What is Umami?
There is a food stuff that has been the epitome of umami for 2500 years. That food stuff is called koji and if you enjoy some Chinese, Korean or Japanese cuisine you will be familiar with its allure by just a mention. Before embarking on this leg of the koji journey, I'll first explain what umami is.
Umami is the name of what is now recognized as the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami is described as savoury or meaty and causes salivation and is thought to be caused by glutamate (or glutamic acid). Glutamate is found in many foods, including vegetables such as ripe tomatoes and mushrooms, but also in meats. Although fresh/raw foods do contain glutamate, the intensity of umami is more pronounced if two or more rich sources of umami foods are combined together or if the foods are processed/cooked. Boiling, roasting, steaming, salting, smoking, dehydrating, and aging will bring out the umami flavours in food - think sundried tomatoes, chicken broth, or smoked oysters. Fermenting or culturing is another method of emphasizing or drawing out the taste of umami - think Parmesan cheese, Balsamic vinegar, or Proscuitto. A few other notable fermented foods containing high amounts of glutamate are soy sauce, tamari, sake, amazake, and miso. What makes these traditional Asian foodstuffs so spectacular is that they all share a common foodstuff - they are all fermented with the culture of koji.
Rhubarb - Vibrant Taste of Spring
If you haven't already picked up your copy of the late spring edition of Relish Elgin magazine, you probably should grab it while you can. For the past three weeks the free guide to Elgin has been flying off my counter at the market.
In this issue I developed a recipe inspired locally grown rhubarb. By pairing rhubarb's natural tartness with the spiciness of last autumn's dried peppers, a velvety smooth, smoky & sweet barbecue sauce became a great spring preserve. Combined with Mexican-inspired pulled pork carnitas, this sandwich is not only worthy of Father's Day lunches, but also everyday suppers all summer long.
Relish Elgin magazine is available in many local establishments. You can also view it online.
Vegetable Fermentation Workshop
"Humans did not invent or create fermentation. It would be more accurate to state that fermentation created us."
On June 11, I'll be working together with the Backus-Page House Museum in Wallacetown for a beginner workshop on vegetable fermentation. For those who have just discovered your love of cultured foods or perhaps are a little leery about what the fuss is - this night is for you.
We'll discuss the basics of fermentation, move right into a tasting of different vegetable pickles, then get our hands dirty to create jars of ferments you will take home. I'll also supply you with a few basic recipes just in time for the summer harvest season so you can preserve your own bounty and enjoy the complex flavours all year long.
To register for the event, call the Backus-Page House Museum at (519)762-3072.
With so many hot peppers filling tables at the markets I can't help but pick more up each week. The Aylmer Sales Barn is always a great place to source bushels of peppers from sweet bells and shephards to the blackish-purple poblanos and red crimson hots. A few farmers and home gardeners are also trying their hands at growing different varieties of chilis and the variations are all welcome in my larder because just about every global cuisine utilizes heat and spiciness in some way - with flavours and aromas from more than just green jalapeños.
After all the salsa, stuffed peppers, pickled peppers, drying, plastic gloves, can't-fall-asleep-because-my-hands-are-on-fire, chili-steeped vodka, and especially the 'how hot is it?' game, it's nice to play with a recipe that uses a large amount of chilis with only minimal work required. Fermented hot pepper relish has quickly become my new favourite go-to condiment.
Encompassing everything I like in a rustic sauce (salty, fresh, fruity, spicy, smoky & tangy), the relish is a great accompaniment to chicken, sausages, burgers, steak, perogies, nachos, eggs, or spread on a sandwich. Because it is fermented for just a couple of days, the relish retains the fresh vegetal flavours at the same time it matures and ripens.
Now that summer is just around the corner, asparagus' time to shine is coming to an end. If you haven't had a chance to try my recipe for ale battered asparagus I recommend you pick up some spears this weekend before it's too late. They would make a great accompaniment to bbq'd steak for Father's Day.
I was anticipating being able to return to the Horton Farmers' Market for this years opening weekend but unfortunately it's not going to work out. I will get there - it just won't be on Saturday.
In preparation for the new season, I had started several different ferments and cultures so that I would have some healthy and delicious probiotic products available for sale on Mother's Day. I've been sharing pictures and my progress on my Facebook page but I've neglected to post updates on the blog.
For my lack of sharing with non-Facebook users I apologize.
