In search of Umami

“When you ingest umami-rich molecules, everything you eat with them becomes more beautiful.” — Barb Stuckey

While foods with the quality of umami have always been around, the word itself was brought into existence in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a professor of the Tokyo Imperial University. In 1985, umami was identified as the fifth basic taste along with sour, salty, sweet and bitter. If you’re interested in the science and historical context of umami, read this excerpt or buy the book to delve deeper!

Tomatoes – An ingredient naturally rich in umami.

Shitake mushrooms, seaweed, parmesan cheese, truffles, tomatoes are some ingredients that are naturally rich in umami and are often used to elevate dishes, whether you are eating at a fancy restaurant or cooking for yourself at home.

Slow roasted tomatoes is one of the easiest things to pull off at home and when done right, they are intense and rich in flavour. Here’s my recipe for slow roasted tomatoes and 2 dishes you can easily make at home with this flavour bomb!


2 tbsp Olive oil

3 ripe tomatoes

1/2 tsp Jaggery

1/2 tsp smoked paprika powder (if you don’t have this, use a mild paprika powder)

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp thyme

Salt & Pepper

Ready to be placed in the oven!

1. Preheat the oven at 200°C.

2. Use some of the olive oil to grease a shallow gratin dish or a baking tray.

3. Cut the tomatoes into 1/2 inch thick slices and lay them in the tray. Dust them generously with salt, pepper and thyme.

4. Mix the remaining olive oil with balsamic vinegar, jaggery and smoked paprika powder and pour over the tomatoes and coat them evenly.

5. Pop the tray in the oven and let magic happen!

At 15 minutes, the tomatoes will be tender. You could let them rest at this point and blend and use for an additional layer of flavour in your pesto, pasta sauce or soups.

At 40 minutes, the tomatoes near perfection. Wrinkled up, juicy and thick enough that after resting them, you could use them for pizzas and tarts.

At 50 minutes, the tomatoes have blackened edges, the colour becomes darker and the bottom of the tomatoes stick to the baking tray. This, to most people, is burnt. To me, however, this is perfection. Every bite of every single piece of tomato is jam-packed with umami – it’s the perfect balance of sweet and salty, the texture is crisp and gooey in equal measures. 15 and 40 could work for others but I always take it to 50. That’s where my search for umami ends! 😊

Note: If you cut the tomatoes lengthwise and bake for 40 minutes, they tend to be firmer. This makes for easy refrigeration and can be stored for 8 – 10 days. Pack the tomatoes in a jar with its juices from the baking tray. They’ll continue to ­release juice during storage.
Recipe for Roasted Tomato Avocado Toast

It’s really quite simple. Fresh buttery avocados with the slow roasted tomatoes is an exceptional combination to kickstart your mornings with! Every bite has the crunch of the toast, the sweetness and tartness of the tomatoes that balances out the creaminess of the avocado (sliced or smashed well with a pinch of salt and lemon juice). Finish it off with a drizzle of olive oil and a few specks of Himalayan pink salt!

Roasted Tomato Avocado Toast
Recipe for Gochujang Rice with Roasted Tomatoes

I’m a huge fan of ramen and I recently stumbled upon an episode of Chef’s Table on netflix, featuring Ivan Orkin – a brash New Yorker with an unorthodox story who landed in Japan and built a ramen empire.

“I chose to ramen because I can do whatever the fuck I want. Ramen is the maverick cuisine of Japan.” — Ivan Orkin

Among his ramen innovations is a dish that features ramen topped with roasted tomatoes – an example of east meets west. This inspired me to try a little something of my own at home! I recently got a big jar of gochujang all the way from Korea (thanks Sana & Shazli for being the kind hearted souls for bringing me such big boxes of it :))! Gochujang is a red chili paste that is a staple ingredient in Korean cuisine. Gochujang’s primary ingredients are gochutgaru (red chili powder), glutinous rice powder (which adds sweetness to the paste), mejutgaru (fermented soybean powder), yeotgireum (barley malt powder), and salt – all of which is fermented over time. The condiment itself offers a big dose of umami and its spiciness complements the sweetness of the slow roasted tomatoes perfectly.

Ingredients (2 Servings):

1 Cup red rice

3 cloves garlic

4 – 5 whole black pepper

1 bay leaf

1 tsp olive oil

1/2 tbsp gochujang (Buy on Amazon)

3 tbsp chopped corriander

1/2 Lemon juice

1/2 tsp dark Soy Sauce

2 eggs

6 pieces of slow roasted tomatoes

Gochujang & Red Rice with Roasted Tomatoes

1. Wash the red rice and saute it with 1 crushed garlic clove, black pepper and bay leaf in olive oil. Cook with 2 to 2 1/2 cups water, till the liquid is fully absorbed. Let it rest.

2. Prepare the gochujang paste with 2 garlic cloves, 2 tbsp chopped corriander, soy sauce and juice from half a lemon with a motor-pestle. Fry it lightly to release all the flavours.

3. Layer the rice bowl with red rice, fried gochujang paste, sunny side up egg and the roasted tomatoes.

Make sure you and your guests break into the egg and get that silky, runny yolk to coat the rice alongwith the gochujang.

Until I get to make a trip to Ivan Ramen, I’m gonna do myself a favour and cook this every now and then to umamify my evenings and Sunday brunches! What about you?

Psst: I made myself a bowl and my partner snatched it and ate it all up. The true test of my culinary experiments! 🙂

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