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(Continued from Part 2)

So, in an attempt to create the perfect vegetarian Country-style Sausage for Scotch Eggs, we came up with a product using bulgur wheat, black beans and powdered buttermilk that tasted almost exactly like the real thing:

I'm Vegetarian Sausage! SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS....

The problem: the binding agent, or lack thereof, caused the mixture to break down into crumbles.  Although this is dandy for other recipes– dolmes, sausage casserole, and stuffed peppers come to mind– we really need something for Scotch eggs that will hold together well enough to wrap around a hardboiled egg.

The problem is that most binding agents come with their own flavors. Since this mixture tastes and feels almost perfect, we don’t want to alter the flavor or texture palate to a huge degree. We thought of a couple of possibilities.

– Regular wheat flour seems the obvious choice, but we’re concerned about how it might affect the flavor and texture.

– We could try some egg, but since the recipe is based on hardboiled eggs, we’re worried it’ll be too eggy.

We ransacked the pantry, and found a couple of items we thought might fit the bill: soy flour and gluten. We divided the remaining batter from the original batch and measured soy flour into one and gluten into the other. Since we’re still in the development stage, our measurements were fairly inexact; mixing was performed by hand and enough of each substance was added to better bind the batter (say that five times fast!).

The results of both were fairly underwhelming.

The soy flour gave the sausage a “green” flavor, like we’d mixed in edamame. Blech. It also didn’t hold together well enough. Better than the original batch, but not well enough to wrap around an egg.

The gluten held together wonderfully, but imparted its own flavor to the mix that almost overwhelmed the sausage-ness. In fact, the mix which included the gluten tasted almost exactly like the fake sausage brand we buy at the store. So, we know how they do that, but we’re trying to avoid the flavors of store-bought veggie sausage. Gluten won’t work.

Frustrating! But now’s not the time to quit, not when we’re close enough to taste that Scotch egg and its tangy intersection with HP sauce and our bellies. So, what next?

Next, we hit the grocery store again to procure a couple of other possible binding agents. A quick bit of research gives some possible clues. I’d like to try arrowroot starch– supposedly high on binding ability but low on flavor. Another thought is unflavored whey protein powder. (At this point, it’s beginning to feel like the Ingredients Playoffs.)

Of course, this will have to wait until we can afford to run out and buy some new ingredients, so it’ll likely be next week before we post the next installment. If you’ve been following along so far, thanks a mil! And, if you’d like to help support this project, check out Meat/No Meat: A Cookbook for the Biculinary, and maybe consider becoming a backer!

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(Continued from Part 1)

In our quest for the perfect vegetarian sausage, we decided that a base of bulgur wheat mixed with black beans should pretty closely approximate the “mouth feel” of ground pork sausage. So, to start our first test recipe, I decided to cook 1/2 cup of bulgur wheat and mix in a cup of black beans, which will give us enough of a base to stretch out through a couple of test sessions.

Every step in the process will eventually contribute to the final flavor. With this in mind, and because I’m not a fan of cooking grains in plain old water, I decided the wheat needed to be simmered *in* something. What might add an earthy, slightly bitter complexity to the grains? Vegetable broth would be too sweet, and not quite on the mark in the flavor category. How about…. coffee?

Sounds strange, right? But coffee has a nuttiness that I think just might work in the final product.  So, one cup of brewed coffee and 1/2 cup of bulgur wheat into the pot, boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes, and step one is complete. Upon tasting the cooked grain, I did think the coffee flavor was a bit too strong, but a quick rinse under cold water in a mesh strainer mellowed the excess flavor.

To the mixing bowl! I added the black beans (canned) and, since we don’t have a food processor, smushed them into the wheat with a potato masher.  Next, it was time for the Secret Ingredient:

Powdered Buttermilk

"'Atsa good buttermilk!"

Although in the last post we thought we might try powdered milk as the binder, the store was out of it. They did, however, have this lovely canister of powdered *buttermilk*, featuring this handsome, red-cheeked chef of vaguely European mien. His charming smile all but called out to me in mock Italian: “Hey, you! Forget about powdered milk, try-a my powdered buttermilk, capice?” Why not give it a whirl? The sournesss of buttermilk might add something traditional vegetarian sausages miss, and anything with butter in the title can’t be that bad, right?

