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.

Lentil Mushroom Walnut Pate: Savory Bean-Meat Swaps

Lentil Mushroom Walnut Pate: Savory Bean-Meat Swaps

Lentil Mushroom Walnut Pate: Savory Bean-Meat Swaps

Lentil pink peppercorn pateSwapping out a meat-based ingredient for a plant-based one is a balancing act of texture, taste qualities (like umami) and flavors from aromatic compounds. Particularly with liver—can you think of any plant that tastes or smells like it? Please let me know if you do.

Liver is a cheap ingredient that many cultures embrace and adore but can be an acquired taste due to its strong odors, unique and sometimes metallic flavors and texture challenges. My first whiff of liver was thanks to my childhood friend Mary whose father regularly cooked the beef version as a breakfast “treat” on his favorite cast-iron pan.

I dreaded being asked to try it, but never was asked. I didn’t taste liver until I lived in Paris, where you were expected to appreciate pâté.

Pâté commonly uses chicken liver which has distinct poultry flavors, but this umami-rich lentil version is popular at parties among traditional pâté-lovers and non-meat eaters. Walnuts and mushrooms add texture and savory notes (particularly umami from plant-based glutamate). Cornichons and lemon add brightness, cayenne gives a hint of eat, Madeira offers a soupçon of sweet and pink peppercorns surprise with complex flavors like resin.

Lentil Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Makes nearly 2 ¾ cups

Pate Ingredients

¾ cup dried green lentils (if using cooked about 2 cups)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup walnut pieces (about 5 ounces), toasted
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari
1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme
few pinches cayenne pepper (less than ⅛ teaspoon)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
12-14 (about 10 ounces) medium-sized cremini mushrooms
¼ teaspoon salt
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon Madeira or marsala
8-10 cornichons, diced fine (about 3 tablespoons)
1 ½ teaspoons pink peppercorns, lightly crushed

Prep Steps

  1. Check lentils for debris, put in pot, add 3 cups water and the salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to maintain a rapid simmer for 20-24 minutes or until lentils are tender (more tender than if using in a salad). Drain well in a colander to remove excess water. This can be done a day in advance.
  2. Toast walnuts in a skillet. Add walnuts, lentils, lemon juice, tamari, thyme and cayenne to a blender.
  3. Clean and dry mushrooms and cut into 1/4”-1/2” thick slices. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add mushrooms and sprinkle with the salt. Cook without stirring until browned on one side (about 6-8 minutes), toss them and cook 4-6 more minutes. Add to blender.
  4. Reduce heat to medium, add remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet then the onions and garlic, cook 4-6 minutes. Add madeira and sweat the onions about 6 more minutes or until onions are soft and liquids have evaporated. Add to blender and process pâté until smooth.
  5. Scrape mixture into a mixing bowl. Mix in one teaspoon of peppercorns and 2 tablespoons of cornichons. Use remaining ½ teaspoon of peppercorns and tablespoon of cornichons as garnish. Refrigerate until use, keep for 7 days in the refrigerator or freeze for a couple months.

Pate Serving Options

1. Serve pâté with crostini, baguette slices, toasts, crackers or on slices of cucumber.
2.It also works as a sandwich spread or a filling to stuff cherry tomatoes.

Other Veggie-Meat Swaps

Try this other savory use of walnuts to mimic meaty-umami flavors in my walnut, mushroom ragout.

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.

Quick Pickled Leeks with Lime

Quick Pickled Leeks with Lime

Quick Pickled Leeks with Lime

Leeks are versatile, but most often, are cooked until soft or used as an aromatic veggie in stocks. This recipe for pickled leeks lets them maintain a fresh texture and flavor. In less than 10 minutes, hands-on, you have a versatile, delicious garnish and ingredient for multiple dishes.

Many recipes for pickled leeks combine two acids, a vinegar and a citrus, typically lemon. In this recipe, lime is a perky final touch that pairs well with starch-buttery leeks. A hint of heat from garlic and mustard seed doesn’t suck either.

