The Sweet and Meaty Taste Science of Grilled Vegetables

The Sweet and Meaty Taste Science of Grilled Vegetables

The Sweet and Meaty Taste Science of Grilled Vegetables

“Let’s grill tonight” translates to “let’s eat meat tonight”

in many backyard BBQs. It’s not surprising since grilled meat products create hundreds of complex aroma and flavor compounds. Grilled vegetables create less of these craveable compounds but develop delicious flavor profiles that can make them popular with kids and adult “veg-avoiders.” Whether using wood, coal or gas heat sources for grilling meat products or vegetables, the flavor differences are determined by browning reactions that depend on carbohydrates and protein.

Vegetables and meats exposed to high heat in a dry environment develop unique flavors from non-enzymatic browning reactions known as the Maillard reaction and caramelization.

Caramelization relies on sugar for creating tasty molecules whereas, the Maillard reaction requires protein and a hint of sugar for flavor development.

grilled sweet potato

Flavorful Proteins

Vegetables meet two of these Maillard reaction requirements; however, the low protein content compared to meat products limits the flavor development. Meat, poultry and fish, when exposed to a high and dry heat, yield hundreds of complex Maillard aroma and flavor compounds ranging from savory and meaty to floral and earthy. Because meat products also include the simple sugar ribose, some caramelization flavors also may be detectable.

Flavorful Sugars

Caramelization is a browning process from heating sucrose or sugars such as fructose or glucose, also known as reducing sugars. Caramelization requires higher temperatures than Maillard reactions. Annette Hottenstein, Sensory Scientist and Registered Dietitian, explains that grilling typically exposes vegetables to higher heat than other cooking methods and at these high temperatures, new complex volatile flavor components become available as natural sugars caramelize.

Caramelization flavor compounds are less complex than those from Maillard reactions, but don’t disappoint with a flavor range that includes butterscotch, sherry, rum or toasty notes.

Vegetables with high levels of reducing sugars and protein such as corn, sweet potato, onions and eggplants create tasty flavors from both types of browning reactions.

Veg grilled Eggplant Michele Redmond

“Meaty” Grilled Vegetables

Like meats, some vegetables can develop a “meaty” taste element thanks to sulfur. Vegetables with an amino acid linked to sulfur such as cysteine create more savory elements or a meatiness. Cysteine is plentiful in cruciferous vegetables and alliums like onions.

Cysteine found in onions and combined with naturally high sugar content transform onions on the grill but also explain why caramelized onions are popular additions in many meals.

Grilled vegetables also offer pleasant contrasting textures. Hottenstein shared that she particularly enjoys the crispy tips of grilled asparagus and how the heat of the grill intensifies the green flavor components while adding a smoky dimension.

Veg grilled Asparagus

Vegetable Grilling Tips

Here’s some veggie grilling flavor techniques to make “let’s grill tonight” translates to “let’s cook delicious foods” where vegetables are hogging the grill grate.

  • Fresher is better: Some vegetables, like sweet corn, rapidly convert natural sugars to starch after harvest. Less natural sugars result in less flavor and sometimes a mealy texture
  • Par-cook: For dense or slow-cooking vegetables such as carrots or potatoes, partially pre-cook then grill or grill the surfaces for color and flavor, then finish cooking on the warming rack.
  • Coat or naked: Dry the surface of vegetables before coating lightly with oil or a marinade. Or instead grill them naked like whole eggplants or peppers for smoky, charred skin aroma compounds.
  • Veggie densityVegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes that are less dense due to high water content grill quickly in general and even faster if sliced or quartered. It’s best to not mix them with dense vegetables, such as root vegetables, to ensure even grilling results.
grilled potato fingerlings | Tasteworkshop.com

About Me

The pleasure of food, good health and well-being through simple habits for eating well and flexitarian low-key cooking.
Michele Redmond

Michele Redmond

French-trained Chef, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Food Enjoyment Activist

It's about Making Food First

Get Taste Workshop periodic updates on easy ways to choose and cook foods that satisfy your appetite, nurture your body and make eating well a pleasure.