I added the buttermilk, measuring as I went, and it seemed to be working wonderfully. 1/4 cup did the trick. I then added a combination of other  ingredients to approximate that inimitable sausage archetype. Since this is a test recipe, I’m not going to provide their exact measurements here, but I will tell you that I used soy sauce, sage, thyme, nutmeg, pepper and salt. A quick taste let me know I was on the right track.

The Mix, Mixed

Flavor seemed right. Consistency seemed right. So, it was time to toss some of this stuff into the old frying pan and see who saluted.

By the way, I do mean OLD frying pan. Wondering why we’re trying to raise some seed money to get this project started? It’s to replace equipment like this:

Help me! HELLLLLPPP MEEEEE.....

Since our eventual goal is something that will be deep-fried, we need to know that a) it won’t cook too unevenly in oil; b) it’ll hold together if wrapped around an egg; and c) it will taste delicious. To that end, I decided to make a few patties out of half of the mixture and fry ’em, leaving enough left over to muck with if the first batch didn’t work. I put about 1/4 cup of Canola oil* in the pan and turned that sucker up to 7.5 (out of 8). When it had a nice sizzle, I spooned in three patties of varying thicknesses and let ’em have it!

I'm Vegetarian Sausage! SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS....

As the mixture started cooking, it really began to develop a distinctly delicious sausage-like smell, a perfume  you’d imagine wafting from the kitchen in a Southern grandma’s house at breakfast time.  True fact: when Emily came into the kitchen, I asked her whether she thought it smelled like pork sausage. Her reply? “That’s not real sausage?” I was on to something.

Then it happened. Before my eyes, the lovely little patties I’d created began to break down into crumblies. I tried to hold them together, to retain their shapes as I inserted the spatula under each one. They simply weren’t holding together. Part of the problem was the condition of our little frying pan, to which even the oiliest ingredients will stick like evil glue. However, I believe that what was happening was that the buttermilk was breaking down and absorbing the liquid as the sausage cooked, losing its consistency and causing the patties to crumble.

Still, holding together is one small part of what we’re looking for from our sausage. more importantly, how did it taste? After it had browned, quite nicely, I used a slotted spoon to remove the sausage to a plate, and called in Emily for a test:

There is no meat in this picture

It is delicious!

The flavor, the mouth-feel, the texture, are almost exactly identical to country-style pork sausage. The ingredients as used, in the proportion they were used, were nearly perfect. It was slightly salty, so I’ll need to cut down on that just a bit, but otherwise it tastes closer to real pork sausage than any store-bought substitute I’ve ever tried. I sincerely doubt that a meat-eater would even be able to notice the difference if unaware. We mixed the crumbles into a tomato sauce and served over butternut squash ravioli, and oh my goodness, you guys! This stuff is REALLY, REALLY GOOD.

Still, it’s not quite ready. It just needs one more something that will help it stay together as it cooked. What would that something be? Tune in shortly for the exciting conclusion and find out!

And don’t forget to visit our Kickstarter page and help support this lil’ project!


*It’s always tempting to use olive oil, but don’t forget that olive oil has a flavor. I don’t want that flavor in this dish, so to the Canola I went.

Some other recipes that will definitely appear in the book:

– Spaghetti Pie
– Oven-poached fish in olive oil
– Scotch Eggs (hardboiled eggs, wrapped in sausage and DEEP FRIED)
– Picadillo (a kind of Cuban chili)
– Redneck Sushi (involving bacon and asparagus)
– Chao Tom (Vietnamese Sugar Cane)
– and many more!

If, of course, we manage to raise the funding.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1787931793/meat-no-meat-a-cookbook-for-the-biculinary/widget/video.html

Visit our Kickstarter Page for more!

http://kck.st/tRD0k3

Let’s say we’re interested in making a vegetarian version of Scotch Eggs, those delectably delightful staples of British Pub Food, hardboiled eggs wrapped in pork sausage and deep fried. We could always pick up a package of prefab vegetarian sausage substitute– Lightlife’s Gimmee Lean certainly fits the bill, even though it’s sticky and difficult to work with. However, in the interest of the Meat/No Meat philosophy, we want to figure out our own version.

