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Meaty richness to vegetarian cooking

Hi, I'm brand new here! I'm learning to cook at age 48. I just tried to duplicate a great fast and easy red sauce for pasta that my aunt made, using canned whole tomatoes, a ton of garlic, fresh basil, olive oil, hot chili flakes, and red wine. Mine tasted too tomatoey, I found out she sneaked turkey sausage drippings into hers (I'm vegetarian). I don't especially want a fake meat - just that body that cooking with it gives. Is there a way to do this? Thanks so much.

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  1. Absolutely!

    Try Miso paste. If you get the dark brown kinds (I think barley miso) it is a beefy flavour. I use t for French onion soup etc.instead of beef stock and it is delish. Also, marmite or vegemite is great for that too.


    1. Try using roasted plum tomatoes, smoke-roasted if you can find or make them. They have wonderful intense flavor, particularly the smoked ones.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cheryl_h

        Ditto. The last Cooks Illustrated (I think) had some good pointers to getting the most out of the fresh tomatoes. Using a large pan helps so the tomatoes have alot of surface area to cook down and concentrate, and really give them alot of time. I was able to get a very nice thick sweet sauce (not thin or too tart) that's not like you'd get with canned tomato sauce or paste.

      2. welcome! chowhound is great, enjoy.

        i have cubes of porcini mushroom bullion that i'll throw in to pasta sauces. use just a quarter to a half--a little goes a long way.

        just to get you going, there are loads of threads here on cooking tips for novices. so you might have fun searching old posts. and always feel free to post your questions here as you go along. have fun!

        5 Replies
        1. re: rose water

          Rose water, Where did you get your porcini mushroom boullion cubes?

          new cook, I have used mushroom broth to much success when I am cooking for vegetarians. It seems to satisfy both the vegetarians and meatatarians, actually. :-)

          1. re: debit

            um, here's the point where i sheepishly reply that i have no idea, because i got them that long ago! but they've done well in the fridge and still smell intensely mushroomy

            the brand is "STAR" and all of the text on the package is in italian. i'm almost positive that i bought it in an italian grocery store, but i'll start looking out for it and will report back when i see some.

            1. re: rose water

              That sounds wonderful! I didn't know such a thing existed.


              1. re: TexasToast

                Star porcini cubes are one of my secret ingredients for tons of stuff, including (shut your eyes, vegetarians) chicken and turkey gravy. A friend brought some back from Italy for me, and I'm about to restock from Salumeria Italiana in Boston. It's Googleable.

          2. re: rose water

            I add the soaking liquid from dried Porcini's as well. It adds a great depth of flavor.

          3. Sauteed mushrooms and sauteed mushroom broth will give a great meaty flavor. Also soy sauce will do the same. As will any umami/glutamate rich foods that are caramelized or long, slow oven roasted.

            1. I use either tamari, mushrooms or balsamic vinegar to add "meatiness".

              1. Thank you! Jenna - would you share your vegan recipe for french onion soup? My mouth is watering...

                4 Replies
                1. re: newcook


                  I wish I could but I really make it up as I go. I suppose it goes something like this:

                  Slice a ton of onions (I use whatever I have) really thin. Brown them in a large pot (the browner the better in my opinion). This takes a long time to get a really nice carmelization without burning them. You want the onion slices to be browned throughout not just aound the edges which is what will happen if you are anxious and turn the heat too high. Take it slow and low. Ad a clove of garlic or two, your preference.

                  I usually add a splash of sherry because I love sherry. I add it to the hot pot and let it reduce slightly.

                  Then I add either water or a good veggie stock (not the MSG and salt laden concoctions that many prepared versions are).

                  Then just add a good load of miso. Just do this bit by bit to your taste preference. Miso can be quite salty so add and taste in this step. Also, I wouldn't add salt to the dish (if at all) until you have the miso right.

                  Don't let the soup boil at this point. Bringing it to boiling will kill the miso and the health benefits.

                  Then i just top like usual with bread and cheese. I am not vegan so I use regular cheese but you could always use veggie cheese if you like.

                  I agree with the post below as well...soy really does add some beefy flavour. Also experiment with some worcheschire sauce.


                  1. re: j2brady

                    Worchestershire has anchovies. It definitely adds a fuller, meaty flavor, but that's because it's not vegetarian.


                    Also, because HP sauce uses worcestershire as an ingredient, it's also not veg-friendly.

                    1. re: themis

                      You can get vegetarian worcestershire. I did a quick internet search and found a few recipes, too.

                    2. re: j2brady

                      i do a really similar vegan french onion, where Jenna uses the sherry, i use balsamic-- same concept. it helps to use a mandoline if you have one to thinly slice the tons of onions. :)

                  2. Welcome!

                    I'd go with the miso and other soy (sauce) ideas. It would also be good for you to learn to make a good, rich vegetable stock. You can make a large batch and freeze in small containers--it's amazing what a good stock can do to enrich so many kinds of dishes.

                    All the best with your learning to cook! I hope you find this community helpful and friendly.

                    1. Yes, long, slow cooking of tomato sauce really helps...I've found Spanish smoked paprika (often called "pimenton", and usually sold in small tins) is a great resource in adding a rich, smoky, almost "bacony" flavor to veggie dishes like red beans or chili. A little goes a long way though, so add just a bit at a time at first.

