I’ve read a lot of definitions of umami, but somehow none of them completely describe my experience of it. For me, more than a taste, umami is a feeling: it is a kind of savouriness that makes the back of my jaw and throat feel a wee bit tight, my mouth salivate so intensely that I have to take a gulp and I feel my mind going into a zen mode where instead of ‘shivoham’, its saying a long breathless ‘mmmm’. And its all triggered by the first whiff. Actually, I am feeling it right this minute as I write this. Even the memory of it triggers this overwhelming feeling. Ufff! Do you feel it too?
Now, if only everything one eats could have this feeling. It’s tough, but what if one can add a lick of it to everything?
I did just that today with my sweet, sour and intensely savoury umami ketchup with a hint of desi heat. It was generously smeared over a floppy masala omelette I had for breakfast. After taking the photos, I smeared some of it on some plain toast. Later, I dipped a few crackers into it for a mid-morning snack and then a little later into a few spoons of rice for the most important meal between the mid-morning snack and lunch, the mid-mid-morning snack.
If you want to give your breakfast and mid-mid-morning snack a lick of this sauce, I’ve left recipe below. Bon Appétit!
Umami Ketchup With A Hint Of Desi Heat
- 800 grams, plump, ripe tomatoes (about 8 big red tomatoes)
- 6 plump pods of garlic
- 2 small onions
- 12 grams, porcini mushroom powder (if you don’t have this, I have a tip on how to use fresh button mushrooms instead)
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 whole star anise, powdered
- 2 heavy pinches of red chilli powder
- 2 teaspoon oil
- Set your oven to 140 C and let it pre-heat. While this is happening, line a sheet pan with some aluminium foil. Keeping 2 aside for later, halve the tomatoes and place them on the sheet pan. Scatter the 6 pods of garlic on the same pan. Season the tomatoes and garlic modestly with some salt and pepper. Next, pop the tray into the oven and forget about it for 2 hours. What you are trying to do is dehydrate the tomatoes to concentrate the umami flavours packed inside it without charring it. The same for the garlic. If the tomatoes or garlic begin to char, reduce the heat on your oven. What you are looking for are shrivelled up tomatoes and garlic pods that look half their original side.
- Next, finely slice the onions and sauté them in some oil until they are caramelised. About 7 minutes.
- Now in a blender, pop all the roasted tomatoes, the 2 tomatoes that you didn’t roast and reserved for later, garlic, porcini mushroom powder, caramelised onions, fish sauce, apple cider vinegar, water, brown sugar, black pepper, star anise powder, and red chilli powder. Blend it together until you get a smooth paste. Add more water to it if you need some liquid to help with the blending.
- Pour all of the contents out into a pan over a medium flame and let it bubble together and reduce down to the thickness of ketchup. About 10 minutes.
- Next, to get a smooth ketchup-y texture, pass the cooked sauce through a fine sieve. Remember to push as much sauce as you can using the back of a spatula. You can skip this step if you aren’t bothered by the slightly coarse texture of the sauce.
- Bottle and use immediately or store in the refrigerator.
How to make Mushroom Powder using fresh button mushrooms: To make 12 grams of mushroom powder, you’ll need 160 grams of button mushrooms. Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp kitchen towel. Next slice them as thin as you possibly can. Place the sliced mushrooms on a sheet pan lined with parchment. The parchment prevents the precious slices from sticking to the pan. Make sure the mushroom slices aren’t overlapping. Pop the tray into the oven set at 140 C for about an hour or until the mushrooms have dehydrated and turned crisp. Cool and grind them to a powder. Voila, you have mushroom powder.