Quinoa Boulettes vs Ikea Swedish Meatballs

Quinoa Boulettes vs Ikea Swedish Meatballs

Quinoa Boulettes vs Ikea Swedish Meatballs

Mom would make Swedish meatballs for parties yet we weren’t Swedish, didn’t know anyone who was and Ikea was a two-day plane trip. Several decades later, braving my first trip to the hip-mega-everything store in search of kitchen doodads, I got overwhelmed and lost, but ended up following an aroma to the food court. I knew the source. I had rediscovered Swedish meatballs and memories of meatball platters, gravy and happy eaters.

Quinoa Boulettes Green Sauc

 

With this recipe, I’ve kept the appetizer angle of my childhood Swedish meatballs yet nixed the meat. However, calling them quinoa “meatballs” without using meat smells of “bait and switch” tactics. Instead, I embraced a European makeover by turning them into boulettes, a French culinary term, for small ball-shaped foods.

As a plant-based omnivore, I recognize meatballs have their own special textures and flavors. The chewy Swedish ones of my childhood oozed buttery-fat flavors but, I’ve served these multiple times to meat-centric eaters who enjoyed the crispy exterior and moist, flavorful interior. I just didn’t promise “hey they taste just like meat”.

Serve these quinoa boulettes as a complete meal with noodles and marinara or as a crunchy, healthy nibble to dip into an herby Greek yogurt, spicy marinara or garlicky vegan walnut pesto.

Quinoa Boulettes

Yield: Makes 35

Quinoa Ingredients  (makes about 2 ¾ cups cooked. Can be done up to two days in advance)

1 cup dry red quinoa (white or black works but red looks “meatier”)
2 cups liquid (water or low-salt vegetable stock)
½ teaspoon salt

Boulette Ingredients 

¾ cup bread crumbs (not panko)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sumac or other spice (see notes)
½ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika or other spice (see notes)
¼ teaspoon of cayenne
3 garlic cloves, minced very fine (about 1½ teaspoon)
3 large eggs
¼ small yellow onion, minced very fine (about ⅓ cup)
1 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil (for high smoke point)

Prepping Quinoa 

  1. To a pot over medium-high heat, add quinoa, water and salt.
  2. When boiling, stir quinoa, reduce heat to low and cover with a lid.
  3. Cook 18-20 minutes or until no water remains in the pan.
  4. Remove quinoa from heat, leave covered 5 minutes, then uncover, use a fork to fluff it.

Making Quinoa Boulettes:

  1. Turn oven to 475˚F. Place one rack at middle position and one at the top position. Lightly oil a baking sheet. To a mixing bowl, add bread crumbs, salt and spices and mix. Add cooled quinoa, garlic, eggs and onion and mix with a spoon.
  2. If you have time to let the quinoa cool, place in refrigerator for 30 minutes to let breadcrumbs soften and make shaping easier.
  3. With a 1 tablespoon measure, scoop slightly heaping amounts of quinoa, pressing into the measuring spoon with your palm to compact it, then push it into your palm to form a 1 ¼”-1 ½” size ball (smaller than a golf ball). Place on baking sheet.
  4. On the middle rack, cook 8-12 minutes or until exterior firms up and base browns. Move to top rack, cook 6-8 minutes or until crispy and dark brown. Broil for 2-3 minutes if not dark enough.
  5. Remove from oven and baking sheet to serve warm or store in refrigerator for later use.

Quinoa Boulettes Green Sauce F

Spice and Serving options:

  • Savory spice options: sumac, Hungarian or California paprika (sweet pepper flavor, not smoked), zatar spice or different powdered chilies instead of cayenne are possibilities.
  • These are popular with spiced Greek yogurt dips or the walnut herb sauce I make that is like a pesto without cheese.

 

About Me

The pleasure of food, good health and well-being through simple habits for eating well and flexitarian low-key cooking.

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Michele Redmond

Michele Redmond

French-trained Chef, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Food Enjoyment Activist

It's about Making Food First

Get Taste Workshop periodic updates on easy ways to choose and cook foods that satisfy your appetite, nurture your body and make eating well a pleasure.

From Bubbly, Burpy Beast to Sourdough Bread

From Bubbly, Burpy Beast to Sourdough Bread

From Bubbly, Burpy Beast to Sourdough Bread

In our household, National Sourdough Bread Day is a reminder to be generous.

