Quick Miso Stir-Fry and “The 5 Tastes” (or is it 6?)

Quick Miso Stir-Fry and "The 5 Tastes" (or is it 6?)

Crisp-tender vegetables are sauteed in a lively and savory miso-ginger stir-fry sauce that is so out-of-this world you are going to want to eat it with a spoon. If you are stocked with basic Asian ingredients you might even be able to make this tonight!

The 5 Tastes

One thing I love about this dish is that it includes all of the 5 tastes. The 5 tastes refers to the collection of flavors we are able to distinguish. For each of these tastes we have a designated gustatory receptor – or unique section of the tongue that picks up the flavor.

  1. Sweet (bell peppers and, to an extent, sauteed onions and garlic)
  2. Sour (rice wine vinegar)
  3. Salty (tamari)
  4. Bitter (greens)
  5. Umami (miso, tamari)

I find that the more tastes that are represented in my meal, the more satisfied I am and the better I digest the food.

The more elusive tastes – Bitter & Umami

Bitter

Years ago, when I was reading up on Swedish bitters, I learned that the absence of one or more of the five tastes are thought to lead to a digestive imbalance. While sweet, sour and salty abound, the bitter taste is sorely lacking in the typical American diet. This is one reason that many people experience immediate relief from heartburn or bloating with Swedish bitters. This herbal concoction has medicinal qualities as well, but there is often a shift that happens as soon as it hits the tongue or is swallowed.

I’ve personally experienced this when taking Swedish bitters or having a sip of Becherovka (a famous digestif made in Czech Republic) after a heavy meal.

As my diet has become more balanced over the years, I have naturally included more bitter foods.

Quick Miso Stir-Fry and "The 5 Tastes" (or is it 6?) - The Nourishing Gourmet

Lacinato Kale

Here is a list of common bitter foods:

  • kale (lately I’m loving lacinato kale!)
  • dandelion greens
  • bitter melon
  • radishes
  • eggplant
  • dill
  • arugula
  • coffee
  • dark chocolate

Umami (as I best understand it)

 Umami, officially identified  in the early 1900′s, is described as a delicious savory flavor and it can not be made by simply combining any of the other four tastes. It is unique. Umami foods have a common denominator – the amino acid glutamine.

Glutamine is found naturally in many foods, including meats, dairy (especially aged cheese), tomatoes and seaweed.

When food is prepared in certain ways such as microbial fermentation and grilling, the amino acids can get rearranged and some of the glutamine can separate from the other aminos and become free glutamate. This can make food taste really good! And many of these foods have fantastic health benefits. But they might cause issues for some people if eaten in excess.

When the processing gets more severe (even so-called natural processing using enzymes or extremely high heat) the amount of free glutamate increases. When it binds to sodium in the food it becomes mono-sodium glutamate (MSG).

The most common source of umami in the American diet is probably MSG. But for many people, MSG can be unhealthy or even dangerous. When Kimi wrote about the food and behavior connection in children, she mentioned MSG as a chemical to which many children are sensitive. I definitely agree.

When my kids are eating more foods that contain MSG (it slips in from time to time), their appetite gets whacked and they begin craving processed foods. And since MSG can cross the blood brain barrier it can definitely affect behavior, in some people more than in others. A little while back, I wrote about MSG and the blood brain barrier as well as who is vulnerable and how to avoid it (it’s not as easy as scanning the label).

When trying to make a move away from processed foods, finding natural sources of umami is critical for success. The umami taste is so alluring that unless it is in the diet, we might be tempted to seek it out in unhealthy ways.

Here are some good natural sources of umami:

  • seafood
  • sea vegetables
  • miso
  • shiitaki mushrooms
  • savory broths
  • cultured foods such as sauerkraut
  • anchovy paste
  • hard cheeses
  • ketchup (here’s a good homemade one)

A sixth taste?

Now it looks like the 5 Tastes may be bumped up to 6. Good news – the newbie is fat! Research shows that we may have a taste receptor for fat (and I’m pretty sure that mine is disproportionately large).

Why is spicy not considered a taste?

Spicy is not actually a taste – it’s a sensation. A pain sensation. This makes me question my obsession with jalapenos!

Quick Miso Stir-Fry and "The 5 Tastes" (or is it 6?) - The Nourishing Gourmet

This sauce isn’t spicy. It includes a good dose of ginger, but it mellows as it cooks. I like to add crushed red peppers to my own serving.

