What Is Umami?
The bright, bold taste of ripe tomatoes intensifies a few times over when the tomatoes are halved and dehydrated. Choose loose-packed sun-dried tomatoes over oil-packed, since the quality of the oil can vary and dull flavor. Besides throwing them into pasta dishes or frittatas, try pureeing them with goat cheese for a breakfast spread, chopping and folding them into corn muffins, or baking them in a meat loaf.
Learn more about sun-dried tomatoes, then get the recipe for Braised Beef With Sun-Dried Tomatoes and White Beans.
Made by fermenting soybeans with wheat and salt, soy sauce gives depth and a salty tang to fried rice. But it can also liven up more surprising foods. Think avocado (drizzle it on slices in place of lime and salt), cocktail sauce (stir in a few teaspoons before serving with shrimp), and spaghetti (toss it with the noodles and butter for a quick late-night snack). And good news: If you’re concerned about salt intake, the low-sodium versions are just as delicious.
Learn more about soy sauce, then get the recipe for Soy-Balsamic Roasted Chicken With Rosemary.
Consider this rich, pungent paste a supercharged Asian mayo. Miso is made from steamed soybeans that have been fermented with rice, barley, or rye. White miso—the most common variety (and easy to find in the international aisle of major supermarkets or in health-food stores)—adds nutty undertones to whatever it touches. Blend a spoonful into a creamy carrot soup, or mix it with yogurt and dollop it onto salmon burgers or roasted vegetables. Just bear in mind: Because it’s so concentrated, a little goes a long way. And since extended cooking can kill its flavor, add it toward the end of a recipe.
Get the recipe for Shrimp Salad With Miso Dressing.
If you think they’re fishy (literally and figuratively), it’s time to reconsider. Anchovies are the secret ingredient in a number of restaurant dishes, from classic Caesar salad to bagna cauda (a traditional warm Italian dip for raw vegetables). At home, just a teaspoon of chopped anchovies will give a pleasantly briny kick to bruschetta. Or puree some with canned whole tomatoes for an instant, pre-seasoned pizza sauce. Feeling more adventurous? Sauté whole anchovies with garlic and bell pepper and serve over steak. Shopping tip: Choose anchovies packed in olive oil or salt (soak the salted variety in cool water for 20 minutes before using). Skip those packed in vegetable oil, which can vary in quality.
Get the recipe for Pasta With Anchovies, Walnuts, and Raisins.
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
These meaty mushrooms, which are easy to keep on hand when dried, add a slightly smoky flavor and satisfying bulk to all kinds of meals. Rehydrate the mushrooms in boiling water (soak for 30 minutes, then strain) and you’ve got two inspired ingredients—the mushrooms and their fragrant broth. Sauté the mushrooms with leeks and peas to spoon over soft polenta, and use the broth as the base for mushroom-barley soup. Want the ultimate savory brunch dish? Create a decadent strata by combining rehydrated shiitakes with cubed bread, eggs, cream, and grated fontina. Find shiitake mushrooms in the international aisle of major supermarkets and in Asian markets.
Learn more about mushrooms, then get the recipe for Shiitake Mushroom and Potato Enchiladas.
Aging brings out the warm and sometimes fruity flavor of this Italian stalwart—hence the renown of the Parmigiano-Reggiano variety, which is aged a minimum of two years before it’s sold. But even young domestic Parmesan can add an earthy dimension to a variety of foods. Pasta is only the beginning. Also try it grated over steamed green beans, shaved over a plate of prosciutto and melon, or sprinkled on buttered popcorn. Even the leftover rind has a role to play: Toss a piece in a simmering ragù.
Learn more about Parmesan, then get the recipe for Pea and Parmesan Soup With Parmesan Crisps.