So, let’s think about sausage. The kind we use is country style, which I suppose we could categorize as “plain sausage”: think Jimmy Dean, breakfast patties, salty, juicy goodness.  (We don’t want anything too exotic at this point, since we’re just making the basic, so no chorizo (yet)). The best kind is, of course, fresh, purchased from a butcher shop or other purveyor of ground, spiced pork, especially since Jimmy Dean usually has copious amounts of MSG and nitrates, which many find categorically yucky. Typical sausage seasonings usually include sage, maybe some thyme, nutmeg, perhaps a couple of fennel seeds tossed in for good measure.

When we think about our vegetarian version of sausage, we want to compare it to the pork version. Pork sausage is slightly crumbly, moist, fatty, salty, juicy. It isn’t usually consistently textured; in with the ground meat we usually find little pockets of gristle and grease. This is a big difference between store-bought veggie sausage substitutes and the real thing. The kind we find in the store is often smooth and pasty.

For our version, we’ll need some kind of base. Since we want to come close to the texture of the real thing, we’d like to have at least two components to our base, a main ingredient and a secondary. We think crumbly, moist, so a grain of some kind– perhaps quinoa? It would do the trick, especially since once it’s cooked it can be mashed and has an interesting mouth feel. But alas, the store we visit is out of quinoa (only in Seattle) so we need some other possibility. Looking around, most of the other grains are too large to work. Amaranth is a possibility, but it’s kind of obscure, and would need to be ground further at home. We settle on cracked bulgur wheat, familiar to most people from tabouleh.

What about the second ingredient? We’ll want less of it, and it should be interestingly textured and readily mash-able. How about beans? Black beans have a nice, meaty flavor and would add some proteins to the mix, so we’ll go with a can of those.

Now we need something that, when mixed with liquid, will bind it all together.  The problem with many of the usual binding agents– flour, for instance, is that they have a bad habit of drying out whatever you’re trying to cook. Since Scotch Eggs are deep fried, this is an even greater concern; we don’t want our sausage substitute to turn the egg into a crispy asteroid with a sandy interior. We need something that will help retain moisture.

We also want to add some kind of fat to the mixture. This could be oil, but we are going to fry them in oil, so we run the risk of a final product that’s too oily. It could, theoretically, be butter. We can try these as possibilities, but let’s explore other options and think outside of the box a little bit. What kind of binder could both hold our veggie sausage together and add a little fattiness and sweetness to our sausage? How about powdered milk? It’s sometimes added to pork sausage for the exact same purpose, so let’s give it a whirl!

Now we’ve got the basics for our first test batch of veggie sausage: bulgur wheat, black beans, powdered milk. We’ll use water and a little soy sauce as our liquid, since soy salt adds a little saltiness. For seasoning, we’ll use sage, thyme, savory, nutmeg, salt and pepper– traditional sausage spices.  In the next installment, we’ll whip up our first test batch and see how it goes.

Continue to Part 2: The First Test Recipe

We are writing a cookbook for the Biculinary: Vegetarians and Non-Vegetarians, called “Meat/No Meat.”  Instead of many vegetarian recipes, which simply substitute fake meat products for the meat found in standard concoctions, the recipes in Meat/No Meat are designed to duplicate the edible experience as closely as possible for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. We won’t be using expensive, sometimes hard-to-find fake meat you need to buy at the store; instead, we will be creating tasty substitutes with ingredients found in most major supermarkets.

Alas, our kitchen equipment is sore lacking, so we are trying to raise $3,000 in seed money to help replace some old pots and pans, and to augment the food budget so we can perfect and refine the recipes. To that end, we’ve started a Kickstarter page where interested parties can back our project.

Help make our dream a reality– vegetarians and non-vegetarians can eat together at the same table at last!

On the left, collard greens made with salt pork. On the right, collard greens made with eggplant “salt pork.” Can you tell the difference?

Help support Meat/No Meat today!

