8 Ways to Add Savory Flavor to Vegetarian Recipes

Here's how to amp up the umami flavor in your meatless meals.

Whether you are a longtime vegetarian or a newbie, going all-in on plant-based cooking, or just trying to adopt a Meatless Monday tradition, having some secret weapons for amping up flavor in your vegetarian cooking is always a great idea.

One of the issues with vegetable cooking is that often, even when the dish is balanced with the basic flavors of salt, sweet, sour and bitter, it is missing umami, that savory flavor so associated with meat, which is often the thing that is the difference between an okay dish and a great one. That little something extra that makes dishes soul satisfying. Luckily, there are a lot of things you can add to bring that umami back into your dishes, and still be on the program! Here are some of our favorite ways to bring the umami to your plant cooking.

How to Add Umami to Meatless Dishes

Nutritional Yeast
This flaky pantry product brings a parmesan cheese-like flavor to dishes and is a wonderful way of adding some complexity to your cooking, especially in pastas and bean dishes.

There is a reason that the vegetable dishes at Asian restaurants often taste so much better than when we make them at home, and MSG is the reason. The negative press around this naturally occurring salt has long been scientifically debunked, so don't hesitate to pick some up and add a small pinch when cooking things like stir fries, stews or vegetable chilis or soups.

Dried Mushrooms and Mushroom Powder
Whether you are soaking dried mushrooms to add whole to a dish, or using dehydrated mushroom powder as a seasoning, mushrooms are one of the meatiest most umami packed things you can add to your vegetables.

Smoked Sun Dried Tomatoes
While regular sun-dried tomatoes are great for adding sweetness, the smoked version is my secret weapon for replacing bacon or ham in a vegetable dish. For example, braised collard greens, traditionally slow simmered with a smoked ham hock, still get that wonderful smoky flavor by simmering a handful of these flavorful nuggets in the braising liquid.

Soy sauce or liquid aminos
These dark brown liquids bring both saline punch and some welcome caramelized flavor to dishes, along with a good boost of umami. Don't just think of them for Asian cooking, think of using them instead of some of your salt in all sorts of dishes, including soups and stews, salad dressings, and as a last-minute drizzle on cooked vegetables.

Toasted walnuts
Whether you grind them fine to add texture and flavor to things like vegetable chilis, use them as a crunchy topping or garnish, toss whole halves into a sauté or stir fry, or even braise them with beans, walnuts bring a wonderful combination of meatiness and a subtle bitterness to your dishes.

Miso Paste
The rich, fermented flavor with some slight sweetness of miso paste is a wonderful way to bring some umami to your dishes. Whether you use the mild flavor of white miso to the intense punch of darker versions, keeping a tub of this in your fridge means that you can add terrific complexity to your cooking. Especially useful in making vegetable stocks and gravies.

Maggi Seasoning
This Swiss liquid flavoring agent is the vegetable version of those liquid gravy boosters and is an easy way to add just a fast dash of flavor to any of your cooking. Use sparingly, a little goes a long way, and there is a reason it comes in a bottle with a very small dispenser tip. Start with just a dash and taste as you go.


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