Umami (and Udadi)

Kids are suckers for umami, the Japanese notion of the fifth flavor (“savoryness” is the rough translation; the other four are the standard bitter, sour, salty, and sweet; chemically it’s glutamate. The G in MSG). Work umami into the dishes you make for them, and there’s no need to load up with fat and sugar to cajole them into eating unprocessed (read: good for you) food.

Peanuts, red meat, tomatoes, cheese, truffles (and truffle oil), and mushrooms are all naturally rich in umami. Which in part explains kids’ enduring love of, respectively: PBJ, hamburgers, pizza, and pappardelle with chanterelles, thyme, and heavy cream. Alright, that last one isn’t a classic. Yet. Nor are there any stateside kids faves made with Asian fish sauce, also rich in umami (take it from a guy who as a kid used to beg his mom for spoonfuls of the Filipino fish sauce patis: experiments to follow)

Here’s one way to harness some mushroomy umami to entice the kids to eat spinach (I’m guessing it’s pretty darned safe to eat again; since that scare a few months back, it’s probably since become the most fretted over, scrutinized vegetable in agribusiness).

Sauteed Mushrooms and Spinach (which can convert into an awesome panini if need be)

Serves 2 kids or 1 adult

2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms (could be a mix of wild-ish mushrooms like shittake and porcini; could just be button mushrooms)
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 bags prewashed spinach (might as well wash it again for kicks)
olive oil
salt and pepper


panini option:
rustic white bread

Heat a big sautee pan over medium high heat, until just smoking. Add half the mushrooms, salt, pepper. Let sit a few minutes, without stirring, so the mushrooms begin to brown. Throw in half the sliced shallots. Stir. Let cook until a deep brown all over. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside. Add the other half of mushrooms, salt, pepper. Again, cook until brown on one side. Ad shallots. Stir. Once cooked through, remove these.

If pan is dry, add a little olive oil, then add spinach and sautee until wilted. Add mushrooms back to pan, stir so the mushrooms are fully incorporated throughout.

Try to get your kids to eat them.

If they refuse, grate a ton of fresh parmesan over the dish and stir.

If they continue to refuse, put the spinach and some gruyere in between two slices of rustic white bread and cook that in the pan, which in the end makes an amazing grilled cheese sandwich.

If they still refuse, just eat it yourself.


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One Response to Umami (and Udadi)

  1. Brandon says:

    My default–just to eat it myself. Sounds fantastic and definitely will give it a shot over the weekend. My children are salt fiends (even more than sugar) and the lure of “well, it DOES have salt on it” or even, “maybe this is a little TOO salty” will coax them to take at least one bite.

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