Build flavor from the bottom up
This month, I've been bringing you a virtual cooking class in this newsletter by answering some of the questions that come up over and over again in my private and public classes. I love to share recipes, nutritional info, food trends and even restaurant tips and budget hacks, but I also really love to help you all individually troubleshoot in your kitchens. Because all the recipes and fun facts in the world aren't really worth much if we can't make food taste good at home.
The number one area that I get asked to help out in can be boiled down to two sentences:
When I make _____ it doesn't taste good. How do I fix it?
The best way I can help you out is to talk about taste and flavor. Last week, I talked about taste, and I took you through my process for seasoning, where I balance major tastes like sweet, salty, sour, bitter, etc to help your meal go from "something tastes off but I don't know what" to amazing.
This week, I want to talk about flavor which is more the individual characteristics of your food. Taste refers to major flavor receptors on your tongue like sour and sweet, whereas flavor refers to things more like lemony, cumin, smoky, peppery, herbal, etc. When you add herbs, spices, aromatics or unique vegetables to your dishes, you are trying to add flavor, specificity, and interest.
One of the best ways to create flavor is to layer ingredients in your pot in a particular order, starting with your oil. Certain ingredients like spices and aromatics (ex: onion, garlic, ginger) need that initial heat, oil, and long cooking to let their flavors bloom, whereas other ingredients like fresh, soft herbs and lemon juice really need to be added at the end of cooking to taste good.
So I created the Layers of Flavor Guide for you to print out and keep in your kitchen as a reference whenever you are making a dish with multiple ingredients. Knowing this order can help you cook from what you have on hand, instead of always needing a recipe.
Let's go through a quick example of a basic lentil soup that you want to throw together. By looking at the chart, you know you would want to add ingredients in this order:
1. fat = olive oil
2. whole spices = cumin seeds
3. aromatics = onion, garlic, carrot, celery
4. ground spices/dried herbs = garam masala, red chile flake
5. main vegetables = squash
6. other main ingredients = lentils and water
7. salt = salt
8. acid = lemon juice
9. fresh herbs = parsley