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  • Writer's pictureMiwa oseki robbins

Flavor-Full Cooking

Last time we took a look at when is inside a well stocked fridge and pantry and how having the right ingredients on hand can help make throwing together a meal quick and easy.

Another key to a well stocked kitchen is a good selection of spices, oils, vinegars, and other flavoring tools. If you can, I say avoid buying spice mixes and pre-made dressings, and if you do start looking at their ingredients! You will be surprised how many have Mono-sodium Glutamate (MSG), sugar, salt, and preservatives.

Making your own dressings, sauces, marinades, and dips is so easy though! And they are fun to make, soooo much healthier than store bought options (less sugar, less salt, less preservatives), and are a quick way to jazz up just about any meal!

But before we get to making your own sauces, I want to talk about the order of what goes into a pan to make a flavor rich stir fry, soup, stew, dahl, etc.

Start with the onions! And sauté them well in oil or butter. Add your spices to the oil to infuse it with their flavor. One occasional exception to this is I like to sometimes add some fresh garlic towards the end of cooking a dish, but some garlic at this stage is also yummy! And please, use good oils, like olive, coconut, sesame, ghee, or other fancier oils, but be generous with them. They are a carrier for your flavor and will help infuse your whole dish with deliciousness. And they aren't what are making you fat.

After the onions and the spices go in I will also add any vegetables that you might otherwise roast- like carrots, squash, potatoes, or eggplant. Letting these lightly roast and brown in the oil will bring out their natural sweetness and flavor and further infuse the whole dish with their yumminess. If you are putting tomatoes in your dish I like to put those in near the beginning too, with the onions and spices. Tomatoes, when cooked down, also become sweeter and add a delicious depth to a dish. Simple salt and pepper definitely helps to bring out the flavor of tomatoes as well.

After these delicious flavors are cooking away (the house already filling with mouth watering aromas) then I add the bulk of the dish- whether that is a cup of dry split lentils and water for dahl, some meat or tofu and more vegetables for a stir fry, or water to make a stock for a noodle or vegetable soup or stew. If I am adding some water at this stage the water should have the look of a rich yummy broth as it mixes with the oil and flavors that have been concentrating at the bottom of my pan or pot. YUM! I often will taste the liquid at this point, and if the flavor is not quite as rich as I want it I will add some organic better than bouillon concentrated broth, or some miso. Then keep cooking until everything is cooked through and you have a delicious meal!

Now on to sauces, dressings and marinades, which can be paired with the above cooking method or used for fresh salads and vegetable dishes.

I often use my small bullet blender to make my dressings and sauces, but if you don't have one of these just putting all the ingredients in a small jar and mixing it up with a fork and then shaking works almost as well. If you are making basically a single portion sized batch this may be a better way to go.

So how to make a dressing. First rule: There are no rules! Experiment and taste and modify. Once again, I never measure. And depending on your pallet you may want less or more salty, sweet, or spicy flavors, so make it so you will enjoy! And if you want to, slowly start cutting back the salt or sugar content if that is a goal of yours, as our pallets adjust to what we are used to for flavors.

Second rule: Use what you have! And of course, substitutions are encouraged.

Third rule: Pretty much anything that is a dressing can also work as a marinade for meats or tofu or veggies. To turn a dressing into a dip or sauce aim for a little thicker and less intense flavors. For example, here is a basic creamy tahini dressing:

Tahini Dressing:

1. Tahini

2. olive oil

3. lemon juice

4. soy sauce

To make this into a dip use more tahini to keep it nice and thick, and go light on the soy sauce and lemon juice as you don't want it to be too salty or sour. But if you are using it as a dressing use more lemon juice, olive oil, and a little more soy sauce. If it is still too thick don't be afraid to add a touch of water too.

Now, to play with this one recipe, you could add some crushed garlic, ginger, or even a dried Shitake mushroom pulverized in your bullet blender. Nutritional yeast is a yummy addition to this dressing, or can even become the main ingredient in place of tahini for a thinner but still nutty dressing.

Some other yummy dressing ideas to get your creative juices flowing include:

Tzatziki Style Dressing:

  1. Yogurt (or kefir, or a dairy free alternative)

  2. Lemon juice

  3. Olive oil

  4. Garlic

  5. Dill (or mint, basil, fennel, or parsley work well too)

Balsamic style dressings

  1. Olive oil

  2. Apple cider vinegar (start with just a little as this strong flavor can take over)

  3. Maple syrup

  4. Salt and pepper

  5. Some fresh raspberries or strawberries crushed or cut up small

Honey mustard:

  1. Olive oil

  2. Mustard

  3. Honey

  4. Touch of vinegar

Dumpling dipping sauce (or a yummy stir fry marinade/sauce):

  1. Soy sauce

  2. Rice vinegar

  3. A touch of ume plum vinegar

  4. Toasted sesame oil (can use some hot sesame oil if you like spicy!)

  5. Some finely grated ginger (if you want)

Homemade ketchup

  1. Tomato paste

  2. Touch of vinegar

  3. Cinnamon (or clove or chili powder)

  4. Salt and pepper to taste

So there you have it! And truly, these are so quick and easy to make! I now usually just make enough for whatever meal I am making, putting a splash of this, a dollop of that, all in a small mason jar, shake vigorously for a few second, taste, modify if needed and then pour over my dish and enjoy! I never buy dressings anymore and I feel so much better knowing what are in my sauces!

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