As the evenings come earlier and earlier and the daylight stretches less into the nighttime hours, I begin to get a little wistful. What could I have done to enjoy the warm weather more? What sunny days have I missed out on? Are there any summer favorites like ice cream sandwiches, corn, or fresh juicy peaches I haven’t taken advantage of?
And I have a feeling that every single one of you are with me right now. Saying “how is it that we’re already halfway through August?” Well I always consider that sentiment to make the last bits of summer sweeter—sipping up that beach-side cocktail like no one’s business. Let’s see if we can send it off with a bang here in the next couple of posts.
Last week we celebrated the bitter taste, and this week we inevitably turn to umami. The taste that literally translates to “yummy.”
And I say ‘inevitably’ because my favorite summertime treat this time of year is the tomato. All other months yield watery, flavorless garbage. Okay that was harsh. But when you bite into a wonderful tomato, it makes you feel that way!
Umami is the fifth taste (the others are sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). It was disputed for quite some time for a couple reasons. The first is that the four tastes had been cemented in the scientific community for centuries. It is very difficult to challenge the status quo in science. The second is that the idea of umami came from one Japanese scientist. Dr. Ikeda posited that flavors in Japanese cuisine from concentrated soups like dashi or fermented condiments like soy sauce cannot be explained through any of the four tastes. Western scientists often see their ideas as more superior than those from Eastern scientists, so Ikeda was largely ignored. Legendary French Chef Auguste Escoffier came along at around the same time and tasted something similar to Ikeda in his newly invented veal stock.
It took over 100 years, but scientists took a second look at the basic tastes and indeed saw a fifth taste. Talk about swallowing your words. The fifth taste, which had been recognized by Eastern cultures and called “umami” for quite a long time was finally a thing in the West. It just recently became a part of the textbooks.
When a taste bud receives a free amino acid, the building block of proteins, the signal is synapsed onto a neuron and sent to the brain. The brain recognizes that amino acid as a necessary nutrient and sends a happy signal out. That is why umami is hard to explain as a delicious savory flavor. Glutamate, particularly L-glutamate, is the most heavily recognized amino acid through this umami recognition system. Amino acids are breakdown products of proteins. This breakdown is usually encountered in cooked meats and fermented products. NPR does a great job of explaining the different ways it is created: “on a stove when you cook meat, over time when you age a parmesan cheese, by fermentation as in soy sauce or under the sun as a tomato ripens.” Anchovies are full of glutamates often concentrated during the curing process. They have a lot of horsepower in the arena of umami. That is why anchovies are common ingredients in dressings like Caesar and sauces like Puttanesca.
Well this salad is amazing because we mix together that umami from the tomatoes, both fresh and concentrated with the roasting, anchovy, and garlic. Umami bomb in the best possible way! We mix it all together with some acid and herbs (from the salsa verde), salty capers, crispy chickpeas, cooling yogurt, and warm pita or naan to scoop it all up. We’ve got all bases covered here. Enjoy summer in all its glory.
Half-Roasted Tomato Salad with Chickpeas, Capers, and Salsa Verde
Adapted from Food52
For the Salad
1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
3 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
Olive oil, for roasting
1-15.5oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons drained capers
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 large beefsteak tomato, chopped into large chunks
1 big handful red onion slices (half-moons)
Red or white wine vinegar
1 handful fresh basil leaves, torn
Greek yogurt for serving
Pita or naan for serving
For the Salsa Verde
½ teaspoon dried oregano, or 1 teaspoon fresh
¼ cup basil leaves
10 or so leaves fresh mint
1 cup parsley leaves
¼ cup olive oil, plus more to taste
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 small garlic clove
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 pinch red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 425⁰F. Position the oven racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. Onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, scatter the sliced cherry tomatoes and the garlic cloves. Pour a few generous glugs of olive oil over the top so that it pools in places on the bottom, about an eighth of a cup to a quarter cup or so. Sprinkle with coarse salt—more than you think you’ll need.
- Put the baking sheet on the top rack of the preheated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes until the tomatoes are blistered and deflated.
- While the tomatoes are baking, toss the capers and the chickpeas with a teaspoon or so of olive oil along with the paprika and a few cracks of black pepper. Put on the second rack of the oven and bake for about 15 minutes until crispy.
- When everything is out of the oven, you can begin making the salsa verde. Pour the pooled olive oil from the tomato sheet pan into a measuring cup and add about ¼ cup olive oil to it.
- Put the oregano, basil, mint, and parsley in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the herbs are finely shredded. Pour in a few tablespoons of the olive oil and process. Add the garlic, anchovy, capers, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes and process to combine. With the motor running, stream in the rest of the olive oil and the lemon juice. Process until you have a uniform sauce. Adjust with more olive oil or lemon juice depending on your thickness/acidity preference. You can add salt after tasting if the anchovy and capers don’t add enough salt for your liking.
- In a large bowl, gently toss together the blistered cherry tomatoes, roasted capers/chickpeas, raw tomato chunks, red onion, and a teaspoon of red or white wine vinegar. Add a few torn basil leaves to the salad, and you’ll be ready to serve!
- For serving, spoon the salad over Greek yogurt and top with a bit of salsa verde. Scoop up with the pita or naan.