt and bay laurel.
In Provence, AIOLI or, more formally, LE GRAND AIOLI, also designates a complete dish consisting of various boiled vegetables (uniformly cut carrots, potatoes and green beans), boiled fish (normally soaked salt cod), and boiled eggs usually served with snails, with the AIOLI sauce.  Other commonly used vegetables are cauliflower, courgettes (zucchini) and raw tomato.


There are other forms of AIOLI :
(a) ALLIOLI —– from “all I oli”, Catalan for “garlic & oil”, is a typically paste-like cold sauce of Catalonia, Balearic islands and Valencia.  It is made by pounding garlic with olive oil and salt in a mortar until smooth.  It is often served with “arros a banda”, from Alicante, with grilled lamb, grilled vegetables and arros negre, and comes in other varieties such as ALLIOLI de codony (allioli with boiled quince, not the preserve) or allioli with boiled pear.
(b) AILLADE —– is the name used in Southern France for 2 different garlic-based condiments.  In Provence, it is a garlic-flavoured vinaigrette, while in areas such as  Languedoc – Roussillon, it is the name given to AIOLI.
(c) TOUM —– is a garlic sauce common to the Lavant & Egypt.  Similar to the Provencal Aioli, it contains garlic and salt, olive oil or vegetable oil and lemon juice, traditionally crushed together using a wooden mortar and pestle.  There is also a variation, popular in many villages, such a s Zgharta, where mint is added  —— this variation is called ZEIT and TOUM (oil and garlic).  TOUM is used as a dip, especially with French fries and chicken, and in Levantine sandwiches, especially those containing chicken.
(d) MUJDEI —– is a spicy Romanian sauce.  It is made from garlic cloves crushed and ground into a paste, salted and mixed energetically with water and vegetable oil (sunflower oil is almost always used).  Depending on regional preferences and the dish it is served with, vinegar or other ingredients may be added.  The result is a white sauce with a very strong garlic flavour, varying in consistency from a thick paste to a very runny sauce.  In some parts of Romania, MUJDEI is made out of cream, ground garlic and some salt.  It is served with a variety of dishes including fried fish, fried or grilled chicken or pork, rasol, even fried potatoes.  The word is derived from “must de ai” that is “must of garlic”.
(e) SKORDALIA —– in Greek also called “aliatha” is a thick puree (or sauce, dip, spread) in Greek cuisine, made by combining crushed garlic with a bulky base ——- which may be a puree of potatoes, walnuts, almonds or liquid-soaked stale bread —— and then beating in olive oil to make a smooth emulsion.  Vinegar is often added.
OVERVIEW :  Variants may include eggs as an emulsifier, while omitting or reducing the bulk ingredient, which makes for a result similar to the Provencal aioli, Catalan allioli and so on.  In the Ionian Islands, cod stock and lemon, instead of vinegar, is usually added and SORDALIA is eaten as a main dish.
SKORDALIA is usually served with batter-fried fish (notably salt cod), fried vegetables (notably eggplant and zucchini) poached fish or boiled vegetables (notably beets).  It is, sometimes, used as a dip.  SKORDALIA is a modern equivalent of ancient SKOROTHALMI.  The name, on the other hand, may be pleonastic compound of Greek “skoroo” (garlic) and Italian “agliate” (garlicky).

Pressure-cooked delights

If you do not have an oven, there’s no need to worry, there’s always the pressure cooker to help you prepare these delectable desserts.
(1) CARAMEL CUSTARD (with a twist)  :
Caramel_CustardIngredients: 450ml milk, 75gm sugar, 2 eggs, 75ml cold water, 1tbsp castor sugar, 1tsp vanilla essence.
Method : Beat the eggs together with vanilla essence.  Add milk while stirring. Strain mixture.  Dissolve sugar and water together until caramelized.  Line a serving dish with the caramel.  Pour the custard over the caramel.  Cover with foil.  Take some water in a pressure cooker, enough for it to last the length of your cooking time (40 minutes).  Now place a ‘katori’ in it and then a perforated metal plate over the ‘katori’ (cookers usually have metal plates)  The plate should be “above” the water, not touching it.  Close the pressure cooker and cook without the pressure for 20 minutes.  Take the pudding out of the cooker, turn it upside down into a dish and serve.
 (2) VANILLA CAKE (classic, but eggless) :
VanillaCake_lzIngredients: 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar (powdered), 2 1/2tsp. baking powder, 1/2 cup water, 3/4 cup yoghurt, 1/4tsp salt, 9inch round or square tins —- 2
Method : Line the base of the tins with butter paper or grease the bases and dust either with refined flour or sugar till well coated.  Sift flour and baking powder and transfer into a mixing bowl.  Add salt, sugar, butter, water and vanilla essence.  Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon or a beater till well blended.  Add the yoghurt to the cake batter and beat till smooth.  The batter looks almost glossy when done.  Transfer the batter into the 2 tins.  Heat the pressure cooker (empty), covered but without the pressure for 3-4 minutes on high heat, then place one cake tin in it.  Cover again without pressure, lower flame and let it cook till done (about half an hour).  Repeat with the other tin.  Serve.
(3) CHOCOLATE CAKE : A keeper for days when you are craving cake, but there’s no current.
chocolate cakeIngredients: 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup cocoa, 1 1/4tsp baking powder, 1/4 cup butter, 3/4 cup sugar (powdered), 1/4 cup water, 2eggs, 1/2tsp vanilla essence, 1/8tsp salt, 6inch round greased baking tin.
Method : Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, butter, sugar, water, vanilla essence and beat together,  Add eggs and beat the batter till it is smooth.  Transfer to the baking tin.  Heat pressure cooker covered but without the pressure for 3-4 minutes on high heat, then place cake tin in the empty cooker (do not add water in the cooker.  Cover without the pressure, lower flame and let it cook till done (about half an hour).  Remove from cooker and serve.
—————-Niru Gupta.