Along with water kefir tonic beverages, I've fermented sour pickles (using Ontario greenhouse cucumbers), another batch of kimchi, a ginger bug for preparing sodas, purple sauerkraut, and my proud achievement of the week: a successful batch of sauerkraut.
When you think of sodas you probably think Coca Cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and the like. Overly sweetened, liquid candy manufactured with artificial colours and flavours and then mass-marketed to kids and big kids alike.
But what if I told you sodas weren't always prepared that way? What if I told you soft drinks were once a way to not only quench your thirst (especially in places where water alone was not drinkable), but also deliver vitamins, minerals, and pro-biotics to help nourish the body? That's right - soda fountains were once found in pharmacies for a reason and fermented beverages themselves have been prepared and consumed since the beginning of civilization. Somewhere along the way money, convenience, and ignorance transformed nourishing and traditional culinary practices into tasteless, homogenized, and artificially-cheapened empty calories.
I, like many other fermenting and preservation enthusiasts, think it's time we bring back those traditional practices to the forefront of our kitchen counters.
It's been a whirlwind of a week and a lot of changes are happening with Elgin Harvest. I've been feeling 'out of sorts' for the past few days but I'm looking forward to interacting with the crowds and friends for some much needed sharing and smiling.
For the past three years (almost four), I have been a vendor and very active volunteer with the St. Thomas Horton Farmers' Market. Through the market I've had the fortune to meet not only some incredibly unique artisans and passionate farmers, I've also had the fortune to meet and share my love of food with many of the customers that religiously attend the hustling and bustling farmers' market every Saturday morning from May through November.
St. Thomas Horton Farmers' Market is the little market that could. Run by a dedicated part-time market manager with help from generous volunteers and friends, the market is unique to this area in that it is a producer-only market. That means you either have to grow it or make it in order to be a vendor. The market is a small business incubator, has become a centralized community meeting place, and most importantly provides a lively, fun atmosphere with access to fresh and LOCAL foods and products. It's a welcomed contrast to the industrial manufacturing plants and fast food chains that can (and has) overshadowed the city in a monocultured cloud.
With Spring and the beginning of a new market season right around the corner, I know other vendors and market attendees are just itching to get back into the Saturday morning routine of picking up seasonal fruits & veggies, fresh baked goods, and artisanal crafts. While I wait for May to roll around, I'm going to make the best of my time by continuing to experiment with new recipes and culianary techniques and plan out my vegetable garden.
Anyone who enjoys fine food and drink understands it takes time (and skill!) to develop flavour. The depth, complexity, and value of quality food and drink cannot be created in an instant. It's not found at the drive-thru and you won't find it in anything super-sized. I'm not just talking about aged wine, steak, or cheeses either. Even 'simplistic' food such as a ripe, juicy peach or a four-ingredient loaf of bread requires someone to tend the soil or knead the dough.
The ingredients in a great dish are important to the overall quality of a finished product, but equally important are the preparation methods. Farm fresh eggs will feel like rubber and smell like sulfur if you boil them for twenty minutes- no matter if you just made the most perfect Hollandaise sauce ever. Pie pastry needs to rest before rolling- even if you hand-milled the flour yourself from an heirloom variety of wheat grown using sustainable and organic practices.
Good food takes time!
With this knowledge, it was hard to contain my excitement and curiosity when I decided to attempt the preparation of kimchi, a Korean fermented vegetable sidedish/condiment. Two weeks minimum before it begins to taste "good"? No fancy equipment required? Full of bacteria, flavour and pro-biotics? More fermentation preservation? Sounds delicious to me. I'm sure it will be worth the wait, I told myself.
Now, is it ready yet?
Keeping along with the citrus and Moroccan theme from my last post (Moroccan Anise Bread and Blood Orange Marmalade), I thought I would introduce you to another delicious North African inspired food --preserved lemons. Used as a condiment in many Moroccan dishes, preserved lemons are easy to prepare, versatile for use in many dishes, and won't require you to bring out your gigantic canning pots. Instead of being processed in a hot-water bath or pressure canner, preserved lemons utilize other preservation techniques: salting and fermentation.
What are Preserved Lemons?
Preserved lemons are a North African (typically Moroccan) condiment made by cutting and salting lemons and letting them ferment a sealed container for several weeks. The growth of bacteria and yeasts softens the rind of the lemons and turns what was once bright and sharp tasting into a peel that is rich and rounded in flavour. Preserved lemons lend a unique and distinctive taste wherever used.
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.