This year, due to lack of the usual guests, my wife and I are taking a break from the bird and cassarole &tc. Instead, we’ll be making a couple of dishes from scratch that we’ve always wanted to make, but never have for whatever reason (timpano and cannoli, for those who are curious).

NATHELESS, I’m reposting my traditional brined turkey recipe for those who are interested in a moist, flavorful, insanely delicious turkey (cooked whole, not chopped into bits prior):

If you’re interested in eating a succulent and mouth-wateringly flavorful turkey this Thanksgiving, you should really consider brining that sucker! It’s very easy, and the payoff is high-quality bird that’s absolutely shockingly delicious.

Here’s how it’s done.

You’ll need:

One (organic, cornfed, free-range, of course) turkey, NOT self-basting or Kosher
Water
A turkey-sized container of some kind
Salt, and lots of it
Boullion cubes
12 tea bags (preferrably yerba mate’, but any dark green tea will work)
Various spices and sundries
Lots of room in your fridge
A cup of butter
A cheesecloth or clean, disposable towel

1. Make sure your turkey is clean and completely thawed!

2. The night before you’re going to cook your turkey, place the bird in a massive container, big enough that the turkey can be completely covered by the brine.

3. Begin boiling your water in a stock-pot. You can also use a number of smaller pots if they’re all you have on-hand.

4. When the water reaches boiling point, turn off the heat and begin adding salt to the water. You’re going for a ratio of about 3/4 of a cup per gallon of water. If you’d like to check whether the water is salty enough, drop in a raw egg (in the shell). Does the egg float? If so, you have plenty of salt in your brine.

5. Add your boullion cubes, about two per gallon of water. Add your teabags. Add whatever other spices you’d like to seep into your turkey. I like some rosemary, some sage, some pepper. Add enough spices that the brine gives off a heavenly aroma.

6. Turn off the brine and (this is important) LET IT COOL DOWN! If you’re in a hurry, you can drop some ice-cubes into the brine, or put your stock-pot in a sink full of ice, or stick it in the fridge, but it’s best to just let it sit and cool off, which takes a while. It has to cool off because you don’t want to start pre-cooking the bird!

7. When the brine is cooled to room temperature, pour it over your turkey. Cover it completely.

8. Let it sit, in the fridge, for 8-12 hours (but not too much longer or it’ll get too salty).

9. When it’s done brining, remove the turkey and wash it off. Discard the brine.

10. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

11. Melt the butter on low, and soak the cheesecloth or towel in the butter.

12. Stick about six garlic cloves underneath the skin of the turkey. Place the bird on the roaster, and cover it with the butter-soaked towel. DO NOT STUFF YOUR TURKEY. Cooking your stuffing in the turkey causes problems. It makes the cooking time all wonky and you run the risk of cold stuffing in a hot bird, which is just gross.

13. When the oven reaches 450, put the bird in for a half-hour. After the half hour, take out the bird and cover it *LOOSELY* with a sheet of aluminium foil. Reduce the heat to 325, and place the bird back in the oven.

14. Baste your bird frequently. Once every half hour should do fine– don’t do it too much or you’ll interrupt the cooking process. This sounds pretty frequent, but if you remember to baste it eash time you go into the kitchen to refill your wine glass, you should be okay.

15. (Optional) If you would like to put a mild glaze on your turkey, here’s a neat one. Mix together about 1/2 cup of honey and 1/4 cup of tamarind syrup with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil. Coat the turkey in glaze about 45 minutes before it comes out the oven. Glazing isn’t imperative, but it can add some extra crispiness to the turkey skin.

16. If you have a meat thermometer, remove the bird when it reads about 180 degrees in the leg joint. It should take anywhere from 3-6 hours depending on how big your bird is. You can estimate an hour for every three pounds or so. Another way to check for done-ness is to stick a fork in the thickest part of the turkey. Are the juices clear? Then your turkey is done!

Enjoy your deliciously brined turkey, and impress your friends and family with your mad brining skills!

Spoon What Thou Wilt....