 Pickled leeks with lime

Ingredients

2 leeks, each about 1½ in diameter
1 cup water
3/4 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
½ teaspoon yellow mustard seed
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (one large-sized lime)

Steps:

  1. If the leeks are not trimmed, remove outer, tougher stalks, slice the root ends off and cut each stalk lengthwise in half. Under running water, fan the leek layers under running water or swish the halves in a bowl of water. Take each half and slice into moon-shapes about 1/4-inch thick (about 4 cups leeks when done.) Add to a pickling jar, glass or ceramic container.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the water, vinegar, salt, sugar, garlic and mustard seed. Bring to a boil and add thyme. Remove saucepan from heat and leave for 4-5 minutes or until you can discern a hint of thyme when tasting. Add the lime juice.
  3. Remove the thyme from the pickling juice then pour juice over leeks. Press leeks so the liquid just covers them. Add a couple tablespoons of water if needed and stir into leeks.
  4. Cool pickled leeks in the refrigerator uncovered, but cover when cooled to store. Since this is a fast pickle and not one done with long-term preserving methods, you can only keep in the refrigerator up to two weeks, but they won’t last that long!

For more information on using leeks, their most excellent nutrient profile, why they work so well in stocks and how they star on their own in a dish, check out my article in Food and Nutrition Magazine on leeks.

Pickled Leek Serving Options:

Legumes and Veggies: use as a garnish on grilled vegetables and add to bean salads
Grains: use an ingredient in grain or pasta salads to add textural interest and flavor contrasts
Poultry: use in omelets, scrambled eggs, chicken salad and to garnish roasted poultry
Cheese and sausage: serve as a condiment

 

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.

Meaty Walnut Mushroom Ragout: Flex Your Meatless Options

Meaty Walnut Mushroom Ragout: Flex Your Meatless Options

Meaty Walnut Mushroom Ragout: Flex Your Meatless Options

Walnut Mushroom Ragout (Ragoût, for zee French appetite)

This walnut mushroom ragout (pronounced like the Italian Ragù) is a veggie and meat-eater favorite that delivers a ground-meat texture and umami-meaty flavor from toasted walnuts. Walnuts are high in umami flavors from free glutamate, the amino acid primarily responsible for savory, brothy, meaty flavors. They’re also high in omega-3 fatty acids that most of us struggle to get into our diet in meaningful amounts and, as a nut, walnuts uniquely are an excellent source of the plant-based form alpha-linolenic acid.

walnut mushroom ragoutDon’t let the nutrient-rich profile and French name fool you into thinking this is a fancy health food; ragout is your basic comfort food. A French ragoût can have any range of vegetable or meat ingredients, but an Italian ragù, with the same sounding name and diverse applications, is traditionally meat-centric.

From the French verb ragoûter, meaning to “refresh or stimulate the appetite” (the noun goût means taste) .

Combined with common ragoût ingredients such as tomatoes and mushrooms, it’s a crave-worthy dish that complements polenta, pasta or rice and can mimic ground meat in some dishes. By making a few additions, like adding vegetables common to bolognese or spices common to sloppy joes, this dish can flex in multiple directions.

I first demonstrated this dish at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris as part of a plant-based class on using plant-based umami to make veggies more crave-worthy.  It also showcased at the national Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Chicago to highlight how to create vegan meals that omnivores, and everyone, will love.

Walnut Mushroom Ragout Ingredients

1 ½ cup (about 3.5 ounces) unsalted walnut pieces
1 pound cremini mushrooms (white button can substitute okay)
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 medium yellow onion, diced fine (about 2 cups)
2 medium-sized cloves garlic, minced or grated (about 2 teaspoons)
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium tamari
6-8 sprigs fresh thyme, minced (about 1 teaspoon)

Steps

1. Heat walnuts in a skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently for 3-5 minutes until toasted. Pour into a food processor and pulse or chop by hand until resembling ground meat.

walnut mushroom ragout prep

2. Rinse the mushrooms to remove any dirt. Keep stems, but slice of any ends that may have trapped dirt or debris. Slice mushrooms ½” thick. Put in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Stir and microwave another two minutes.

3. Heat a large skillet over a medium-high heat and use a slotted spoon remove the mushrooms into the skillet, keep the mushroom liquid. Sprinkle on the salt and cook mushrooms without stirring. Once start to dry out (about five minutes), add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and toss mushrooms. When mushrooms closest to the pan surface are brown (about 8-10 minutes) stir or toss, cook 2-4 minutes longer then pour into a bowl.

