Cooking 101: Getting The Flavor Into Your Food
Many vegans and plant based eaters tend to try and make foods based on meat recipes and cooking techniques. A plant based diet is all about the plants, we eat and treat the plants as a primary part of the meal and not just trying to fit it in to a meat based plant converted recipe. This means developing flavors and textures in your food.
Let us look at some primary food/recipe types. Traditionally we have salads, soups, pasta, curries and plated 4 to 6 vegetable meals. Many of these use vegetables, legumes, spices and even fruit.
When you look at flavors of food they are generally classified as sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, savouriness and umami. You will find people tend to have a favorite food type, some love the sourness of pickles and others crave their sweets, there are those that love their savoury food and then that special flavour, umami which stimulates the glutamate receptors of the tongue.
|Credit for image from stack exchange|
When it comes to food preparation you want to get the most flavour for your foods. Understanding how food reacts to the cooking process and how combining foods can enhance your food. Let us start with the easiest. In the culinary world, all chefs are taught about the Milliard effect. It is the process where heat higher than the boiling point of water creates a chemical reaction in food affecting the fats, proteins and other chemical components of the food and creating new chemical compounds. These compounds create new tastes and flavors. For instance, when you caramelize onions, you are chemically changing the sugars in the onion as well as other chemical components which changes the acidity and brings out the sweetness of the onions.
Enhancing Your Food
See the in-depth explanation of the Maillard Reaction in the infographic. When it comes to cooking, plan your ingredients. If you use squash, onion, garlic, carrots, sweet potato, tomato or other vegetables in your soups and salads and meals, take time to roast them in the oven. On top of developing the flavors in the ingredients, it also gives them a Smokey flavor. Then let them cook and process them how you wish.\
With soups follow your process to make the soup with the roasted vegetables and you will have that enhanced smoked and sweet flavor from the roasting. Blending the soup with fully integrate those flavors together. Remember when you make soups make extra as they freeze well and make for an easy meal.
Same with salads, roast your food, include some chickpeas and broad beans, and as well as enhancing the flavor, you will make them crunchy and add texture. Textures make food enjoyable by providing different consistencies when eating your food. Eating is a sensory experience and combining texture and flavors provides a more fulfilling dining experience.
The next part of enhancing food flavors is focusing on one food item as the primary food on the plate like making your vegetable stand out as the meat on the plate. For instance, when making vegan sushi you can transform carrots into salmon. Starting with a brining process leading into smoking and cutting it thin and it will develop the texture as well as a salmony flavor. Many foods are defined by their texture so understanding this helps not only develop the flavour but a texture that is expected when eating certain foods. Human beings experience food by sight, smell, taste and texture. So remember when developing your foods, spend time on presentation, make sure it smells robust and full, and of course the tastes are complemented by all components and lastly it has a texture that will contrast the meal. Many serve soups with crackers and crouton for instance as this gives a crunchiness to the soup. Soups can be smooth and creamy, as well as full and chunky. Think about the best way to present your foods and their textures. We shall do another article in the cooking series explaining and demonstrating texture techniques.
We will cover one other flavour enhancing process for you plant-based cooking. When you look at the restaurants, Chinese and Italian are the favorite cuisines for many. There is a reason for this and that is because of the Umami flavour these cuisines have. Chinese food you will notice has lots of mushrooms in many of their dishes. Where Italian use a lot of tomatoes. These two foods have the highest naturally occurring level of MSG in them. Unlike the reactive chemical MSG, natural MSG does not have the same immune response that the chemically produced compound has. The result is food high in these boost the flavor of foods increasing the glutamate response in the taste buds. These foods also help boost the immune system, have antioxidants and the lycopene in the tomatoes helps protect the skin.
In summary bring out the flavors in food through roasting and caramelization, take advantage of the natural MSG in mushrooms and tomatoes, and be sure to balance a variety of textures and present the food in a visually appealing way and then your whole dining experience will be elevated.