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.
  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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Chai Tea Fauxccino (Paleo-friendly)

ChaiTeaFauxccinoNG2

By Katie Mae Stanley, Contributing Writer

Bold and spicy chai with just a hint of sweetness, it’s icy perfection mingling with creamy milk; the perfect chai latte summer style. I love tea –if you couldn’t guess – but there are some days, like today, with temps reaching over triple digits that I just can’t do it. That’s where this awesome chai tea “fauxccino” comes in. It cools you off while still giving you that rich and delicious flavor of the chai tea we know and love. If you are frappe fan you also might like this Salted Carmel Mocha Fauxccinno or this Peppermint Mocha Fauxccino.

Chai actually means “tea” in Hindi but I think at this point we are so used to calling it “Chai Tea” that I doubt that we can go back to just calling it chai. Most frappe drinks call for ice cubes, I have never liked how diluted an iced beverage would get as the ice started to melt. A new trick I have started doing is making ice cubes of strong coffee or in this case chai concentrate. It is as simple as pouring your coffee/chai into an ice tray and freezing until solid. You can also read about how to make them here. In my opinion it really ups the flavor of my fauxccinos and iced coffees.

This chai tea fauxccino is so simple to make and hits the spot on a hot day! I used my own chai concentrate to make my chai ice cubes but Kimi has a recipe using rooibos that I am sure is wonderful as well. My concentrate already has a bit of sweetener in it so if you are like me you may find that you don’t need any additional sweetener. Feel free to make your drink a bit more “fancy” by adding vanilla whipped cream (or coconut whipped cream, bittersweet chocolate syrup or salted caramel sauce). Drinking it plain is fine too and what I normally do. If you want perfect whipped cream using an  (Affiliate link) ISI Whipped Cream Dispenser is very helpful and fun.

Other chai inspired recipes:

Chai Tea Fauxccino
 
Author:
Recipe type: Beverage
Serves: 1-2
 
Bold and spicy chai with just a hint of sweetness, it's icy perfection mingling with creamy milk; the perfect chai latte summer style.This chai tea fauxccino is so simple to make and hits the spot on a hot day! I used my own chai concentrate to my chai ice cubes but Kimi has a recipe using rooibos that I am sure is wonderful as well.
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place the chai ice cubes, milk and sweetener into a blender. Blend on high until smooth.
  2. Top with whipped cream, caramel sauce or chocolate syrup if desired.

 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Icebox Pie (grain, dairy and sugar free)

Strawberry Rhubarb Icebox Pie (Grain, Dairy and Sugar Free)

By Natalia Gill, Contributing Writer

Luscious strawberries and snappy rhubarb are lightly sweetened with stevia and poured into a salted pecan crust. A bit of pear (undetectable to the taste) bridges the gap between rhubarb and stevia, creating a well balanced pie that is both satisfying and simple – a treat for everyone, not only those who steer clear of grain, sugar and dairy.

This strawberry-rhubarb filling is very fresh tasting since the raw berries are stirred into a hot rhubarb-pear glaze, then poured into a prepared crust and chilled.

The most exciting part? You can use this method to create just about any fabulous fruit combination you dream up! How about raspberry-lemon, ginger-peach or just good old-fashioned blueberry? Simply adjust the amount of stevia you use.

Here are some grain/gluten-free crusts that would make a perfect base.

 

Strawberry Rhubarb Icebox Pie

This is the first time I have tried making this pie with stevia. I was pretty sure it would work well since this herb shines in tart, fruity recipes. But I was surprised to discover that I actually prefer the stevia version.

While I’m not a proponent of stevia morning, noon and night, I do think this is a great dessert option for those who are sensitive to sugar (like me.) The protein and healthy fats in the crust help to further curb the natural sugars in the fruits.

I used (affiliate link) Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Stevia and was very happy with the result.

This recipe is approved by and dedicated to my dad…musician, luthier, diabetic and strawberry-rhubarb pie aficionado.

Strawberry Rhubarb Icebox Pie
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 8
 
This pie is a sweet and tangy summer treat - free of sugar, grain & dairy.
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup rhubarb, diced
  • ½ pear, peeled and diced
  • 1 pound strawberries, washed and stems/leaves removed (about 3.5 cups)
  • 4 teaspoons arrowroot
  • 2 - 2½ teaspoons powdered stevia sweetener (the equivalent of 4-5 teaspoons sugar)
  • your favorite crust (I use this grain-free nut crust)
Instructions
  1. Dice two medium-sized strawberries and place in a saucepan with the rhubarb, pear and ½ cup water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pear is soft (about 10-12 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile, quarter the remaining strawberries. Also, combine the arrowroot, 2 teaspoons stevia and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl.
  3. When the pear is soft, add the arrowroot mixture to the fruit in the saucepan, keeping the heat on very low. Gently stir for 1-2 minutes, allowing the mixture to thicken and become more translucent (it won't be a fully translucent glaze because the rhubarb has disintegrated into the mixture.)
  4. Take the pan off of the heat. Taste and add a little more stevia if you'd like. Immediately stir in the fresh strawberries. Pour into your baked pie crust. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, then slice and serve. Or eat it sooner and let it be a little messy.
Notes
For a special touch, top it with a dollop of this paleo-friendly coconut whipped cream. Or the chocolate version - even better!