4.Add to the still warm skillet the remaining tablespoon of oil and tomato paste. Reduce the heat to medium, stir to cook the paste for 2-3 minutes.

5. Add the onion, garlic, smoked paprika, walnuts and mushrooms. Stir and cook 2-3 minutes. Add wine, tamari and mushroom liquid, cook until walnuts are tender and liquids are absorbed but the mixture is still moist (20-25 minutes). Stir in minced thyme. Season with salt if needed. If desired, add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil for additional rich, supple textures.

walnut mushroom ragout prep | Thetasteworkshop.com

Walnut Mushroom Ragout Serving Options

 

walnut mushroom ragout

Serve with polenta, rice, pasta and baked potatoes or add as a meat substitute for stews or turn into sloppy joes by adding classic sloppy joe spices and ingredients like bell peppers.

Walnut Storage Tips:  Because of the luscious nature of walnuts (lovely fat qualities), store in the refrigerator if using soon or the freezer if they won’t be used for a month or more.

More info here at https://walnuts.org/how-to/how-to-buy-care/

 

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.

Chickpea Corn Cakes: Crave-worthy Carbs

Chickpea Corn Cakes: Crave-worthy Carbs

Chickpea Corn Cakes: Crave-worthy Carbs

chickpea corn cakes top

If you enjoy crunchy, sweet summer corn and savory, nutty chickpea flavors and a fast, easy recipe, continue. However, I feel compelled to defend corn just in case with this comment:

Carby chickpea corn cakes cause carb-avoiders cringe-worthy concerns, or conversely, conscious cravings. Now breathe.

 

Corn often gets dissed as low-nutrient, high-starch food, but this oversimplifies corn’s dietary profile.

chickpea corn cakes

Instead corn’s a good source of fiber, micronutrients and minerals that connect to health benefits.

As for corn cravings, sweet corn is a comfort food that connects us to summer and chowing down on a cob is just plain fun. Corn’s also a good source of umami offering savory, meaty flavors.

 

The Chickpea Ingredient

The chickpea in this recipe is from chickpea flour (besan or gram flour), a nutrient-rich, gluten-free flour. In these egg-free corn cakes, the sticky bean flour is a primary binding agent.

Enjoy corn cakes as an appetizer with a dollop of lemon yogurt sauce, garlic and walnut herb sauce or a salsa or as a dinner with a side salad.

 

Chickpea Corn Cakes

Yield: Makes 18-20

Ingredients

4 ears of corn (about 2 pounds trimmed or about 3 cups of kernels)
1½ cup chickpea flour
⅓ cup sweet rice flour
1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons ground sumac (a citrus-like flavor, but is optional)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or ½ teaspoon for more hint of heat)
¾ to 1 cup water
1 large shallot, minced (about ⅓ cup)  (or ¼ of a small yellow onion)
4 tablespoons organic canola oil

Prep Steps  

  1. Shuck corn if needed, cut off kernels (hold stalk upright in the center of a tea towel and use a chef knife to strip off kernels). If using canned corn, drain and pat dry the kernels.
  2. In a bowl, stir together chickpea flour, rice flour, baking powder, salt, sumac and cayenne.
  3. Add water, shallot and corn. Mix with a spoon until blended. If not using immediately, refrigerate for 20 minutes or overnight to make forming patties easier.
  4. Form palm-sized patties about 1/2” thick with an even surface for nice browning. In a large skillet, heat the oil over a medium-heat burner until it shimmers. Add patties leaving space between them, cook until each side is a dark brown color. Place on paper towels and repeat.
  5. Serve hot or at room temperature—see serving ideas below.

Serving Ideas & Nutrition Bonus:

Serve with dips sauces or topped with tangy Greek yogurt, Garlicky cheese-free pesto or a chunky-tomato ragout.

Nutrition bonus: for 4 corn cakes: Fiber 9 grams (woohoo) and 10 grams protein for only 236 calories

Like Chickpea flour? Also try my Chickpea shrimp fritters

Like the pan? I don’t represent Lodge cast iron, but do recommend them: more info here

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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