Hadn’t seen this before, but it’s far too bizarre to pass up. Dangerous Minds posts a recipe for rice “to be eaten with curry” by infamous occultist Aleister Crowley. It’s not a terribly difficult or unique recipe, although at the time, it was likely the kind of thing well-to-do “Orientalists” would have found de rigueur. To his credit, Crowley was well enough travelled that he probably did learn the recipe overseas (though his views on other “races” were as odious as the usual early 20th Century Brit).

Rather than repost the PDF, I think it’s worthwhile to transcribe it, because of what I find the most intriguing aspect of the recipe. Prior to Fanny Farmer’s standardization of the recipe format, instructions for the cook could come in any variety of forms, from the vague and measurement-less paragraphs of the Roman Apicius (“Put pieces of kid or lamb in the stew pot with chopped onion and coriander. Crush pepper, lovage, cumin, and cook with broth oil and wine. Put in a dish and tie with roux”), to the verbosity of the medieval A Book of Cookrye, the enterprising home cook could count on very little other than (maybe) a list of ingredients and (perhaps) the order in which they were to be cooked. In other words, prior to using many of these recipes, the curious cook had to know… er… how to cook.

Although precision and measurement had already begun to sneak into many texts prior to its 1896 publication, Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book changed all of that. Although still not quite in the format familiar to most modern recipe readers (list of ingredients, step-by-step instructions), the Boston gave background information about each main ingredient, including its “composition,” and included fairly standard measurements within the text of each recipe:

Select potatoes of uniform size. Wash, pare, and drop at once in cold water to prevent discoloration; soak one-half hour in the fall, and one to two hours in winter and spring. Cook in boiling salted water until soft, which is easily determined by piercing with a skewer. For seven potatoes allow one tablespoon salt, and boiling water to cover. Drain from water, and keep uncovered in warm place until serving time. Avoid sending to table in a covered vegetable dish. In boiling large potatoes, it often happens that outside is soft, while centre is underdone. To finish cooking without potatoes breaking apart, add one pint cold water, which drives heat to centre, thus accomplishing the cooking.

This is an obvious improvement, for obvious reasons. When we look at Crowley’s recipe (or the recipe from Apicius above, for example), we find that Farmer’s is clearest, likely easiest to use for the home cook, and certainly most reproducible. Applying what was generally considered a “scientific approach” to recipes was essentially a revelation (measurements, wow!).

Still, and this is the point I’ve been trying to get to, I personally tend to think that what we gained in accuracy via the standardization of recipes, we may have lost in creative narrative value. Crowley’s recipe is a perfect example, so here it is, in full:

RIZ ALEISTER CROWLEY

(to be eaten with curry)

Use pilaff rice (best 5-7 years old).

A.

Throw into quite boiling water, with a little salt in it. Stir with wooden spoon or fork.

After 8 minutes test it by taking a grain, and pressing between finger and thumb. It must be easily crushed, but not sodden or sloppy. Test again, if not right, every two minutes.

When quite right, pour a lot of very cold water into the saucepan.

Empty the rice into a cullender [sic], and wash well under cold tap.

Put cullender on a rack above the flames (gas) and let it dry.

Stir continuously with a fork, using a lifting motion, never pressing down. During this process remove carefully any black specks or hard discoloured grains.

Shake the cullender every minute or so until the rice moves freely, almost as if it had not been cooked at all.

Empty cullender into saucepan B. (see next page).

Stir until all is uniform, a clear golden colour, with the green pistachio nuts making it a Poem of Spring.

B.

Take Sultanas
Jordan Almonds
Pistachio Nuts
Cloves
Cardamoms (very few)
Turmeric powder (enough to colour the rice to a clear golden tint).

Stir all well together, in an ample amount of butter, in a large saucepan, and warm gently.

Keep warm until the rice is ready to add.

ALEISTER CROWLEY


I don’t doubt that this rice “pilaff” dish is likely quite tasty, though your average beginning modern home cook would be hard-pressed to sort through the dish exactly as Crowley describes (for one thing, he or she would have to figure out that “Sultanas” are white grapes, or the raisins thereof). That said, what interests me the most is the line, “Stir until all is uniform, a clear golden colour, with the green pistachio nuts making it a Poem of Spring.” Reading through the recipe, it really smacks into you– a nice surprise indeed (if a bit heavy-handed from the standpoint of poetry).

