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This week, we’re looking at the technology behind the growing plant-based food industry with journalist Larissa Zimberoff. She reveals how fungus is turned into bacon and why air molecules may be the future of protein. Plus, cultural anthropologist Meher Varma tells us about the limitless variations of dal in India, and we visit Mexico for a lesson on making chicken soup with a chipotle kick.
Questions in this episode:
"I have only recently started delving into the world of wild rice and while researching different ways to prepare it, I came across the steeping method. Is that the best technique? Or is there a better way to cook this kind of grain?"
"A couple years ago, I was given a carbon steel gratin dish, and now I’m looking for other ways to justify the shelf space for this pan. What else can I make in it?"
"My question is about sifting ingredients–cocoa powder, flour, confectioner’s sugar, that kind of thing. Should you sift before you measure, or measure before you sift?"
"I bought some wild salmon recently, and since I’m more accustomed to farm-raised salmon, I found it to be a bit tougher and drier. How should I switch up my cooking technique?"
"I have a ceramic stovetop and have always had problems with getting my cast iron pans hot. Am I doing something wrong, or do cast iron pans not work as well on this kind of surface?"
Chris Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. As plant based foods have risen in popularity the technology to develop them has become increasingly complicated. Today journalists Larissa Zimberoff joins us to talk about what actually goes into the Impossible Burger. When lab grown meat will be affordable, and how a network of fungus called mycelium could actually replace your favorite breakfast meat.
Larissa Zimberoff: So now people are growing mycelium in these big steel tanks or there's a company on the East Coast making bacon. They're growing it in trays, so layer upon layer upon layer, this mycelium is kind of instructed to grow and then they have the slab that they then can smoke and add flavors to and then they can cut it like bacon.
CK: Also coming up, we'll learn how to make a flavorful Mexican style chicken soup with chipotle chilies. And Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette explain how kitchen utensils got their names. But first anthropologist and food writer Meher Varma talks about endless variations on the lentil dish dahl. And what these recipes reveal about the people making them. Meher welcome to Milk Street.
Meher Varma: Thank you.
CK: So let's talk about dahl of course.
MV: Thank you
CK: So let’s talk about dahl of course. You write, no two dahls are the same, it is indicative of the background and is indicative of class and caste. So how does dahl and how you prepare it indicate caste and class?
MV: Yeah, so often tomatoes and onions and garlic as well, for a lot of upper middle-class homes, those are considered kind of non-negotiable in the dahl preparation, you wouldn't make a dahl unless you had those things. But when I actually went from house to house and I went to less privileged homes, I realized that these are definitely not things that you can take for granted. And so sometimes there is no onion or onions are too expensive. And that needs to be substituted with something else. Or for example, in a more privileged house, it will be made with ghee darker, which is the kind of the finishing the tempering. But for a poor person, that might be something that you would have only when guests are over. So, access to certain things, determines the dahl and accesses, of course, shaped by who you are in the, you know, the grand social hierarchy of things.
CK: So, you talk about this project. You went, just imagine you walking down the street, knocking on doors. What exactly did you do and how did you do it?
MV: Well, I just talked to a bunch of people that I knew who live not so far away from each other, but their worlds were very different. And so, I essentially just invited myself over to their homes, and asked them if I could watch them cook dahl, which is kind of a weird thing to ask because it's like asking someone, whether you can watch them make eggs and toast, there was actually maybe some kind of idea that I was trying to read something else from this exercise, which I which I really was. And I think some people caught onto that. And the other place for error is that, of course when I came over, I think what was prepared was more lavish than what would have normally been prepared because I was a guest. But I still was able to see a lot of variation.
CK: So okay, so give us two examples. One is is like the simplest, fastest way of preparing a dahl. And then you talk about something that's long simmered, and much more complex. Could you give us an example of either extreme of these?
MV: So usually, the luxurious versions are more written about and documented. So sometimes the luxurious kind of aristocratic versions have meat in the dahl, ghee in the dahl. There's dozens of tomatoes, lots of garlic, the best turmeric, things like that. But I've actually come to know now, thanks to this exercise of Dahl that is literally prepared with just a bit of salt, a bit of chili, maybe half an onion, and literally, whatever is on hand, the other big difference occurs with the pressure cooker. So even in the recipes that I listed, which I tried to represent a diversity of class and caste, everyone had a pressure cooker. But that's also not a given. A lot of people who don't have pressure cookers have to cook the dahl on an open flame, which is more time consuming and it's more time consuming for people who have less time anyway because they're working two or three jobs in order to even feed themselves. So, the entire ritual of preparation. Eating feeding tells you a lot about the person and where they're coming from.
