The “Gina Mullin Challenge” at the International Society of Neurogastronomy Symposium is an event where two teams of neuroscientists and chefs compete, Iron Chef-style, to make dishes that appeal to people with taste challenges, such as chemotherapy patients. The event’s namesake, Gina Mullin, remarked at our first competition that sometimes when she got a craving for something, in the time it took to prepare it, the craving would be gone.
Montreal’s Chef Fred Morin won the first competition by preparing a simple but very rich potato soup as a base and offering numerous add-ins. He thought, and the chemo patients agreed, that having this flavorful base and accoutrements in the refrigerator to speed up the preparation was a winning idea.
This Super Umami Risotto follows Morin’s logic. Preparing the risotto through the third addition of liquid and then refrigerating it would also allow for quick preparation with endless flavor possibilities.
What makes something taste umami—that so-called “fifth taste” that’s super meaty and savory? The answer largely lies in an amino acid called glutamate, which binds to specific receptors on our tongues. That’s why this recipe calls for dried shiitake mushrooms. They’re significantly higher in glutamate than fresh! And while personalization options are limitless with this risotto (most vegetables can be diced and included in the sauté), additions that significantly increase the umami are asparagus and spinach.
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
0.5 oz (3/4 cup) dried shiitake mushrooms
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup shallots, minced
1/2 cup leeks, white part only, diced (about 1/2 small leek)
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup vegan dry white wine
1 Tbsp minced fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp sea salt, plus extra to taste, if desired
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper, plus extra to taste, if desired
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
Vegan Parmesan, for garnish (optional)
In medium saucepan, bring broth or water to a boil. Remove from heat. Add dried mushrooms and stir. Set aside and steep for 30 minutes.
Over large bowl, strain rehydrated mushrooms through fine-mesh sieve, reserving liquid. Dice mushrooms and set aside. Add enough water to reserved liquid to equal 4 cups total. Set aside.
Heat large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or sauté pan over medium heat. Add oil to pan. Add shallots and leeks and sauté until transparent, about 2 minutes.
Stir in rice and cook over medium-low heat until opaque, about 2 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring frequently, until wine has evaporated, about 3 minutes.
Add 1 cup reserved liquid along with thyme, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and mix well. Allow rice to simmer slowly until it is almost dry and begins to stick, about 3 minutes.
Add second cup of liquid and cook until rice is almost dry, another 3 minutes or so. Add third cup of liquid and cook until rice is almost dry, about 3 minutes.
Add fourth cup of liquid and cook for 2 minutes, or until rice is al dente. Stir in chopped mushrooms and heat through. Add more seasonings and a generous splash of lemon juice to taste.
Serve in bowls with generous gratings of vegan Parmesan, if desired.
TIP: For quick use later, after the third addition of liquid, spread the risotto onto a baking sheet to quickly cool, then transfer to a container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Reheat 1/4 of the risotto with 1/4 cup broth or water and finish the cooking process.