Pictured above are fresh ginger ice cubes. (The bowl was made by my brother’s lovely girlfriend and artist Maria Lucia Londoño – isn’t it pretty?)

I had a bunch of ginger that was showing signs of turning, so I peeled and roughly chopped it and threw it in the blender with just enough water to cover it, then liquified it and poured it into an ice cube tray to freeze. I happen to have baby food trays with a lid, but regular ice cube trays would work just as well if you transfer the cubes to a freezer bag or Pyrex container once they are frozen.

The last time I made this stir-fry I just popped one of these ginger ice cubes into the pan right before adding the sauce. They also come in handy for green smoothies and soups. For a quick ginger tea you can drop a couple into boiling water and if you have time add a little raw honey and/or lemon.

I also use this technique for saving fresh herbs before they go bad.

I hope your family gets to enjoy this dish soon! Here’s a tip for getting kids to eat it: chop the vegetables small, mix them into rice and call it fried rice.

Quick Miso Stir-Fry (And How to Freeze Garlic, Ginger & Herbs)
 
Author:
Recipe type: Stir-Fry
Cuisine: Asian
Serves: 2-4
 
This quick & simple miso stir-fry is a perfect for a busy night.
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons miso (red or white)
  • 1 tablespoon tamari
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar or umeboshi plum vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 medium onion, quartered and sliced
  • 5 cups of greens (lacinato kale is pictured here)
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil for sauteing
Instructions
  1. Whisk together the sauce ingredients (everything except for the vegetables and olive oil).
  2. Heat the olive or coconut oil a large pan over medium heat and add the olive oil.
  3. Stir-fry the pepper, onion and carrots, stirring occasionally until "crisp tender" (about 10 minutes).
  4. Add the greens and saute until tender to the bite.
  5. Add in the sauce and allow it to heat through gently (about 1 minute).
  6. Serve over rice or quinoa. Add chicken, shrimp or steak if you'd like!
Notes
I like to use olive oil when sauteing vegetables, but oftentimes I'll add a little water to the pan first (1/4 cup or so) to temper the heat since olive oil becomes unstable at high temperatures.

 

 

 

 

 

Creamy Raspberry Vanilla Smoothie (Dairy-free, Lower-carb)

Recipe: This creamy raspberry vanilla smoothie is rich, gently sweet, and delicious! It also happens to be dairy-free, and lower-carb. We love it!
We started the school year out with this as part of our breakfast. Our raspberry smoothie is rich and creamy, flavorful, surprisingly sweet, and plump full of good for you ingredients! It rounded out our breakfast well and helped make day one of back to school start out right.

I react some to bananas, so I avoid eating them on a regular basis. Unfortunately, they were my favorite way to add natural sweetness and creaminess to smoothies. Thankfully I’ve found that there are other great ways to make a full-bodied smoothie without a banana (that incidentally turns our smoothies into much lower carb drinks).

This is by far one of my favorite smoothies! It’s so rich we often split it into four small servings for our whole family (to serve with other breakfast items). But you can also enjoy it in bigger servings for two.

Notes on ingredients:

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Coconut Cream: You can use whatever your favorite full-fat unsweetened coconut milk or coconut cream brand is. I have been using (and loving) Aroy-D coconut cream. It’s guar gum free, and ultra thick.

Kombucha: This was the happy surprise I found when making smoothies. Kombucha is absolutely delicious in smoothies! Make sure, if you want to keep it lower-carb, that you use a well-fermented kombucha. I’ve used store-bought fruit flavored kombucha from Synergy – both the strawberry and the guava flavors. It adds about 7 grams of natural sugar to the smoothie. You could use water instead, but the smoothie won’t be half as flavorful (or contain those good for your probiotics!).

Raspberries: Raspberries are full of antioxidants, are a low in natural sugar fruit, and are deliciously bright. I love them in smoothies! When you combine them with coconut cream, it creates a berry and cream flavor that is delightful.

Gelatin: To add protein and added nutritional value, I also love to add gelatin to my smoothies. I’ve tried working with regular gelatin, but it just doesn’t work. I use this quality brand of hydrolysate gelatin that won’t gel up in a smoothie. I consider it a superfood!

