Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Garlic Broths

I discovered the satisfying goodness of garlic broths when I put one more clove of the pungent stuff than I thought was reasonable into a vegetable and lentil soup a few weeks ago. The soup came out with a much more rounded, full flavor than I had anticipated, with garlic supplying a mellow low tone that surprised me. Garlic overpowering other ingredients in sauces is a common story, and an overbearing presence in tomato-based pasta sauces particularly irks me, but when simmered in soup it seems to have a different effect and perhaps a different flavor as well. Garlic can serve as a satisfying base flavor for a broth with other big flavors but doesn't distract from brighter herbal or citrus notes. Like so many ingredients, garlic is full of versatility, always ready to help you out with a new flavor or texture, if you let it.

Today, craving the Asian greens (mini bok choy or something similar) staring at me from the vegetable drawer, I decided to go for a garlic broth with other Asian flavors that wouldn't be out of place in a Thai or Chinese soup. First I sweated (well, browned by accident) minced shallots, then added sliced ginger, a good amount of minced garlic, and a few cumin seeds and szechuan peppercorns for complexity and an exotic tone. Once the mixture was fragrant, I added enough water for my bowl of soup and a few cilantro stems to help the ginger freshen up the otherwise rather "brown" tasting broth. Halfway through the 20-minute simmer (longer might be better here), I added ground black pepper. After simmering, I strained everything out of the broth and added plenty of salt. I find that soup takes a relatively massive amount of salt, to the point of actually tasting the salt just a bit, to bring out peak flavor. I simmered some quartered mushrooms in the broth for a few minutes, then brought the whole thing to a boil, added the greens (I boiled these in the broth to retain as much of their nutritional value as possible), and finished with sliced green onions and dried chili flakes.

Satisfying, nourishing, a little (too) spicy on the back of the throat. Good lunch. Next time: drop a beaten egg, perhaps tempered, into the hot broth.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ideas from Charlie Trotter and Elsewhere

Charlie Trotter's Meat & Game was the first cookbook I've taken a good look through in a few weeks. Maybe I missed the best parts of this cookbook (the treatments of meat and the game, of course) since I cook mostly vegetarian these days, but it still gave me a few great ideas and got me hunting for more.

Ideas to look into:
  • spice oils; I'm especially interested by clove oil
  • flavorful emulsions as sauce or second sauce
  • infusions of anything - got this from watching a clip from the TV show Heston's Feasts
  • homemade liqueurs, especially the ones with obvious flavors, like coffee or cocoa
  • that dim sum that's shrimp in a translucent rice flour wrapper
  • Chinese garlic sauce (?) or whatever Shanghai Teahouse puts on its tofu and cabbage dish