Although one can certainly appreciate the accuracy of a Farmer, it’s rather pleasant to come across a little creative narrative in an otherwise mundane instruction. I rather think it’s missing from a lot of modern food instruction. We who cook know from experience that there’s more to sweating onions than, “heat to medium low, add the onions, stir occasionally until droplets begin to form.” Why not, “stir occasionally until the onion cries fragrant tears, becomes the softness that lives beneath its pale skin”? Okay, not my best work, but you get the idea.

Obviously, not every writer of recipes is interested in creative writing, which is fine, but I think it would be nifty if we started playing a little more, making recipes more descriptive, more creative, more interesting to read. Of course, I’m whole-footedly in the “cooking is art” camp, so I’m biased. The “cooking is skill” crowd can soundly argue for the reliability of standardization. But surely we can maintain accuracy while acknowledging the music of the recipe, or at least toss in the sometime surprise, like Crowley’s “Poem of Spring.”

I saw this nifty little trick done on No Reservations when Bourdain went to Rome, and had to give it a try. Imagine a delicious taco salad in a hard shelled bowl, and now replace the taco salad with spaghetti and replace the bowl with CHEESE! That’s righht– BOWLS MADE OF CHEESE!

First thing’s first, grate your wedge of delightful, high quality parm, and mix in about a tablespoon of crushed black pepper.

Bowl o' cheese, about 1.5 cups after grating

You could theoretically use any hard cheese (Asiago, Pecorino, Romano, etc.), but since this was the first try, we’ll do the traditional. I’d pick up a medium-sized wedge, but you could use as much or as little as you’d like, depending on how thick you want the bowl. Just remember not to overdo it, or it’ll never harden. By the way, if you do a lot of grating, I cannot recommend investing in a rotary grater highly enough!

One of these

OK, you’ve got your cheese grated, so now you need to make ‘molds’ for the bowls. I just used a couple of soup bowls covered in foil and brushed with a nice olive oil:

Shiny!

Next, we take a crepe pan, and lightly brush with olive oil, and put it on the stove at about medium. Don’t want it too high, or the cheese will burn, and don’t want it too low or you won’t get a nice, even cheese pancake. Then, we sprinkle the cheese fairly evenly around the bottom of the pan:

...like so.

Give it a little time on the stove, but don’t leave., and don’t stir the cheese. You want to keep an eye on it and watch for the very moment that the grated cheese melts together into a solid ‘pancake,’ but you don’t want it to get too liquidy and run off of the mold.

Now comes the tricky part: put your bowl mold into the center of the pancake, and flip the whole thing over. The cheese should drape over the bowl, remaining after you’ve removed the crepe pan. You may need to shape it manually a little, but as long as the basic shape is there, you’re golden.

Next, put your cheese-covered bowl mold into the fridge, and leave it for at least an hour. If all worked well, after the hour is up, you can remove the mold, and you’ll have a really nifty, quite impressive bowl made of cheese!

How frickin' cool is that?

Fill with anything that suits your fancy. The only caveat is that the bowl is made of cheese, so if it gets too hot it’ll melt. I wouldn’t recommend serving a hot marinara or anything. We just drizzled some olive oil over some spaghetti, tossed in a few olives and some fresh farmer’s market tomatoes, and topped with (of course) more cheese.

Deeeelicious

This would also be an excellent— and impressive– way to serve salad at your next function.

Make some parmesan cheese bowls today!

I’ve always been on the fence regarding the MSG question. I know lots of people who claim to have bad reactions to it. E, in particular, has a nasty reaction to certain asian foods that we attribute to MSG (strangely, they’re usually Taiwanese, which makes me wonder if it’s some other ingredient peculiar to Taiwanese cooking). On the other hand, plenty of evidence (including the millions of Asian people who use it every day) seems to indicate that it’s not as bad for you as its reputation would indicate.

