Exploring the Dimensions of Flavour, Part II

Last week’s post went into a different direction than I intended to. The need for order actually resulted from a vision: I could try modelling flavour – and I don’t mean the process of tasting – but solely the characteristics of flavour itself (that we can embed into the model from last week). Abstraction for simplification. Maybe flavours are like colours, and every flavour is a combination of a set of basic flavours. I realize how little I know.
I did some research and wow, it really is that simple. In “The Flavor Bible” Karen Page explains that all flavours are a combination of five basic flavours: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Umami, did you know this one? It means delicious in Japanese, and is largely considered a basic flavour since not that long. Foods that have typical umami flavour are tomatoes, meat, mushrooms, algae, fermented foods and broths. You get the idea. It’s described as savoury. Yet, we don’t really know if there are more flavours.

However, over 80% of what we taste comes from the aromas, not the basic flavours, states Karen Page.
Well, that means one should be an expert of aroma if one wants to be an expert of flavour. Let’s quickly dive into the world of aromas then. Question to Google shows that there are over 10 000 aromas. Wow. That sounds exciting. I’m not giving up on my vision, but it will take time to find a model that will satisfy its goals.

For now, let’s have a look on some of the other components that influence the taste and experience of eating: texture, look and temperature.

Let’s have a look on this goodness paying special attention to umami, texture, look and temparture.

Zucchini Pasta with Tomato-Sauce

From "Thrive Foods" by Brendan Brazier

Ingredients

  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 1 kg tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 100 g dried tomatoes, soaked in little water
  • 50 g green olives
  • 50 g black olives
  • 1 bunch of basil
  • 2 tbsp tamari (or normal soy sauce)

Method

Cut the zucchinis with a vegetable peeler into thin slices, then cut the slices lenghtwise two or three times. Add the salt and 2 tbsp of olive oil, and let it rest for 30 min. Marinating the zucchini stripes will make them softer, tastier and easier to digest.
Blend half of the tomatoes, the garlic and the dried tomatoes with its soak water. Dice the other half of the tomatoes, chop the olives and the basil, and add them with the rest of the olive oil and tamari to the sauce. Voilà.

I prepared some potatoes with thyme and rosemary as a side-dish.

Flavour Description

It wasn’t hard to make it really look like pasta! That will influence the experience of eating and hence the flavour perception positively. The temperature is on room temperature, which makes it a perfect fresh lunch. Tomatoes work perfectly well at room temperature.
The sauce does almost everything, the zucchini allows. The zucchini has lost all of its bitterness during the marination. Due to its thinnes and salty mild flavour, it only gives the sauce a playground to play. What we taste first, is the sour and umami taste of the dried tomatoes, then garlic supports building that harmonious mediterranean flavour wave consisting of basil, olive and olive oil; which then the tomato dices carry on. They have the perfect size to do that. As this happens, the tamari is adding wonderful satisfying umami and salty flavour, creating a burst of flavour in general, since umami and salty flavours intensify the others. This sauce is an example of a culinary fusion between continents – and what a simple and lucious one : )

In the last week, I tried out some of the recipes from Brendan Brazier’s “Thrive Foods”, which is an awesome cook book! It combines the three components I always pay attention to: simplicity, effect and of course flavour. Next week, I am going to use what I’ve learned from those recipes to create a recipe of my own. Until then, do let me know your thoughts on the zucchini pasta when you try it!

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Zucchini Pasta with Tomato-Sauce

 From "Thrive Foods" by Brendan Brazier 

I prepared this meal yesterday and was amazed by how quickly the zucchini stripes changed their taste and consistency. That’s the power of marination! A friend of mine couldn’t even guess which vegetable it was after tasting! The best cooks of the world more and more prepare vegetables like meat and give them the attention they deserve. Marination really opens up a whole new world.

Ingredients

  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 1 kg tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 100 g dried tomatoes, soaked in little water
  • 50 g green olives
  • 50 g black olives
  • 1 bunch of basil
  • 2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)

Method

Cut the zucchinis with a vegetable peeler into thin slices, then cut the slices lenghtwise two or three times. Add the salt and 2 tbsp of olive oil, and let it rest for 30 min. Marinating the zucchini stripes will make them softer, tastier and easier to digest. The salt will get some of the water out of the zucchini. Pour that water into a cup and use it for a soup or the like. (I drank it, and that was not a good idea.)
Blend half of the tomatoes, the garlic and the dried tomatoes with its soak water. Dice the other half of the tomatoes, chop the olives and the basil, and add them with the rest of the olive oil and tamari to the sauce. Voilà : )

I prepared some potatoes with thyme and rosemary as a side-dish.

Keep up the good food!

Minimalistic Carrot Greens Smoothie

This is an awesome green smoothie! Carrot greens with apricots is a magic combination. I can’t get enough of it.

