Sometime in the early months of 2013, I discovered a whole new genre of food blogs. At the time, I was coming home from work to an always empty house, laying on the floor for an hour to re-calibrate from my day, working myself into a 30 minute or so run, and then reading a couple food blogs over dinner (usually a sweet potato, roasted during that run, with black beans, salsa, and a pile of greens), working another couple hours just to survive the next school day, and falling into bed into a deep and dreamless sleep before my alarm clock wrenched me out and up and into another day that was much the same. I was exhausted and unhappy — but I was learning so much and I could tell if I could just keep putting one foot in front of another and trust my intuition, I’d end up in a better place. Also, I was learning a new way to eat and cook and it’s safe to say in my years-long shift in eating, a major one was slowly taking place.
One of the blogs I discovered during that time was Sarah Britton’s My New Roots, and it was from her that I first learned about the “holy trinity of flavor,” or what I’ve now learned is referred to as FASS. Personally, I like to call it the four corners of cooking.
Sarah shared about an experience in her cookbook of a chef thinking her soup was bland and teaching her that every dish needs to have an acid, a salt, and a sugar, or will taste a little less than ideal. This is Sarah’s holy trinity of flavor. In the four corners, a fat is added to that trio, to make FASS. For each of the four components, a little can go a long way.
It was soup week this last week in my cooking lab for nutrition, and we experimented with refining the four corners of our recipes. Flavor is a very personal thing, but I found that very simple recipes with few ingredients, a little fat, an acid, a sweet note, and some salt can work wonders in making a recipe taste delicious. After eating different types of soup for several days and using William as my second taste-tester, I felt the need to share the humblest of soups from this week. I say it is humble but it was also the one that absolutely hit the spot, more than once, after coming home late from long days of work, hard runs, and commuting.
I wrote up a description about working with the four corners of flavor for class this week, and because I think everyone should cook with flavor, I’ll share a rendition of it here: First, when refining flavors, make sure the dish is at the temperature you will serve it at, as the flavors will change, depending on whether you are tasting it hot or cold.
For any given recipe, it is likely that a fat source as either butter or an oil will likely be used in building the base. The fat type can add flavor, if it is intended to, or if added near the end as either a cream or nut cream, can add mouth feel and a change in texture as well. Adding a fat such as lightly toasted and chopped nuts can also be a flavor-enhancing garnish to round out a finished recipe.
As an acid component, a squeeze or two of lemon juice or one of the many types of vinegar can be added. The small amount of acid added at the end of cooking will enhance and sharpen the other flavors of the dish.
Salt, the third component, is likely the most important, and can really heighten the other flavors. The right amount of salt is a very personal thing, and it can easily be overdone to the recipe’s detriment, so add it in small amounts and taste as you go. You will know when you’ve added the right amount.
The fourth corner is sugar. Depending on ingredients, you might already have a sugar component. For instance, in this roasted vegetable soup, the roasting of the vegetables prior to adding them to the broth brought out their natural sugars through the process of caramelization. For this soup, I did not need to add any additional sweetener. The sweet flavor balances and rounds the soup and also will satiate the appetite, which is why if it is missing from a meal, we often finish wanting more, even though we’re physically full.
Roasted Sweet Potato + Beet Soup, serves 2-3
Feel free to use whatever root vegetables and beans are on hand or desired. Recipe adapted from Eleonora Gafton.
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 sweet potato, medium dice
1-2 large beets, medium dice
1 large carrot, roll cut
2-3 small turnips, medium dice
1/2 large yellow onion, medium dice
1 clove of garlic, minced
4-5 cups vegetable broth
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs. fresh parsley, minced
1 1/2 cups cooked black-eyed peas
sea salt to taste
ground black pepper
a squeeze of lemon juice, as necessary
- Place all diced vegetables on a large baking pan and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt.
- Roast them in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
- In a large pot, add the roasted vegetables and herbs, along with the broth and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Season as needed with additional salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Serve with fresh chopped parsley, and if you’re in the mood, fresh baked scones or cornbread.