soy braised daikon


...see all that umami deliciousness floating around in there...

I’m not the best person when it comes to explanations.  Ask most of my friends and family.  I tend to start to explain something, but then I start to trail off onto another tangent or I am vague enough to force my audience to be confused even more . Sometimes I’m both, which really infuriates my family and friends.  It’s usually the most obscure concepts that are the most confusing for me to explain.  Usually I understand it crystal clear, however putting it into words is usually difficult.  Umami is one of those concepts.

I love umami.  It’s a pretty amazing flavor. For folks who aren’t familiar with umami:  no, it is not a new concept and no, it is not Japanese for “delicious” as the Kikkoman commericial implies.  Umami has been classified as the fifth taste.  It is a taste that goes beyond the four tastes.  Now, I’m going to try my hardest to break it down for you in this post, but please bear with me if I lose you.  And if I do lose you, just go down to the recipe…it’s Kikkoman’s definition of “umami”, delicious.

So we have our four tastes that we all learned in grade school: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.  Right?  All of them exists in almost every dish we eat now either on its own or in some sort of combination.  Now, there is a fifth taste that we were never taught as children and it is “umami”.  Essentially what umami is trying to describe is “savory”.  We all have been taught that if something is not sweet than it is savory.  However, this is not true.  If something is not sweet, then it just isn’t sweet.  Savory/umami is a layer of taste that is slight salty, with a tinge of bitterness and a lasting flavor in the back of the tongue.  All right, I lost you right?

Imagine you are about dine on some amazing beef stew.  The meat has been marrying and melting and infusing with the broth, root vegetables, onions, and herbs for almost the whole day. Now you sit down and take a huge whiff of the amazing warm meal you are about to partake in.  The first spoonful is put in your mouth and you chew the morsels and mix the flavors around in your mouth.  The sweetness of the vegetables is marrying well with the flavors of the herbs.  You swallow that first bite, regretfully wanting more.  You look down to scoop the next bite and the bowl of stew is gone.  Someone has taken it and you realize that the flavor is your mouth still exists and will not go away.  Unfortunately you want more because you can still taste a flavor on your tongue.  It’s not a distinct herb or vegetable taste.  But it’s something amazing.  That lingering taste that is in the back of your tongue and almost in your throat.  That is “umami”.

My mom always cooked with umami before I think she knew what umami was.  She, like many Asian folks, used MSG to achieve that taste.  Not knowing what the affects where, it was sold as a flavor enhancer.  Essentially it created the umami flavor we where all looking for.  For our household, it always came naturally to the cooking process:  stir fry or braise, add salt, and then add MSG.  After my mom realized what the health dangers to MSG were, she stopped using MSG and the umami flavor disappeared.  Sometimes she would use dashi powder for vegetable stir fries, but that was it.  I miss those MSG induced comas and throat swelling days.  Only a small price for awesome flavor.

I’ve learned since then that cooking with some ingredients provides great umami flavor.  A small look into that list are things like shitake mushrooms, soy sauce, ripe tomatoes, fish, and beef.  The recipe that follows is the most umami filled thing that I have ever made.  Besides the ginger and the daikon, everything in this will create the umami flavor.  Enjoy it and savor the flavor and realize that you have always tasted the fifth taste.  It’s probably easier than me trying to explain it.


6 1 inch pieces dried kombu

3 cups water (3¼  cup if using regular sodium soy sauce)

1/3 cup mirin

1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce (1/4 cup if regular sodium)

¼ cup bonito flakes

1 tsp grated ginger

3 whole dried shitake (don’t need to soak)

1 large daikon peeled and cut into 1 ½ to 2 inch coins


combine the first seven ingredients in a large sauce pan and bring to simmer on medium heat for 30 minutes.

remove all ginger and bonito flakes from the broth and discard

add daikon to the broth and cover and simmer on low until daikon is fork tender, about 30 minutes

-serves 4-6-


4 Responses to “soy braised daikon”

  1. 1 Tony
    January 26, 2011 at 11:02 am

    The thumbnail of the image made me think you made flan. This was good.

    But, flan….mmmmm…. flan.

  2. 2 Lai
    January 27, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Just stumbled across this site whilst looking up for exactly this recipe. Wow, you have a seriously good writing style. Its like an action movie about radishes. Anyway, thanks for the recipe, will try it tonight. Just wanted to dish out a compliment, where deserved. – Lai.

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