Carrots with greens are not that easy to find. But if you do, from now on you’ll know how to boost your day with them. Dark greens are among the most nutritious foods on our planet. And this is an easy way of having lots of it!

Ingredients

  • greens of 1 bunch of carrots
  • 5 dried apricots
  • orange juice, from half an orange
  • 1/4 tsp of orange zest
  • 2/3 cup of water
  • bee pollen as topping (optional)

Method

Cut every stalk at the point where the first leaf starts. You don’t want to put the leafless part of the stalk into your smoothie as they will wrap around the base of the blades. Even when added finely cut into little pieces, they are hard to get smooth. I recommend to chop one or two of them finely and add them to a salad. Mix the greens first for 30 seconds if you are using a normal hand mixer. Blend all together.

I’d love to read what you think of this smoothie in the comments!

Exploring the Dimensions of Flavour, Part I

Let’s dive into the world of flavour this week. Now that I have more time to experiment, there have been lots of loose flavour combinations wondering around in my head. While more combinations are knocking on my forehead, I am having a look on what I know about taste. I realized, I need some order in my head.

We are going to prepare this salad and describe it using our newly developed personal access to flavour.

When starting to learn about something, first, I usually try to find personal access to it. There should be no influence from the outside. That’s what my mind needs to get my imagination going. So let’s just try finding original order.

Where to start? Of course we can feel about flavours in a way we can’t describe it, but that’s hard to talk about – because we can’t describe it. So let’s focus on the impressions that we can talk about. Then we need to be specific about the language we use. How can we describe flavours? The first words that come to my mind are sweet, bitter, sour and salty. I remember learning in primary school that there are specific areas on our tongue for each of those basic flavours. They all can vary in intensity and they can unfold at different times. So we can let those four flavours vary in those two dimensions, intensity and time.
The process of tasting something seems much clearer now. Lonely lost words like agressive, reserved, full, mild etc. can all be characterized in the described model. For example, when something has an agressive taste, it comes down to the property of unfolding intense taste in a short period of time. A full taste is the simultaneous acting of multiple flavours.
This might not be a 100% accurate, but I think we are doing a good job for the beginning.

Obviously, there are more words to describe flavour than sweet, bitter, sour and salty. Let’s gather up some. We can use characteristic flavours of other food: we can say that amaranth tastes somewhat nutty, or that yeast flakes taste cheesy. This way of describing opens up lots of descriptive words on which we can apply our two dimensions intensity and time.

Alright, let’s apply some clearity on one of my favourite salads.

Goji-Zucchini Salad with Balsamic Vinegar

  • basic salad made of tomatos, cucumbers, mild lettuce, paprika etc.
  • 1/2 of a small zucchini, cut in half 2 – 3mm slices
  • 1 tbsp walnuts, chopped
  • 1 – 2 tbsp of goji berries
  • 1 – 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp of flaxseed oil (optional)

Cut the zucchini lengthwise in half until you reach the middle of the zucchini. Then slice the zucchini, add it with all the other ingredients to the salad and mix it. Make sure to use high quality flaxseed oil as it oxidates very quickly under the effect of light and warmth. Prefer fresh linseed oil that has been kept in a cool and dark place.

By the way, I am improving quickly with my knife skills after watching Jamie’s Video. It took me five seconds to cut the zucchini with tap chopping. I learned that you shouldn’t cut with the part that is close to your hand holding the knife. This way you’ll be much more flexible moving the knife, which will produce real speed. 70% of your attention should be with the hand holding the vegetable. What matters is the regular pace of your middle finger moving backwards. That’s what will give you nicely cut slices. I never remove the blade off my bone of my middle finger while cutting to keep my fingers safe.

Seeing the Flavour from a Descriptive Perspective

Goji and balsamic vinegar is a phenomenal combination, but it’s deep, and should be enjoyed every now and then – not like lemon and olive oil, which you could have everyday. Depth can’t be described by the above model in a satisfying way, which is something we should work on. Goji and vinegar unfold their full taste gradually – the sweetness gives nice company to the sweet-sour taste of the vinegar – while the goji’s heavy taste presents itself rather late. In the middle part the various ingredients of the salad come to play, the mildness of the zucchini pleasently loosening up the salad by taking out the density of all these intensive flavours, and the walnuts pieces at times completing the heavy goji-vinegar-profile with bitternes during the end, creating a full and very satisfying taste.

At the end of the day it’s about us humans tasting food. It’s purely about how we feel about what enters our mouth. We should not make an independent science of it.
I find this much original order is sufficient for now. I am going to have a look on other people’s access to flavour in the next weeks to get new impressions, and eventually we are going to build a deeper personal access to flavour – together with inspirations and influences from the outside.

What do you think of this approach? I’d love to know what you think of this salad as it is one of my favourites!

