Now that my copy of On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee has arrived, I decided it was time to get started exploring French cuisine. For those unfamiliar with the book it is the premier guide on why food tastes as it does when handled in particular ways. It's the science of food presented in a readable and clear way, without the flourishes of molecular gastronomy or modernist cuisine. Highly recommended!
As much as I love meat, meat products, meat flavors for health reasons I've been try to cook mostly mostly fish and vegetables.
This also poses an interesting challenge: I happen to be taste averse to a wide variety of vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables in their cooked state. I don't mean "I don't like them", I mean "I will vomit if I force myself to eat them". This doesn't mean I want to avoid vegetables I'm averse to entirely, but rather, I will figure out what in their chemical composition I am bothered by, and attempt to minimize it. I'm gonna up the difficulty level a bit more: I can't just drown everything in salt and butter and call it a day, that's the easy way out.
To start out, though, I wanted something relatively easy, thus: Le tourin à l'ail. This is a pretty simple garlic soup common in the south-west of France. It's pretty low in fat and since it contains egg much like egg drop soup, this lets me consume another item to which I'm taste averse.
The recipe I used can be found on Wikibooks, but I'll reproduce it here for convenience, my modifications are in italics:
- 10-12 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon flour
- water — 4 cups (adjust amount as needed - use distilled, filtered or reverse osmosis water)
- I used a diluted vegetable stock. Seasoning this water properly is the key to making this soup taste delicious.
- salt to taste
- 1 egg, separated
- pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- In a frying pan, brown the chopped garlic (or optionally, an equal mixture of chopped onions and garlic) in the olive oil.
- I used a small pot. I would recommend that or a saucepan. Looking up the recipe in French, they tend to use a "faittout", which seems to mean some sort of saucepan.
- Add the flour.
- Mix well, then cook for a moment.
- Add some boiling salted water, and cook for 10 minutes.
- In a separate dish, mix:
- egg yolk
- Add the egg white to the soup, first tempering in a separate bowl with a whisk, so that no large pieces of egg white form.
- Make sure to add it very gradually, and to use a fork in the soup itself to spread out the egg whites as you are pouring.
- Cook another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the egg yolk mixture, again tempering to avoid coagulation.
- Place thin slices of bread in each soup bowl, and pour the soup on top. Serve hot. Bon appétit.
It turned out quite well! The garlic which I only browned slightly turned out to have an almost potato-like texture, but without the starchiness. Soft and rich, it complemented the egg whites in provided substance to the texture. The cooked garlic also lacked the sweetness many root vegetables (such as turnips) acquire when cooked. For me, that's a plus. I'm not sure what the vinegary yolk contributed, but I'm sure it helped. The soup was redolent of garlic, but surprisingly mild, the flavor releasing only in your mouth, never overpowering.
I cannot overstate the value of properly seasoning the soup. My vegeterian girlfriend remarked that she would be afraid to order this soup at a restaurant after tasting it, it tasted so much like chicken broth. With no additions of MSG or similar umami-fortifiers, the saltiness is what provided this deepness of flavor. It's a thin boundry between "perfectly seasoned" and "oversalted" andwe must tread and carefully remain on the right side. The cowardly will be rewarded with bland and tasteless soups!
Not sure what I'll make next time! Ratatouille calls out to me, but I can't stand neither zucchinis nor aubergines... which makes me want to figure out a way to prepare it even more!