Cooking On A Budget: It's All About Taste

Thursday, April 4, 2013

It's All About Taste


What does your mouth taste? Sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent.

My love of food has brought me to a thirst of knowledge about food - what is it, what does it taste like and what qualities does it possess and how can it benefit my overall health. That is why in recent months I have tended to post more and more about the informational side of food in addition to recipes.

Taste - the thing that excites our pallets and makes us keep eating what is in front of us. You have the spices and you have families of flavors that wake up your taste buds.

Some vegetables that give a hint of sweetness to dishes are the bell peppers - red, yellow and orange in particular. Others with a hint of sweetness are beets, carrots, snap peas and sweet potatoes and parsnips. If you are looking to add a spicy element to your cooking then raw red onion, radishes, arugula, chile peppers and watercress are a few. Cooking red onion for a while will definitely mellow out that flavor and take some of the sharpness and spiciness away.
If your pallet likes bitterness, then eggplant, chicory, radicchio and escarole and dandelion leaves are for you. With eggplant the bitterness often can be tamed by properly preparing it. That means peeling the purple skin, slicing it, salting it and leaving it on a rack over a baking sheet to draw out that bitterness before cooking with it.
Vegetables that have a "grassy" sort of texture for food and provide wonderful flavor and of course nutrients are celery, asparagus, Swiss chard, spinach, green beans and cucumbers and mizuna. Mizuna is a dark green, feathery leafy vegetable that has not only a grassy texture but has a delicate mustard like flavor. It is often used in salads or at the last minute in soups.
While beets can be sweet, they also impart an earthy flavor to food. Along with beets, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, mushrooms and rutabaga and kohlrabi will give your dishes that earthy flavor. Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family but it looks like a root vegetable and when cooked imparts a flavor more like broccoli or brussel sprouts. It's used quite often in German cuisine.
Now vegetables that impart a buttery flavor would be artichokes, sweet peas, asparagus and avocados as well as mushrooms and edamame. Edamame is an immature soy bean which could be beneficial in many vegetarian and Asian cuisines. Fennel in its raw state imparts a "anise" flavor which is a licorice type flavor. However the flavor mellows as it cooks down in braised dishes. Endive and basil are also in this category of an anise type of flavor according to my research. We grow sweet basil so that is the only flavor I have experienced with regard to it.
For tart flavor in foods lemongrass, sorrel and tomatillos are three distinct choices. Neutral and mild flavors can be found in vegetables like cucumbers, iceberg lettuce and zucchini squash.

Spices are the flavor boosters to food. They are what takes a dish from ho-hum to fabulous. And some have been known to have certain "medicinal" qualities. In that category are dried red pepper (flakes), cumin, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric and cinnamon. All are common ingredients found in any grocery store.

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