Umami, a savoury taste, is one of the 5 basic tastes (together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty).  It is a ‘loan-word’ from Japanese and can be translated as “pleasant savoury taste”.
umamiThis word was chosen by Professor Kikunae Ikeda from “UMAI” =delicious and “MI” = taste.  People taste Umami through receptors for ‘glutamate’, commonly found in its salt form, as the food additive MSG.  For that reason, scientists consider Umami to be distinct from saltiness.  Scientists have debated whether Umami was a basic taste, since Kikunae Ikeda first proposed its existence in 1908.  In 1985, the term Umami was recognised as the scientific term to describe the taste of ‘glutamates’ and ‘nucleotides’ at the First Umami International Symposium in Hawaii.
It can be described as a pleasant “brothy” or “meaty” taste with a long-lasting, mouth-watering and coating sensation over the tongue.  The sensation of Umami is due to the “Carboxylate Anion” of glutamate in specialized receptor cells present on the human and animal tongues.  Its effect is to balance taste and round out the overall flavour of a dish.  Umami enhances the palatability of a wide variety of foods.
Ripe_tomatoesGlutamate has a long history in cooking ——— fermented fish sauces (garum), which are rich in glutamate, were used widely in ancient Rome, fermented barley sauces (murri), rich in glutamate, were used in medieval Byzantine and Arab cuisine and fermented fish sauces and soy sauces have histories going back to the 3rd century in China.  In the late 1800s, Chef Auguste Escoffier, who opened restaurants in Paris and London, created meals that combined Umami with salty, sour, sweet and bitter tastes.  However, he did not know the chemical source of this unique quality.
Umami was first scientifically identified in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Professor of the Tokyo Imperial University.  He found that glutamate was responsible for the palatability of the broth from “Kombu Seaweed”.  He noticed that the taste of Kombu Dashi was distinct from sweet, sour, bitter and salty and he named it Umami.
Professor Shintaro Kodama, a disciple of Ikeda, discovered in 1913 that “dried bonito flakes” contained another Umami substance.  When foods, rich in glutamate, are combined with ingredients that have nucleotides, the result taste intensity is higher than the individual ingredients.


This synergy of Umami explains various classical “food pairings” starting with why the Japanese make Dashi with kombu seaweed and dried bonito flakes, and, continuing with various dishes : the Chinese add Chinese leek and Chinese cabbage to chicken soup, as in the similar Scottish dish of cock-a-leekie soup and Italian-Americans combine Parmesan cheese on tomato sauce with mushrooms.
mix_umami_h3Properties of Umami taste : It has a mild but lasting aftertaste that is difficult to describe.  It induces salivation and a sensation of “furriness” on the tongue, stimulating the throat, the roof and the back of the mouth.  By itself, Umami is not palatable, but it makes a great variety of foods pleasant especially in the presence of a matching aroma.  But, like other tastes, with the exception of sucrose, Umami is pleasant within a relatively narrow concentration range.  The optimum Umami taste depends also on the amount of salt and, at the same time, low-salt foods can maintain a satisfactory taste with the appropriate amount of Umami.
Some population groups, such as the elderly, may benefit from Umami taste, because their taste and smell sensitivity is impaired by age and medicine.  The loss of taste and smell can contribute to poor nutrition, increasing their risk of disease.
20101112_umami_0294_mediumFoods rich in Umami :  Many foods that may be consumed daily are rich in Umami.  Naturally occurring glutamate can be found in meats and guanylate from vegetables.  Thus, Umami taste is common to foods that contain high levels of  L-glutamate, most notably in fish, shellfish, cured meats, mushrooms, vegetables (tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, spinach, celery) or green tea and fermented  and aged products (cheese, shrimp pastes, soy sauce).  Many humans’ first encounter with Umami is “breast milk”.  It contains roughly the same amount of Umami as ‘broths’.
Umami has become popular with food manufacturers such as Nestle, the Campbell Soup Company and Frito-Lay.  Farmers promote their produce as a way to boost Umami taste and Chefs create “Umami Bombs”, which are dishes made of several Umami ingredients.