Secret Ingredients: Adding Big Flavor to Vegetarian Beans
How to Give Vegetarian Beans Deep, Savory Flavor
Umami — also known as savory taste — is one of the five basic tastes, together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty, and is often described as brothy or meaty. Traditional seasoning meats such as salt pork, bacon, and ham are what provide that savory, meaty flavor in a pot of simmering beans. But the truth is, you can get creamy beans with deep, savory umami flavor in a meatless way — by using vegetarian ingredients, and spices or seasonings that provide that savory flavor. We’ll explore a few here; see which ones work for you and your taste buds.
Dried Mushrooms & Mushroom Broth
One of the best ways to get that deep, rich flavor is by using dried porcini mushrooms. They offer up a great umami kick, meaty richness and an earthy note. The trick to wonderfully flavored vegetarian beans is this: steep the dried mushrooms in boiling water to make a broth, and then simmer beans in the mushroom broth (as all or part of the recipe’s cooking liquid). After soaking them, chop the mushrooms and add to the beans, as well. The savory flavor seeps into the beans, and the chopped mushrooms add great texture. While it can be difficult to find dried mushrooms at the grocery store, they’re usually found alongside other specialty spices and seasonings. And if you can’t find porcinis, a mix of different kinds of dried mushrooms will do the job (look for cremini, shiitake or oyster). Want the flavor, but don’t like the texture? Simply ground dried mushrooms into a powder and dissolve the powder into your pot of beans. Try this delicious Vegetarian Lima Beans dish that uses dried mushrooms and mushroom broth for amazing flavor.
Shallots are another must for cooking flavorful vegetarian beans. Known and enjoyed for their mild flavor, shallots are often thought of as a perfect union of onion and garlic. Although they have many similarities to onion and garlic, their flavor is sweeter and more delicate, with less bite. Typically round or teardrop-shaped, they come in shades of pink and purple and when chopped and cooked, offer a deep flavor that adds complexity to just about any dish, especially a pot of vegetarian beans. Use them in place of or in addition to onions in your favorite bean dish. You’ll love the end result.
Soy sauce, a brewed liquid made from soybeans, wheat, water and salt, is one of those interesting condiments that can be used for more than you might think. Soy sauce actually accentuates the umami flavor of mushrooms, which is why if you’re going the route of using dried mushrooms in your vegetarian beans, you can punch up the flavor even more with a hint of soy sauce. Just be sure to add it to your simmering beans before you add salt — that way you won’t end up with beans that are too salty. You’ll find soy sauce as a secret ingredient in these Vegetarian Lima Beans.
Smoked paprika is the Spanish version of sweet paprika, and it’s made from pimiento peppers that are dried, smoked over an oak fire, and then ground into a fine powder. It features a deep red color and a smoky aroma. In fact, that’s the reason most people use it — for its deep, smoky quality. Even a small amount can add great smoky flavor to any dish, and it’s a good option for those who want that in their vegetarian beans. You’ll find smoked paprika in these delicious vegetarian bean dishes: Slow Cooker Lentil & Black Bean Taco Soup, New Orleans-Style Vegan Red Beans & Rice, Slow Cooker 3-Bean Vegetarian Chili, Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus and Black Bean Hummus.
Worcestershire Sauce is a fermented liquid condiment that’s complex and unique in its umami flavor and aroma. Traditional versions do contain anchovies (which is a fish), as well as tamarind, molasses, onions, vinegar, cloves and sugar, and are often used in meat marinades and bloody marys. So while a traditional Worcestershire sauce is neither vegetarian nor vegan, it does offer great umami flavor and some saltiness to otherwise meatless dishes. The good news is that there are some good vegan options out there — such as 365 Organic and Annie’s. And you’ll find that just about any kind of Worcestershire sauce brings out the best in our Black Bean Burgers.
Experimenting with spices and seasonings like these can lead the way to your next pot of amazingly flavorful vegetarian beans.