Vanilla: Adding vanilla to smoothies was another smoothie revolution for me. I found that it adds a sweet flavor that complements the bright raspberries perfectly.

Other possible additions: Depending on how sweet your raspberries are, you may want to sweeten the smoothie a little more (we usually don’t). For the kids, a little raw honey works. I prefer a few drops of vanilla stevia.

Superfoods: This is also a great place to add a whole food vitamin C powder, mineral drops, probiotics, or whatever other mild tasting supplements you are also taking.

 

Creamy Raspberry Vanilla Smoothie + Superfoods (Dairy-free, Lower-carb)
 
Author:
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup of coconut milk or cream (unsweetened)
  • 1 cup of kombucha
  • 2 cups of frozen raspberries
  • 1-2 teaspoons real vanilla extract (use gluten-free, if needed)
  • 2 tablespoons hydrolysate gelatin, optional
  • Sweetener of choice, if needed (Recommended: raw honey, liquid stevia, or liquid vanilla stevia).
Instructions
  1. Blend in a blender until smooth.
  2. Serve right away.
  3. Makes 2 to 4 servings

 

(Healthier) Ambrosia Salad

Healthy Ambrosia Salad (with homemade marshmallows!).  This classic salad can be made using fresh ingredients,  minimally sweetened, and probiotic-rich!

Juicy fruit, flavorful coconut, creamy yogurt, and sweet (homemade) marshmallows come together in this simple, but delicious fruit salad. When you upgrade all of the ingredients to use nourishing ones, this probiotic-rich salad is a healthy treat!

When my birthday rolled around in my childhood, my dinner requests were pretty simple. Mac and cheese was always a request, and so was “Five Cup Fruit Salad,” otherwise known as Ambrosia Salad. I loved it so much I felt I could eat it solely for days and be happy (though my mom never let me). These meal requests always made my mom happy because they were so easy and simple to fulfill. This fruit salad takes only about five minutes to throw together, which also makes it even more convenient while camping.

Did I mention the camping part? KOA (Kampgrounds of America)  invited me to be part of their marshmallow month, and to stay at one of their campgrounds. We loved cooking in one of their beautiful cabins (more on their cabin and campgrounds in a second). I not only said yes, but started dreaming of all sorts of gourmet marshmallow recipes. Oh, I had some crazy ideas!

But in the end, my childhood ideals won out, and we were glad it did.

Ingredients for My Ambrosia Salad

Perhaps I should say an improved childhood favorite won out.

I’ve made this salad with all fresh fruit, and it was very delicious. But let’s be honest…if there was a time for using canned food, it would be when camping. So I compromised this time with fruit canned in fruit juice (no corn syrup, no sugar). Instead of using highly sweetened coconut flakes, I used unsweetened for a more coconutty and less sugary option.

Our family recipe from my childhood used sour cream. We can only tolerate goat milk products, so I used goat yogurt, and it was AMAZING! It had that tangy taste like sour cream and was so creamy too. Coconut yogurt, or even some thick coconut cream would also work for a dairy-free option. Maybe add some lime juice for a little bit of bright flavor.

I also decided to make my own homemade marshmallows. As many of you know, I am a real fan of homemade marshmallows sweetened entirely with honey or maple syrup (you can get my marshmallow recipe here and here). This time, on a whim, I made up marshmallows sweetened entirely with stevia. They worked really well in this salad (but I don’t think they would toast up for ‘smores!). I want to experiment with them a little more before sharing the recipe, but hopefully I will perfect them soon.

As a backup, I also brought these (affiliate link) vegan marshmallows which are surprisingly quite decent. They are GMO-free, and don’t use corn-syrup, coloring, and some of the nasty non-food ingredients that many marshmallows contain.

Bring all of those foods together, and you have ambrosia – “the food of the gods”.

Koa Kampgrounds

We hadn’t stayed at a Koa campground before, but plenty of my fellow food bloggers who camp a lot more than we do tell me that they love Koa campgrounds. It was not hard to see why. The specific location we went to in Oregon was by far the best maintained, friendliest campground we’ve been too. Our location also had all types of camping options, from tent sites to RV spots, to rustic cabins, to the deluxe cabins. Our deluxe cabin was so beautiful I took pictures of it as soon as we arrived. People, it even had wine glasses and air conditioning. I think you call this “glamping” and I decided I was a real fan. Notice in the top picture the big grill, patio table set, and you can also see just the top of the fire pit.