Fine Dining For The People

It’s been rather emotional and theoretical in my last posts. A lot has happened in the meanwhile in my kitchen. I made chocolate, got a Vitamix, had a lot of green and different coloured smoothies, made nut purée, protein bars and little gourmet bites for friends who where too full to eat a whole meal.

Despite being a foodie I always stuck to a minimal set of equipment in the kitchen. I always thought “There is enough I can do without blenders and food processors.” However, I realized I’ll get a good blender eventually in the future. So why not get it now? This is the machine that from now on will enable me to do more awesome stuff in the kitchen:

It opened me up to a wide range of recipes. I used to skip all those recipes that use a food processor, an ice machine, a mill or a high speed blender. Now there is nothing I can’t do. For me it is more than worth the price, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody because it’s really up to you what you make of that machine. It was never important to me to have that perfect consistency in smoothies. I used to mix my green smoothies with a cheap hand mixer for a long time. So don’t feel like you can’t make “proper” green smoothies with low budget equipment. Plus, if you don’t have the time for home made purées, sauces and dips, a high end mixer might not be the best choice for you. There might be more worth in your money. However, I would definitely recommend you to get it if you plan on buying one anyway some time later. They just last so long. Mine, the Ascent a2300i, has a 10 year warranty.

Speaking of which : ) it helped me make the menu from the gourmet workshop for my family – a total success! Two days later I had a friend over during dinner time, but since she has had a pizza before, she just wouldn’t eat with me. And since I eating in company I suggested to prepare two fancy little portions, flavour poetry. My suggestion was well accepted. So I disappeared in the kitchen and let my friend wait in my living room for 10 minutes while occasionally making sure she doesn’t fall asleep (pizzas…). I had left over some of the sauce for the artichokes, which basically consists of barberries (one can also use cranberries), orange juice and dates. And I had some self-made protein bars and balls, which mainly consist of hempseed protein, walnuts, dates and dried plums.

Protein Balls, inspired by Brendan Brazier

  • 150 g dates
  • 50 – 100 g plums, cranberries or barberries as you like
  • 20 – 30 g of hempseed protein depending on your need
  • 50 g walnuts
  • 40 g buckwheat (raw or cooked)
  • hempseeds as many as you like

Barberry Sauce
For the barberries sauce just blend 30 g of the berries with 2 dates, the juice of half an orange and blend it with as much water you like to get the consistency you prefer (doable with a handmixer). Then add about 15 g of barberries into the sauce.

… so my friend is waiting in the living room. Alright guys, first course. I cut a protein ball in half and formed a small bowl with it. Then I filled it with the sauce, placed a few walnut pieces in it and garnished the plate with barberries. Voilà : )

Fine dining can be so easy, affordable and rewarding. If you have trouble with recipes given in grams just let me know.

Second Course. I wanted it to be a flavour burst of cacoa, which is why I used dark chocolate, 85 %. The chocolate piece I broke off looked like an isosceles triangles, which I really liked. I placed it in the middle of the plate pointing to the left like a play button. Then I put some self-made nut purée (consisting of almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, coconut oil, yacon sirup and cinnamon; you can also take peanut butter that you can find in every grocery store) on it, placed a nicely cut medjool date on top and filled it with a few buckwheat grains.
: )

Here is the proper play button perspective.

Watching the impression the food had on her was really nice to watch. It makes me happy when I can make other people happy with self-created food.

After serving this small menu I understood that I don’t want intense or well harmonizing flavours all the time. “It’s like with books”, my brother said, “you don’t want to read deep classical literature all the time. ” He is right, I didn’t understand that until this week. That was probably a reason for my flavour overdose crisis.

There is so much more I would like to do… creating a good and original protein bar recipe, soy milk, vegan joghurt…

Food Philsophy

“I’ll do some reading about the perfect diet and then I will know what’s best for me for my whole life.” How naive I was, it makes me laugh.
I am usually quite passionate about what I do, no matter what; and after realizing the clear effects that food had on me and my work, I started to see food as a fundamental element in doing things well. I began to consciously reflect on which diet or which specific food has the best effects on me while also doing some research on healthy nutrition. Googling “healthy nutrition” is pretty much how I started.

I had no idea that I was stepping into this crazy world of brain foodies, lunch box specialists, 5-minute-cooks, 2-min-chewers, stoneage radicalists, bodybuilder chefs and gourmet buddhas. Everyone has to eat, which is why the health food world is pretty much as diverse as the people who are preparing and eating it. I love it.