Here’s a fantastic article from the Guardian (from 2005) all about the substance and whether or not it’s yuck:

When you next grate parmesan cheese onto some dull spaghetti, what you will have done in essence is add a shed-load of glutamate to stimulate your tongue’s umami receptors, thus sending a message to the brain which signals (as one neuro-researcher puts it) ‘Joy and happiness!’ Supper is rescued – and your system has added some protein and fats to a meal that was all carbohydrate.

Ripe cheese is full of glutamate, as are tomatoes. Parmesan, with 1200mg per 100 grams, is the substance with more free glutamate in it than any other natural foodstuff on the planet. Almost all foods have some naturally occurring glutamate in them but the ones with most are obvious: ripe tomatoes, cured meats, dried mushrooms, soy sauce, Bovril and of course Worcester sauce, nam pla (with 950mg per 100g) and the other fermented fish sauces of Asia….

It’s not surprising that the MSG-makers are so busy on their product’s image, because MSG-phobia still shows no signs of subsiding. This despite the fact that every concerned public body that ever investigated it has given it a clean bill of health, including the EU, the United Nations food agencies (which in 1988 put MSG on the list of ‘safest food additives’), and the British, Japanese and Australian governments.

In fact, every government across the world that has a food licensing and testing system gives MSG – ‘at normal levels in the diet’ – the thumbs-up. The US Food and Drug Administration has three times, in 1958, 1991 and 1998, reviewed the evidence, tested the chemical and pronounced it ‘genuinely recognised as safe.

Of particular interest is the chart at the end, which I’ll duplicate here in full because it’s worth checking out. It’s a list of ingredients found in many processed foods that are actually MSG in disguise:

So you think you don’t eat MSG? Think again…

Some of the names MSG goes under

monopotassium glutamate
glutavene
glutacyl
glutamic acid
autolyzed yeast extract
calcium caseinate
sodium caseinate
E621 (E620-625 are all glutamates)
Ajinomoto, Ac’cent
Gourmet Powder

The following may also contain MSG natural flavours or seasonings
natural beef or chicken flavouring
hydrolyzed milk or plant protein
textured protein
seasonings
soy sauce
bouillon
broth
spices

Free glutamate content of foods (mg per 100g) roquefort cheese 1280
parmesan cheese 1200
soy sauce 1090
walnuts 658
fresh tomato juice 260
grape juice 258
peas 200
mushrooms 180
broccoli 176
tomatoes 140
mushrooms 140
oysters 137
corn 130
potatoes 102
chicken 44
mackerel 36
beef 33
eggs 23
human milk 22

Me, I’m on the fence. I can’t imagine ever buying any for use in the kitchen, but since I don’t tend to get the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” the question is more academic.

That said, I do keep a package of kombu on hand in the kitchen. I add a piece to rice while it’s cooking, or to any ‘one-pot’ stew or simmer, and the difference is notable. What’s really easy and fun is to make a kombu dashi (broth), which can be used as a base for miso soup, added to savory dishes that require liquid or deglazing, mixed in with rice, or used instead of water to steam vegetables.

Yum Kombu Awesome

(Great Kombu Photo by “Kok Robin,” found at http://www.aziatische-ingredienten.nl/kombu/
Check out the rest of the site, too, which has some excellent information on Asian Ingredients!)

This version is quick and dirty, and largely improvised. It’s a little different than the usual kombu/fish-flake I’ve provided veggie and non- variations. Enjoy!

Kombu Dashi

2 large pieces of kombu (let’s say 3-4 inches)
4 cups water
1/3 cup Mirin (a Japanese cooking wine)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp bonito flakes OR 1/4 cup chopped dried and reconstituted shiitake mushrooms for a veggie version (or both, if you’re inclined to a stronger flavor)

Soak the kombu in the water for 30 minutes. Add the Mirin and the vinegar, and turn the heat up to medium high, but keep an eye on it. Right before the water starts to boil, turn off the heat and remove the kombu. Add the bonito flakes/shiitakes and simmer for an additional 10 minutes (or to taste). Strain the liquid, and you’re golden.

Eat some Glutamate today!

A corollary to our vegetarian Eggplant Bacon recipe: a how-to on turning carrots into something quite bacon-like. We’ll have to give this a try!

(totkb to boingboing)

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