Saturday, July 4, 2015


Vegetables are bland in flavor. There, the CC has said it.

Before a lynch-mob comes marching in, hear me out.

Vegetables are diluted in flavor by the water in their cells. So is meat, for the record. Hence, the concept of "aging beef" which allows the water to escape and making the meat more intensely "meaty".

There are a standard set of tricks across the globe to make vegetables more "vegetable-y" but since chez CC, we tend to be of the analytic bent, let's dig in further. We're also going to go further into domains not imagined by all these vegetable cultures.

All world cuisine relies on one or both of these tricks:
  1. Dessicate the vegetables to make them more intense.
  2. Dessicate the vegetables and then replace the lost water in the cellular structure by more "interesting" stuff.
There is no "third destination".

There are three standard ways of dessicating vegetables — roasting, frying and sun-drying. Each is standard across the globe although the CC would argue that frying is a cross between [1] and [2] in that it replaces the water with a light coating of fat which is irresistible to the human tongue.

Now, that you understand this, you will realize how bullshit the verb insaporire  ("to infuse with flavor") in Italian actually is. You're doing nothing of the sort. You're dessicating the vegetables by pan-frying them for a long time. No flavor is actually being "infused' because nothing is entering the system. You are pulling water out and the flavor is already present in the amazing vegetables to start with.

Yet, the Italians are onto something important. Pan-frying the vegetables does indeed intensify the flavor and this is the criticism that the CC would lay on the modern world and it's "fast food" concepts. You need to be slow and fry them languidly on a low heat for longer you think possible. The CC routinely catches himself trying to speed up before the analytic brain kicks in and says, "ten more minutes, mofo!" and the food is always the better as the Italians would have it. A great minestrone would have the vegetables pan-fried for the better part of 30 minutes.

The greatness of sun-dried vegetables should be obvious. So should be the concept of fried vegetables — everything from pakoras and tempura to fritto misto.

They are all precise ways of dessicating vegetables.

(Now, you understand why kale chips work, right?)

Once you've dessicated the vegetables, you are can re-infuse the cellular structures with other stuff. Everything from spices to meat and fish broths. The genius of Indian vegetarian cooking can be encapsulated in the fact that they combine steps [1] and [2] in one neat step. The vegetables are dessicated at the same time infusing them with the taste of intense spices. You see the same logic in an Italian minestrone which relies on vegetables being dessicated via pan-frying and reconstituted in an intense tomato broth. (Before the discovery of the New World, the Romans used meat broth to the same effect but the tomato is both cheaper and more intensely umami.)

Armed with this analytic conceit, we're no longer constrained by the arbitrariness of culture. If you want carrots to be more intensely "carrot-y" then dessicate them at a really low temperature and then reconstitute them in carrot juice!

In fact armed with this trick, you can make zucchini taste of meat or tomatoes or whatever you please.

The vegetable world is your oyster!

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