25 February 2015

on cooking

You should follow The Food Lab, it's rigorous cooking. It's also a weekly column in Serious Eats, and they're currently running Vegan Month right now. Unsurprisingly it was started by Kenji, who also runs The Food Lab.

(psst Serious Eats, btw my favourite food website, also have a couple good articles on tea. see 1, 2, 3 in that order)

This fried....vegetables with spaghetti is inspired by a couple of techniques and recipes that Kenji developed for Vegan Month.

First it's fried vegetables with noodles because the ratios are reversed (inspo #1) from traditional fried noodles. This has more vegetables than noodles, in fact the cabbage in there alone is double the noodles.

The other vegetables accompanying the cabbage are onions, sugar peas, and shiitake mushrooms. The onions are somewhat caramelized since I don't have the patience, or more importantly time, on a day when class ends at 6 and the hardest midterm of the semester is just 2 days away to actually caramelize onion. The trick is to cut the onion first, and leave it cooking in the pan while you do the rest of your prep.

There's also some lentils (inspo #2) in there for a textual contrast and protein boost. It plays the role of my yummy minced meat (aka ground pork with preserved mustard leaf). 

Other time saving tricks:
  • Cooking order matters. Lentils take ~20 mins to cook, so that was the first step. Since both boiling lentils and browning onions are hands off tasks that also require the most time, start them before the prep of the rest of the ingredients.
  • Reuse. This is rather specific to this dish, but vegetable scraps (inner onion skin, shiitake mushroom stalks) went into the lentil's cooking liquid to add more flavour and the cooking liquid is then used to boil the spaghetti, and finally used as part of the sauce for the final dish. 
  • Char vegetables (inspo #3), since it frees you to chop additional vegetables which is easily the most time consuming task. Plus charred vegetables taste better.
Additional thoughts on the dish:
  • Layering flavour is the key. It currently has nice base and mid notes (sweet onion, mushroom) but would greatly benefit from some higher notes. Maybe add some herbs next time, like green onions or some pickled radishes.
  • This is very much improved by having an egg on top. The omlette shape of the egg is just the result of my bad flipping skills, but I do like how folding the egg left the inside creamy, which contrasts nicely with the charred outside. Will start folding my fried eggs from now on. 
  • On the topic of including eggs, I don't see myself ever going vegan. I love my yogurt and eggs too much. Surprisingly I don't miss meat much when I don't have them for prolonged periods. On the other hand, no vegetables for a couple of meals is painful. But contrary to my belief, cooking vegetarian dishes isn't less time consuming since there's just so darn many vegetables to chop. It does make washing dishes easier. 
Cooking in general, follows the 3rd rule of engineering that is "to find the answer you must know the answer". To cook something that taste good, you must be able to conceive the flavour profile beforehand.


I really shouldn't be writing a long blog post when concrete midterm is on Friday.

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