                      1. My husband is a vegetarian and I'm a meat eater so I'm always looking for ways to fill out the flavour of sauces and soups. I second the use of mushroom boullion and also smoked paprika (the sweet, not the hot, though) for adding a sense of "meatiness" to vegetarian cooking -- it's a godsend for black bean soup and other southwesternish dishes.

                        Let me add HP sauce to the list, adds another depth of brown flavour to the mix.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: WineWidow

                          I was with a vegetarian at a restaurant the other day and the waiter told us that the grilled portobello mushroom cap thing was glazed, and I asked if it was a demi-glaze (which it was), so that item was scrapped.

                          My question is, could you make a demi-glaze type of thing whith this mushroom bullion? Then you'd take out the veal stock and everyone could eat it.


                        2. There's a 5th flavor a japanese scientist discovered in 1908 that has a 'meaty' and 'savory' or 'brothy' flavor. It's called umami and it's somewhat related to monosodium glutamate (MSG). There are natural sources of glutamate in foods such as tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, soy sauce, red meat, red whine.


                          Here is my "Fifth Element Spaghetti Sauce", and as for all my recipes amounts are to taste. :


                          ground beef / replace with cubed firm tofu for vegetarians
                          mirepoix (diced carrot, celery, onion)
                          soy sauce
                          crushed tomatoes (can is ok)
                          whole tomatoes (can is ok)
                          tomato paste
                          vegetable oil

                          Chop the garlic and mushroom. Cook the garlic and mirepoix in vegetable oil until mushy. Add the ground beef, salt, and pepper and cook thoroughly. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Add the crushed tomatoes and whole tomatoes and let the liquid reduce by half. Add soy sauce, turn heat to low and let simmer until the desired thickness is achieved. Add the mushroom at the very end of cooking.

                          Suggested serving: To achieve the full umami experience, serve with Parmesan Cheese and Red Wine.


                          1. Red wine/mushrooms. And just leave it to you Chowhounds to know about Umami! Not many people know about it. My husband is a scientist who does taste and smell research and that's why I am familiar with it. You guys rock!

                            1. A more elaborate answer...

                              I use mirepoix[1] as the base for all my sauces and broths. For a broth I would cook it until softened and then add my liquid. For a sauce I either chop it very fine so it cooks faster or I slow cook it until it's mush. It's extra work for you and me but it will taste better than any vegetable stock cubes and they may contain MSG. When I'm in the mood for chopping, I would do 10 pounds of each vegetable and then split them into ziplocs and freeze them.

                              The canned tomatoes are what I use for cooking because it's inexpensive and just as good as fresh tomatoes in season. When it's not tomato season, you get these good looking red spheres that taste nothing. In fact the Florida Tomato Committee would rather you eat bland tasting tomatoes that LOOK GOOD than tastier varieties that are not perfectly spherical[2]. Ever since I moved back to Montreal, it has been very hard to find good & affordable tomatoes at the supermarket.

                              When I prepare this sauce my friends are always stumped at the soy sauce. They can taste something different but cannot pinpoint it. It gives a whole new dimension to the traditional recipe. I sometime add high-grade fish sauce as well.

                              The vegetarians I have seen and known eat a lot more mushrooms that the average person. Maybe it provides them with the meat flavor that they no longer eat. Science or Fantasy?

                              The fermentation in the fish sauce, the red wine and the parmesan cheese is ummm similar in the miso paste. I will try it next!

                              [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirepoix...
                              [2] http://www.seedfest.co.uk/resources/u...

                              1. As a relatively recent vegetarian, I use le puy lentils and diced mushrooms in my pasta sauce to make it meatier. I find the texture quite appealling. I havent tried this yet, but have been thinking about adding a parmesan rind while cooking, as apparently it is an unami flavor.

                                1. Some great ideas here. When I had a vegan roommate I found tomato sauces were nicely enriched by being generous with the olive oil, and adding a more-than-garnish quantity of chopped toasted pine nuts. Quite rich this way without even needing cheese.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: julesrules

                                    I agree - this thread is very serendipitous for me, as I was just looking for ways to adapt my mother's minestrone recipe for a vegetarian houseguest. I think I'll go with porcini mushrooms and smoked paprika... maybe make that side-by-side with the meaty version and see which I prefer!

                                    1. re: Raedia

                                      Sundried tomatoes and the oil they are packed in also spruce up a tomato sauce.


                                  2. Dried kombu for more umami richness (and a secret ingredient in many non-asian veggie stocks).

                                    1. I agree with some of the replies - porcini stock cubes are great. I use Knorr brand cubes imported from Poland. They're available in the UK at www.mushroomcubes.co.uk . They sell the Winiary (Nestlé) brand too.

                                      1. The easiest tip to add meaty flavor is to use the smoked paprika of Spain, called
                                        pimenton. I always use the Dulce (instead of Picante) in my sauce.

                                        The second easiest (and I do this also) is to use dried porcini (not the bouillion cubes).
                                        Simply simmer the dried porcini in wine or stock or even water, remove them from
                                        the liquid, chop them finely and add them to the sauce (or risotto or whatever) and ALSO
                                        add the liquid to the sauce. If you can't afford the regular porcini, there's a great substitute --
                                        the boletus from South America.

                                        Talk about depth and flavor and lip-smacking bowl-licking goodness!

                                        1. Instead of salt, I use soy sauce. A trick a good friend taught. Careful not to overdo, of course.