Cooking is the preparation of ingredients. But what are the ingredients? You could spend several lifetimes learning all about cooking and how to prepare food in a way that is all-together satisfying, and you still wont know everything. But to that end, in the fruitless effort to know everything about cooking, what I find many cooks undervalue or neglect to consider at all is the learning about the ingredients themselves. They will know how to work with them and cook with them, but not them themselves. That is what this series of posts will look into: some fundamental information on ingredients. There are hundreds of books written about ingredients from ingredient categories and families to ingredients by location or popularity to ingredients by nutritional value and benefit to individual ingredients and anything and everything about them. For obvious reasons, this series will not be elaborating in too much detail. I intend to cover the basics and speak mostly the the characteristics involved in it’s preparation and use. I will also suggest some eating ideas and share how we like to use them. So let’s get started.
Grapefruits are an acquired taste. Filled with dread were the days Matt would suggest a grapefruit for breakfast; my face would scrunch and my lips would pucker with every segment. That’s long since improved with time. Grapefruits are the semi-sweet however bitter citrus hybrid between the pomelo and the sweet orange, but loaded with antioxidants and vitamins C and A. The fiber is in the pith – the white flesh between the juicy bits – so eating them whole is a must to keep you satiated. Clocking in at under 40 calories per half, and made up of over 90% water, they are a ridiculously worthwhile fruit to acquire yourself to. Though stored for up to 3 weeks in the crisper drawer, I actually recommend keeping them at room temperature for eating where they will stay nice for up to one week.
Splitting one for breakfast is our norm but grapefruits can add some welcomed freshness and bitterness to salads, pork or seafood dishes as well. Segmented on a spinach salad with shaved fennel, blueberries, crushed walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette is a shockingly satisfying lunch. Thinly sliced and glazed with honey atop pan-roasted salmon effectively balances the sharp bitterness. Squeeze the juice over the still sizzling, crusty remnants of pan-seared pork chops, add a knob of butter, give the pan a little swirl and you’ve got a tangy glaze to coat your chops.
Fun fact: Grapefruits got their name from the grape-like clusters that they grow in on their trees.
Flaxseeds are an invisible ingredient. Packed with fibre and omega 3 fatty acid – the one that your body needs to consume via food – in a one to two tablespoon portion, they make for an effortlessly beneficial addition to smoothies, oatmeal or bread. Your mom sneaking carrots and zucchini into your beloved brownies was just plain mean. Amping up your already-awesome breakfast with added fibre and healthy fat is just plain smart, and it’s totally elusive. You can purchase whole flaxseeds but the nutritional benefits are far more easily absorbed when it’s ground. Flaxseed oil can also be found in the pharmacy section and is made up of mostly omega-3 fatty acid but contains none of the fibre. Because of their high fat content, be wary of it’s shelf life and storage or it will spoil on you. If you buy in bulk, keep it in the freezer, otherwise, store it in the fridge.
We will add a tablespoon of flaxseeds to our morning smoothies with zero flavour consequence. It will also disappear in your oatmeal or house-made, whole-grain bread. Keep on the lookout for store-bought bread with flaxseeds too. Fat is flavour even when it’s the healthy kind so I find those will often be the tastier of the whole-grain loaves.
Fun fact: In addition to a food crop, flax or linseed is also a fibre crop used to produce linen.
Avocados are a guiltless pleasure, in moderation. Filled with unsaturated fats – the heart-healthy fat – it’s the mayo to your sandwich, the cream to your pasta and the dip to your chip. They’re rich in several B vitamins as well as vitamin K, C and E, fibre and potassium. But because every good thing has a downside, these buggers could have you giving up on them faster than your diet. I find an avocado’s glory to be in it’s texture. Slightly chalky and hard when unripe, a ripened avocado will turn creamy and nutty in flavour with the velvety feel of room temperature butter. On the other side, an overripe avocado turns brown, bruised and mushy like overripe bananas with a slightly sour flavour and smell. The frustration comes with the progression; you could watch it turn from rock solid to decomposing without blinking an eye. Buy unripe and stay ready or pray your grocery store carries the ripened rarity as you pass through. In addition to it’s fickle evolution, the high fat content sets the calorie count soaring to about 320 per medium piece making it dangerously easy to overindulge. Still, a healthy fat that also tastes good? Yes, please.
Guacamole is a favourite in the snack foods category for us: fork-mashed chunky with cumin, cilantro, fresh tomatoes or bell peppers and lime juice is fuss free and super scoopable. Creamy mashed or even whipped on a sandwich effectively replaces the mayonnaise, with chicken breast, Boston bibb lettuce and sliced tomato. Add a strip of bacon for a little ABLT action, if you so desire. Blasphemous millennial addiction or not, the 19 dollar avocado toast is a decadent dish that anyone can create for a mere couple of bucks at home. Salt-and-peppered avocado atop your favourite thick-sliced, crusty bread is satisfying in it’s simplicity. Decorate it further with some mixed greens in citrus vinaigrette, hummus or a soft-poached or sunny side up egg.
Fun fact: Avocados do not ripen until they have been removed from their tree. They can remain on the tree, unripe for up to six months.
That’s it for this episode of Ingredient Info.
Stay tuned for more and happy cooking!