What we Know
Often, when we read about healthy nutrition, the word “healthy” is used in terms of minimizing the risk of diseases. “Plant proteins are healthy” because animal protein consumption has a correlation to heart disease. On other occasions milk is said to be healthy because it contains a lot of calcium. Some stones contain a lot of calcium. Are they healthy? You can add vitamin C into poison. Same question. What are vitamins anyway? For us it is enough to know that vitamins are substances that in certain amounts have shown to be essential for normal metabolism. Taking in too little or too much of a vitamin causes disorders. But there are also other substances standing in correlation to a sound and vigorous body and mind. Minerals for example or carbohydrates. What many people don’t realize is that research is not finished. All vitamins we know, which are almost a synonym for healthy substances for most people, are substances with certain properties that some scientists found important enough to be called vitamins. They all were discovered in the twentieth century. And then we started to build some part of our understanding of health on them. There could be undiscovered substances that fit into the criteria scientists have for vitamins. I don’t know how likely that is, but we know for sure that we don’t know every effect of all susbstances (we know). There are still a lot of substances scientists know little about. Phytochemicals for example.
What I mean to say is, we know less about healthy nutrition than we come to believe by reading seemingly bullet-proof health advice in the media.

Healthy Nutrition: The Confusecd Consumer
There are a lot of contradicting beliefs and often we read health advice that tells us “Don’t eat eggs” while another one will say “An egg a day keeps the doctor away”. Who should you believe? There is not much more the average person can do other than debating how trustworthy the sources are. But sometimes large health magazines, respected doctors or scientists give advice totally contradicting each other. What then? There are books entirely focusing on nutrition myths. Many people can’t believe that the health section of a newspaper could publish “information” on nutrition that is just plain wrong or not proved.

We have a plague of nutrition myths because they can spread unbelievably fast – there are many people that are to some extent interested in healthy nutrition, but few that can actually fact check. As I have already mentioned when trying to find out how much fruit is good for us, the food industry plays a big role in making a truth-loving foodie’s life harder. $10 billion are spent every year by the food industry in direct media advertisements while the campaign for fruits and vegetables spends $2 million a year says Marion Nestle in her interview with the New York Times. Marion Nestle is a professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University.
In her book “Food Politics” she describes how deeply the food industry manipulates our understanding of health. It’s great work!

I had a look on some of the books that claim to clean up with nutrition myths and was pretty disappointed. They basically ended up saying “Just don’t eat instant meals, and eat everything in reasonable amounts” (whatever that is supposed to mean). These are the statements that can be supported by large scale research, and I am fine with them, yet, due to its slow pace, I am on a different path. I am driven to find the food that has the best effects on us humans; and there are other sources that can lead us to them than large scale research: trying out and reflecting on the effects, while reasonably (whatever that’s supposed to mean 🙂 ) taking into account both bullet-proof science and alternative medicine.
For example: you might be wondering how much raw food is good for you. Studies have shown that consuming raw vegetables and fruits have positive effects on the mood, blood values and so on. You might also feel better eating a lot of raw food. But it is unknown whether a strict raw diet is better than a balanced one. And from then on you are pretty much on your own. You read what both sides have to say, try out in small steps, listen to your body and try to make a reasonable decision. I find that I am doing much better with this approach than I would when only sticking to today’s safe research.

Some Positive Side Effects of Plant-based Low-processed Food

  • I look back to times where for me the most lucious food was the least healthy one causing tiredness, lack of concentration, sleeping problems, bad mood, poor performance… That has changed! When we start putting foodstuffs in our body that we are built to live on, we naturally start liking what’s best for us. We can enjoy our nature. It allows us to enjoy our food and feel well at the same time.
  • It’s much quicker and easier to prepare low-processed food (except when comparing to instant food, which is the worst you can do after taking in poison).
  • It is ethically the best decision. No animals are killed or ill-treated. CO2-emission is drastically reduced. Soil utilisation is optimised. Check out Ella’s convincing overview on the impact of a vegan diet on our planet.

The Best Effect
There is probably not one way of eating well because there is not one way of feeling well. Sometimes I want to eat high protein meals for two weeks, then I like to feel light like a feather and eat a lot of fruits… How we want to feel can vary depending on our mood, the type and amount of physical or mental activity, and on lots of other factors. In Yuval Noah Harari’s book “Sapiens” I liked to read that there is no single way of natural human life style that we modern humans have lost access to. I suppose it’s the same with food.

What I want to achieve is to know when to eat what and how to prepare it effortlessly in a lucious way. Yes, there are a lot of great sources for that already, but I do not see anyone who takes it to the next level. I will show you what I mean with that. All my acquired knowledge should be based on common sense; and it should be well shared.

Life In Syntropy

Today, I would only like share a documentary on Ernst Götsch, a permaculture practitioner who has turned a desert into a jungle, because I find that these kinds of ideas and movements should be spread. A friend that I met in the community I stayed with in Switzerland introduced me to all this. He is Portuguese…

I got goose bumps during the end…

Hope you enjoyed it. I will publish a longer post next Saturday on my food philosophy. From now on, I will post every Saturday. Have a great week!