The Unique Sauce That Adds Perfect Umami Flavor To Grilled Vegetables

Sometimes the basic combination of olive oil, salt, and pepper is enough to enhance grilled vegetables, especially if they're summer fresh. There are also hundreds of ways to combine fresh herbs and seasonings to make delicious basting sauces for veggies, like tangy aioli, barbecue sauce, or green goddess dressing. But if you're looking for something outside of the box to pair with your summer vegetables, what about eel sauce? The silky brown sauce that we've come to love in our sushi rolls and on top of unagi has such depth of flavor that it adds a burst of umami to a variety of food, particularly grilled fish and vegetables.

Eel sauce contains no eel. As a matter of fact, most standard Japanese eel sauce recipes are vegan, usually comprising soy sauce, sugar, and mirin (Japanese rice wine). The result of cooking the eel sauce down is a smoky, sweet, tangy flavor that compliments food with both savory and sweet notes. This is why eel sauce is a great addition to grilled vegetables. Additionally, eel sauce is the umami-rich condiment that adds a burst of flavor to stir-fry recipes, and is great as a marinade or glaze for roasted meats and fish. The very reason we call it eel sauce is the fact that it's the main sauce blend accompanying grilled unagi or eel. The sauce can be tailored in thickness and flavor, and we know it goes great with avocado, cucumber, and seaweed — common sushi roll components.

The best charred veggies caramelize with eel sauce

So many different vegetables hold up great on the grill, and adding eel sauce will create that sought-after caramelization. Try starting with kabobs: The best plant-based foods that work on a skewer are whole mushrooms, corn cross-sections, cherry tomatoes (or grape), bell peppers, onions, and squash or yellow zucchini. Don't forget to wet the skewers before placing them on the grill. You can baste with the eel sauce as you cook the kabobs, or prepare a marinade with the veggies ahead of time. Or both! One of the best tips on how to grill vegetables is to get a good char on them with a nice, high heat. Since eel sauce has a high sugar content, you can also create a cooler zone on your grill to prevent burning or use a grill pan. 

Another perfect vehicle for the rich, savory flavor of eel sauce is mushrooms. Think mushrooms with wine sauce, or mushrooms bourguignon, but replace the Burgundy with eel sauce. Sauteed mushrooms will soak up the sauce and make a marriage of umami love. Try a portobello mushroom "steak" basted on the grill with eel sauce instead of barbecue sauce. One of the best vegetables to try with eel sauce is eggplant. Because eggplant resembles eel, the eel sauce soaks into the eggplant in the same delectable way the eel would.