KOA deluxe cabin

Let’s just say we were pretty happy here. Isn’t it beautiful!

When we were browsing the locations near us (there were plenty in Oregon and Washington to choose from), it is clear that their campgrounds have a wide appeal. Some locations were clearly for the explorer, located near the foot of serious hiking with more simple accommodations. Others, like the location in Astoria we were at, are more of a family-friendly fun camp. With so many fun things for the kids to do (swimming in their indoor pool, playing miniature golf, crafts, etc), we had to drag the kids away from the actual campground to go to the beach! All to say, our stay was a success.

I also loved learning that Koa has community outreach camping, including care kamps for children with cancer and their siblings, where children can experience camping while still receiving medical care. That was heart warming to hear about.

Special thanks to KOA for sending us to camp and inviting us to be part of #marshmallowmonth! And hat-tip to Frugal Granola for reminding me of this delicious salad. Thanks, friend!

(Healthier) Ambrosia Salad
 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup of fresh mandarin orange segments or 12 ounce can of mandarin oranges in fruit juice
  • 1 cup of fresh bite-sized pineapple or 1 cup of canned in fruit juice pineapple bits
  • ¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes (not defatted)
  • 1 cup of miniature marshmallows of choice (if using homemade, cut into small pieces)
  • 1 cup of unsweetened yogurt of choice
Instructions
  1. Drain all canned fruit, if using (save juice for making fruit juice gelatin or drink it!). Mix all of the ingredients together, and refrigerate for about 2 hours before serving.
  2. Enjoy!

 

Japanese Cucumber Salad

Japanese Cucumber Salad is a perfect side dish to sushi, teriyaki chicken, miso, and other Japanese meals! This cooling cucumber salad is a bright combination of mild vinegar, sweet coconut sugar, deep toasted sesame oil, and salty tamari (or soy sauce). It’s the perfect complement to my simple teriyaki chicken, homemade sushi, miso soup, or any Japanese food!

Eating a Japanese style meal doesn’t mean stuffing your face with white rice (though white rice can certainly be an important part of it). I’ve enjoyed reading more about the traditional Japanese food culture, which often included eating small plates of a wide variety of foods. It’s a beautiful tradition that allows a wide variety of flavors and nutrition! It was also often full of lots of veggie sides – like this cucumber one! When I take the extra time to make a simple veggie side or two, it makes the meal so much better – more satisfying and fun to eat too! This cucumber salad tastes a lot like ones we’ve been served at sushi restaurants. It has a balance of salty, sweet, sour, and umami. Yum.

I used  (#affiliate links) raw coconut vinegar in mine, which is nutritious raw fermented vinegar that is lighter than the raw apple cider vinegar I tend to use. You can use apple cider vinegar, but may want to sweeten it a little more since it is so powerful. Traditionally, rice wine vinegar was used, which is mild and perfect for so many Asian dishes. I’d recommend that as well. Also, make sure you use toasted sesame oil, not untoasted. Toasted sesame oil adds a lot of nutty flavor, while untoasted is used as a cooking oil. This is the brand I used. I used coconut sugar as we are sensitive to cane sugar, but using an organic cane sugar would work beautifully as well.

If you enjoy cucumber salads, try out this cucumber and red onion salad as well.

Japanese Cucumber Salad
 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1 med/large cucumber, or two small
  • ¼ cup vinegar (rice wine vinegar, coconut vinegar, raw apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar (or organic cane sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
  • 2 teaspoons tamari (for gluten-free) or soy sauce
  • Optional for garnish: Toasted sesame seeds and/or nori flakes
Instructions
  1. About a half an hour before eating peel the cucumber(s) and cut in half lengthwise and seed. (Read out to seed a cucumber here.) Using a sharp knife, slice thinly into half moons. Put aside in a bowl. You should have about two cups worth.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, coconut sugar, toasted sesame seed oil, tamari or soy sauce. Pour over cucumbers, and gently toss. Place, covered, in the refrigerator, and let chill for about 20 minutes. The vinegar is the first to be absorbed by the cucumbers, but as the minutes pass, the cucumbers will pick up on the sweetness and saltiness of the other ingredients. Toss once or twice, if you have the chance, while it chills. When ready to serve, toss again, and feel free to adjust the flavors if needed. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and/or nori flakes, and serve.