 

My mom’s habit of giving a loaf of sourdough bread to new neighbors or someone needing comfort became our family tradition.

Bread makes a practical edible gift, but offering someone a scoop of sourdough starter promises them a future of fresh-baked treats. Starting with yeast captured in a desert garden, our 10-year-old starter, has made over 1,000 loaves of bread for meals, parties and gifts.

Keeping sourdough starter alive and healthy takes minimal effort and gives our family a nutrient-rich, flavorful ingredient for making sandwich bread, baguettes, buns, pizzas and more.

 

Sourdough bread loaf slice

 

Start with StarterSourdough bread starter

 

Even a minimalist kitchen has starter ingredients—water and a grain-based flour. The base ingredient in many doughs, it’s a goopy mass created from mixing nearly equal amounts in weight of flour (which naturally includes yeast) and water. Leaving this sludge uncovered will also expose it to wild yeast present in the air.

The type of yeast for bread products affects flavor, texture, shelf life, nutrient content and even digestibility. Commercially packaged dry or instant yeast rely on the Saccharomyces Cerevisiae yeast strain. Unlike starters that involve natural or wild yeast, it’s a monoculture yeast bred to speed up carbon dioxide (CO2) production for fast or mass-produced dough.

 

Flour + Water = Starter Base

Yeast starter sourdough bread explode

Rogue Sourdough Starter = Overactive fermentation

Fermenting and Feeding Little Beasties

To create a mature, bubbly starter, some starter is removed before it’s fed flour and water. Starches breakdown and yeast creates alcohol and CO2 while bacteria, like lactobacillus, develop flavorful acids and lower the pH. It’s preferred fermentation temperature is around 70°F but it can go rogue and explode (see picture) if too warm.

Within a week of this microorganism throw-down, a bubbly burping mass emerges ready to become bread.

Starter base + Fermentation & Feeding

= Active Starter

To make bread, flour is added to active starter along with other basic bread ingredients, salt (affects texture and flavor) and water, then it’s left to proof. The starter is then refed and stored, often in the refrigerator, to control the fermentation until the next use.
Some bakers confess to traveling with their starter or hiring a sourdough sitter to feed it, but once starter is active and healthy, it can last ten plus days in the fridge while you’re on a no-yeast pet vacation.

Scoop of Starter + Flour + Salt + Water = Dough ready to rise (Proofing)

Sourdough bread starterSourdough Bread Benefits

Home-made starter doesn’t guarantee tangy bread products, these develop from fermentation and result from lactic and acetic acid from specific yeast such Candida milleri and bacteria strains including Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis.

The production of fermentation acids and other compounds result in longer shelf life without additives or preservatives–see example below.

 

Stone soup sourdough bread ingredients

 

Unlike quick-rise or industrially-produced loaves which force breads to rise fast, longer rises create complex flavors and better structure (crust texture and chew density) which enhances flavor perception.

Longer rise times also give yeast and bacteria more opportunities to digest gluten and are linked lower and slowed glycemic response for long-fermented sourdough breads. A gift of sourdough bread isn’t just food, but an intention to share the nourishing and pleasurable experience of eating it.

About Me

The pleasure of food, good health and well-being through simple habits for eating well and flexitarian low-key cooking.
Michele Redmond

Michele Redmond

French-trained Chef, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Food Enjoyment Activist

It's about Making Food First

Get Taste Workshop periodic updates on easy ways to choose and cook foods that satisfy your appetite, nurture your body and make eating well a pleasure.

Culinary Nutrition & Fats: Le Cordon Bleu, Paris

Culinary Nutrition & Fats: Le Cordon Bleu, Paris

Culinary Nutrition & Fats: Le Cordon Bleu, Paris

Culinary Nutrition in Paris: Fats that Give Back

We launched this culinary nutrition fats class by discussing dietary fat myths and questions such as:

  • Can cooking oils become less healthy upon heating?Culinary nutrition fats LCB coconut oil
  • Does coconut oil stimulate weight loss?
  • Is coconut oil an all-purpose oil?
  • Is olive oil really the better oil for health?
  • What’s the latest on saturated fats and butter in healthy diets?
  • What happens when you eat higher carb foods with fattier foods?

