Tomato salad with spicy ponzu

Tomato salad with spicy ponzu

By
From
JapanEasy
Photographer
Laura Edwards

Show of hands: who knows what umami is?

(Many hands up.)

Okay, now show of hands: who really knows what umami is?

(Nervous smiles, shifty eyes, many hands slowly lowered.)

Let me explain! Umami is a basic taste. You’ve all heard of salty, bitter, sweet and sour – the four basic tastes we all learnt about as kids – but now we know there is at least one more, and that’s umami. Umami is savouriness, and its status as a basic taste was confirmed by the Japanese chemical scientist Kikunae Ikeda in 1908 – it’s got a Japanese name solely because it was discovered by a Japanese man, not because it is specifically Japanese in any way. So why are we just learning about it now, a full century later? Well, partly because compared to the other basic tastes, umami is quite subtle and difficult to pinpoint. The others are quite obvious and upfront – umami is more of a backdrop, a bass line rather than a melody. But it is absolutely essential to delicious food, which is why cultures the world over celebrate ingredients that are umami-amplifiers. These include dashi and soy sauce in Japan, cheese and bacon in Britain, and tomatoes and red wine in Italy (to name a few).

Umami is NOT a Japanese thing, nor is it some kind of mystical über-taste caused by a perfect balance of all other tastes, as I so often hear. Umami is universal, and it’s easy to incorporate into your food – especially because umami compounds work synergistically and build on each other, which can make food taste extremely deep and moreish.

One very easy way to experience this is in the simple combination of tomatoes and soy sauce. Both are naturally very umami, but together they’re like an umami love-in, bringing out each other’s rich sweetness. This recipe builds on that with a little citrus to accent the tomatoes’ tang and a little kick of chilli as well. Very simple, but oh so delicious.

Embarrassingly not difficult

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
200ml Ponzu
1 teaspoon tabasco or sriracha or similarly hot chilli sauce, (or more or less, to taste)
10g caster (superfine) or granulated (raw) sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
500-600g tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters, try to get a variety of sizes and colours if you can
bunch chives, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
10-12 fresh basil leaves, torn, (optional)

Method

  1. Stir together the ponzu, hot sauce, sugar and sesame oil until the sugar dissolves. Toss the tomatoes in this mixture – you can eat them fresh right then, but they’re even better after soaking in the dressing for a while (an hour will do, but overnight is even better). To serve, simply dish out the tomatoes and top with the chives, sesame seeds and basil, if using.
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