I had a party a few weeks ago and, as usual, I’ve offered to prepare a (main) dish so there was no need for the hosts to worry about my vegan meal. There was plenty of food and more people briging food and all the people who tried my dish were happy and curious about it. I decided to take a simple and crowd-pleasing option such as pasta with roasted vegetables. Nothing too weird that people would be discouraged by something unfamiliar.
This post is for the friends and acquaintances that are curious about my meals/cooking and frequently ask: What are those weird ingredients you just said? You see, the thing is that I’ve used miso to make a dressing for the pasta, and although many of you reading this are very familiar with the ingredients I’m about to list, most of the people I come across are not. When you are fond of cooking, or a vegan, or live in a urban area with many ethnic influences, is more than normal that you experience many different foods and ingredients. If not, you probably cook with everyday things that you grew with or are local.
So this is a short list of some “weird” ingredients I often use in my kitchen:
- Miso – I mostly use white miso, although I’m very curious to try other varieties such as barley miso. The regular soy miso is a paste made out of fermented soybeans and is wonderful to flavour soups, stews, stir-frys… For instance, as it is a bit salty, it goes beautifully with pumpkin recipes. I also like to use it to prepare various sauces, diluted in a bit of water, broth or vegetable cream and mixed with things such as ginger, herbs, etc. It is a versatile ingredient and I love it. You can find it easily in asian markets and online, just make sure you buy a quality product and not one filled with preservatives and unpronounceable things.
- Nutricional Yeast – This one is a staple for many vegans and vegetarians (not to be mistaken with beer yeast, also used for cooking). I use the B12 fortified Engevita and am very happy with it, but you can find other brands too, of course. These flakes are used to give a “cheesy” flavour to things although, for me, it gives more of a “nutty” flavour and goes very well blended with cashew sauce/cream (or even powdered cashew nuts) or hemp hearts to make a sort of “vegan parmesan powder” – which is great on top of any pasta dish. You can simply sprinkle it on top of your food or add it while cooking (for a sauce, for instance – think vegan mac&cheese). Again, it is easy to find it online or on a health shop near you.
- Kala Namak (Himalayan black salt) – This one may sound fancy but truthfully it is powdered pink salt that smells like sulphur (whaat?). Indeed! It is used to give an egg-like flavour to foods, such as scramble tofu. I really like this and use it many times with tofu and (again) in some sauces. It does give that resemblance to the egg (which is weird) and you can find it on Asian or Indian Markets near you and online. Once more, please try to buy it additive free.
- Tempeh – It is very easy to find tempeh this days on the health shop in my town, nevertheless, it raises some eyebrowns when I mention it. Basically, it’s made by controlled fermentation process that binds the soybeans. That fermentation is what gives that “velvety” white look between and around the binded beans. It is very healthy as it contains probiotics and has lots of protein. It is possible to make it at home, although I’ve never tried. I like to prepare it simply by cutting it into slices or cubes and grilling or by shredding it between my fingers and add to some dishes like fried rice or a bolognese sauce, as the texture resembles ground meat. The taste different than tofu and more intense, but you can season it as you like.
- Chickpea flour (Gram flour / Besan) – Literally it is powdered chickpeas. I know this is not very exotic, but I use it often and, again, is not something that people around me have heard about much. I like to use it mostly to make vegan frittatas, omelettes and quiches, diluted in water or veggie broth and seasoned with Kala Namak and turmeric. It is also filled with protein and you can season it as you like, with herbs and spices. Once again, easy to find online, on Asian/Indian markets or in a health store near you, or make your own at home (just pulse the dried chickpeas in a powerfull blender until you have a powder).
There are other favorite ingredients that I would love to add, but I’ll leave them for another post. For now, I hope you enjoy this list and, if you don’t use these products already, give them a try!
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions about the products used are my own and not influenced in any way.