Mr. Umansky, the Cleveland chef, looks to Asia, specifically Japan, for his vegetable charcuterie, including the jerky sticks made from burdock root. He smokes the root at 190 degrees over shagbark hickory in a commercial smoker for one hour — “just long enough to remove the rawness, but briefly enough to leave it al dente.”
Next, he cures it for a week with pastrami spices, which in addition to the usual pepper, coriander, garlic and onion, include umami-rich mushroom powder, cocoa and coffee. “Now the fun part,” Mr. Umansky said. By “fun,” he means dusting the burdock with koji spores and letting it ripen in a warm, moist curing chamber for 36 hours.
(Mr. Umansky is a self-described mold geek. He once delivered an entire TED Talk on koji, and in May published a book called “Koji Alchemy: Rediscovering the Magic of Mold-Based Fermentation,” about the mold spore used to transform rice into sake and soybeans into miso and soy sauce. The book, seemingly aimed at a niche audience, has sold more than 10,000 copies.)
But the burdock doesn’t become a meat stick until it is hung in a food dehydrator for three to five days, losing half of its original weight.
The end product looks like the sort of naturally fermented sausage you’d find at a European farmers’ market: Its shriveled skin has a delicate dusting of white mold; the casing is snappy, and the interior softly crunchy. The flavor is spicy, peppery, smoky and meaty — a bold reimagining of German landjäger.
“Vegetable charcuterie is complicated,” Mr. Umansky said. “To get the cure to penetrate the vegetable, first you have to soften it by smoking. But soften the cell structure too much, and the vegetable collapses. Smoke it too hot or too long, and you close the pores and dry it out. The texture definitely affects the flavor.”
This brings us to the one essential ingredient in virtually all plant-based charcuterie: wood smoke.