In kindergarten I learned that I had four different taste buds on my tongue, and to prove it, Mrs. S. put salt, sugar and lemon juice on their designated spots on the front and sides. I must have blocked out what we used to taste bitter, and maybe that’s why, on some level, I’ve never gotten used to bitter things like hops and mustard.
That lesson in tastes stuck with me for the next 20 years, and I would dance salty, sweet and sour foods into their “sweet spots” in my mouth. Well, usually. I always did have a little trouble deciding where to roll a Sour Patch Kid. And then, everything changed. Even though it had been discovered nearly 100 years ago, Umami, roughly translated from the Japanese to mean “meaty” or “savory,” started making headlines about three years ago. Umami occurs naturally in foods like meat, parmesan cheese, soy, red wine, MSG, anchovies and mushrooms. And it is this taste sensation that has me loving this dish.
I make up excuses to cook this stew. We would eat it every week if I didn’t think Rich would mind. The potatoes always get cooked to a perfect velvety texture, and the mushrooms, cooked in the soy and sherry, feel as rich as meat on my tongue. I’ve actually recently read about a new taste, Kokumi, but I’ll hold onto my umami and savor this dish.
This Chinese vegetable stew is hearty, and I’ll admit, not the prettiest of dishes. The vegetables don’t retain any of their crispness or their color. They turn soft from the slow cooking and get quite dark from the soy sauce. But did I mention how delicious this stew is? Try and keep potatoes on hand at all times, stored in dark cool place, and far away from onions, which will spoil the potatoes more quickly. Although I’ve stuck to button mushrooms for this recipe, dried shiitake mushrooms (which can be found at OSJL for $2 a package) will work great.
Potato Stew from Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking(serves 4-6)
Two notes about this recipe:
- Although it calls for carrots, I leave them out because they hurt my tummy. I am sure they taste delicious in this recipe.
- I don’t actually have sherry on hand, but have used sherry vinegar and am delighted with the results.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
2 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger, lightly crushed (I use my frozen ginger root, and just take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes before I cut off the slices)
3/4 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1 1/2 inch-long segments
6 ounces mushrooms (if possible, with approximately 1 1/2-inch caps)
1/4 cup Chinese dark soy sauce
2 cups water
4 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons shaohsing wine or dry sherry (or sherry vinegar)
Heat the oil in an 8-inch-wide, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the garlic and ginger. Stir and fry for 15 seconds. Add the potatoes, beans and carrots. Stir and fry for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms. Stir and fry for another minute. Now put in 2 cups water, the soy sauce, sugar and wine. Bring to boil.
Cover, lower heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are just tender. Remove cover and turn heat to high. Boil away most of the liquid.
You should have about 1/8 inch of sauce left at the bottom of the pot. Stir the vegetables gently as you boil the liquid down. Remove the ginger and garlic, if you like.