Culinary Nutrition: “Fat” Techniques

We explored further questions during the class culinary techniques and tips such as:

  • Why do smoke points matter for food quality and taste?
  • How smoke points relate to culinary techniques & health?
  • What are the best tricks for non-stick sauté & tasty results?

    Culinary nutrition questions and answers

    Culinary technique questions in my favorite demo room

  • Which techniques pair with different oils?
  • What happens when you mix a low and high smoke point fat?
  • Clarified butter uses and can you overheat it? (we did a live test of this thanks to a curious student!)
  • How does Culinary Nutrition relate to cooking great tasting food and health?

Slurping Fats for Flavor

Palates were challenged with an olive oil tasting. Participants tasted two mystery French (Oils A & B) and one mystery Italian olive oil (Oil C).Culinary nutrition fats olive oil tasting

How do you taste oils? Briefly follow the steps below but for more detailed info, email me for a handout.

  • Sniff
  • Slurp (rudely works best)
  • Feel
  • Swallow
  • Breathe out

Participants discussed what aromas and flavors they perceived, rated the oils and guessed their sources and types.

Olive oil

Many students guessed the Italian versus the French versions.
The Italian version was from Umbria and had complex notes of grass, artichoke, spice and a creamy finish with hints of pepper.

This pricey oil (29 euros) limits it to finishing techniques and vinaigrettes. This can be found at http://www.oliviersandco.com/il-tempio-dell-oro-olive-oil.html

Another olive oil was Puget which has made oils in France since 1857. It had high acidity and a pungent and peppery finish–a good all-purpose affordable oil. This can be found at any grocery in France.Olive oil puget

Food Tastings and Recipes

Tastings are designed to illustrate key differences in flavor components of cooking oils and fats and how techniques affect flavor. Key culinary techniques such as key tips for “non-stick” saute and knowing the four signs that a cooking oil is ready relate to flavor in several ways.

Recipes are developed to be straight forward with quick prep but maximize flavors, textures and balance or highlight the five tastants. Recipes developed by the Taste Workshop for this class and tastings included:Lemon olive oil sorbet edcpfav

 

      • Salmon rillettes with hint of spice & citrus
      • Besan shrimp fritters w/ catsup chutney
      • Crispy chicken with sherry-vinegar mustard pan sauce
      • Meen Molee (Fish with coconut, lime and spices)
      • Citrusy almond and cornmeal olive oil cake with tangerine and Grand Marnier glaze
      • Lemon olive oil sorbet

 

Thanks to LCB Paris and WICE for amazing support and for the interesting and engaged participants for this class. For more info visit:Le Cordon Bleu, Paris and WICE Culinary events

About Me

The pleasure of food, good health and well-being through simple habits for eating well and flexitarian low-key cooking.
Michele Redmond

Michele Redmond

French-trained Chef, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Food Enjoyment Activist

It's about Making Food First

Get Taste Workshop periodic updates on easy ways to choose and cook foods that satisfy your appetite, nurture your body and make eating well a pleasure.

Le Cordon Bleu Spice Taste Workshop

Le Cordon Bleu Spice Taste Workshop

Le Cordon Bleu Spice Taste Workshop

Le Cordon Bleu WICE Paris FB MR_MO jpeg

I’m in Paris teaching some cooking classes and taste workshops.

One workshop was at Le Cordon Bleu and was a special Spice Taste Workshop for members of WICE but also includes students from the school and the general public.

A big thanks to WICE cooking Director Mary O’leary and Sandra Messier, Marketing and communications Manager at Le Cordon Bleu for organizing a sold-out event.

I also appreciated the excellent participants from WICE who came with great questions, a willingness to taste all sorts of spices and foods and have fun with food.

http://www.wice-paris.org/event-1763638

About Me

The pleasure of food, good health and well-being through simple habits for eating well and flexitarian low-key cooking.
Michele Redmond

Michele Redmond

French-trained Chef, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Food Enjoyment Activist

It's about Making Food First

Get Taste Workshop periodic updates on easy ways to choose and cook foods that satisfy your appetite, nurture your body and make eating well a pleasure.

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