Today’s dish is a vegan version of the classic Linguine with Clam Sauce, minus the clams, a recipe from Vegetarian Times that caught my eye.
This dish gets its hearty taste from shiitake mushrooms and nutritional yeast. These ingredients, along with another, arame, can be classified as umami — also referred to as the fifth taste.
Arame is a dried seaweed ingredient used in many Japanese dishes. I had a hard time finding some so I opted not to use it.
Along with salty, sweet, bitter and sour, umami is said to add savoriness to dishes. In essence, using umami ingredients gives a meaty flavor without using meat. Mushrooms are a common umami ingredient. Shiitakes have a mild steak-like flavor and add a nice mellow umami taste to this dish.
When using shiitakes, wipe the caps clean with a damp paper towel and remove the stems. Shiitake stems aren’t too thick; I use scissors to snip them. The stems tend to be tough and are best used in making stocks.
In addition to the nuts that are sprinkled on last, this dish gets a nutty and semi-cheesy flavor from another umami ingredient, nutritional yeast. It’s often described as having a salty, Parmesan cheese taste.
Nutritional yeast is yellowish in color and sold in flake or powder form. Flakes are the best for this dish. Nutritional yeast is similar to brewer’s yeast: Both come from the same strain of yeast and are used as nutritional supplements. But brewer’s yeast is a by-product of beer-making, according to the online Cook’s Thesaurus, and that’s what makes it bitter. So don’t substitute one for the other.
And don’t confuse nutritional yeast with yeast used in baking. Nutritional yeast is not active, so it is non-leavening. It’s pasteurized, which deactivates it.
Once the nutritional yeast is deactivated, it becomes a good source of nutrients, the thesaurus says.
Most health food stores carry nutritional yeast.