CK: So, what you're really saying I guess is the dahl can be anything right i mean yeah, but mango and you can put mutton in it you can. You can just put spices and tomatoes and onions in it, where they're in other recipes you found particularly appealing,
MV: I think just the everyday dahl, it's very light on the stomach. I wrote about one dahl that a couple taught to me, that is called a Bemaraha dahl, which means the doll of the sick. But for them, it was the way that they kind of wooed each other it was like very important in the court ship, because it was this mild dahl. And they had some kind of philosophical ideas about the shape of lentils being round, and, you know, wholesome. So, there's a lot to extrapolate on. But even for me, who's someone who's thinking deeply about that, it's kind of a funny exercise, because it's, it's, it's like thinking about something very mundane, very deeply. So, I think I'm still making sense of what lies behind this, right? Why is this narcissism of small differences so apparent, to the extent where one of my friends actually broke up with the guy that she was dating because she said, the dahl in his house was just off, right? And when she said it was off, I was like, let's dissect that a little bit. What do you mean off because you're not talking about onions and garlic, you're talking about something else? And it was something else it was about where he came from. And that off-ness became a code for class and caste and lots of other things.
CK: So, let's just, as you said, dissect that. So, the idea that the shape of the lentils, or how you season it, all of those things are defining of who you are and what caste you're from, etc. but also among a couple how they're going to get along, because they have to find a dahl that works for both of us. Yeah, got foods complicated. Like I just thought we'd have dinner. And it turns out, we're actually discussing whether our marriage is going to survive or not.
MV: Yeah, and not even it can be very passive aggressive, right? Like, you can just say that something's off. And you think it's about the salt but it's not it's something much deeper.
CK: Meher, this has been extraordinarily interesting. It's been really a pleasure. Thank you.
MV: Likewise, thank you.
CK: That was cultural anthropologist and food writer, Meher Varma. Her article the Dahl Directory was written for the food blog Fiddles. Right now my co-host, Sara Moulton, I will be answering your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking 101 and star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television.
Sara Moulton: Chris, what do you think about mulled wine?
CK: I hate it.
CK: I think it's a vile, I think it's like yeah, I I back in college, a friend of mine is Swedish. And he always did the mulled wine thing, and I just don't get it putting spices into wine. I no.
SM: I thought you were going to say that. If you'd asked me the same question, I probably would have answered the same way. But over the holidays, my son's girlfriend was with us, and she is from Honduras. But she spent some time in Norway. And that was a drink that they had during the holidays. And so, she wanted to make it for us and of course I said yes, I wanted her to make whatever she wanted to. And when we did our postmortem after the holidays about what was the favorite thing we ate? Both my husband and I agreed that it was the mulled wine.
SM: Well, yes let me let yes no let me tell you what she did that was slightly different. I mean, there was fresh orange slice that was put into the glass, and we used little glasses and we put dried cranberries in the bottom. But when she heated up the wine she heated up very gently and she added very little sugar and you know the usual spices some cinnamon, I think small spice, some cloves, but she also added bourbon.
CK: Ah. Well of course
SM: I have to say it was absolutely delicious.
CK: Well, okay, that's not really mulled wine. That's bourbon with some wine.
SM: No, no, it's mostly wine. It really was. But that little accent of the bourbon in the backdrop. Yeah, fantastic. I have to get the recipe and share with you. Anyway, let's take a call. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hey, it’s Graham, calling from the Atlanta area.
SM: Hi, Graham, how can we help you today?
Caller: So, I've grown up with beans and rice and there is something that I've never really delved into and that is wild rice. So, I've been looking at it a little bit more closely recently, various cooking methods and one of the methods that came up was the steeping method, which you know, from my lifetime of drinking tea I'm somewhat familiar with, but I'd like to get your guys’ views on what is the correct way of actually cooking wild rice.
SM: The way I have always done it is to simmer it in salted water. And first of all, let's just start by saying that wild rice is not a grain it's a grass and there's so many different kinds you can find, but the main difference being there's wild wild rice, which hasn't been treated all that much. And then there's cultivated wild rice. And the thing about wild rice, regardless of what the back of the package says, you're sort of on your own, and you have two more look what it should look like then timing. So, I find that I feel I have the most control when I go with roughly a ratio of two or two and a half to one liquid to rice, making sure of course, you rinse the rice really well. And in salted water, and then simmer it takes anywhere from 40 to 50 minutes, and you can take it till it just starts to pop or until most of them do, you don't want to go too far, it gets mushy, I wouldn't soak it, I just feel like you couldn't control it as much as simmering it and keeping an eyeball on it. And by the way, you do that covered. And if there's any excess liquid, you can just pour it off, (burn it off). But let's see what Chris has to say.
CK: Two things. I boil in plenty of water, I wouldn't worry about two cups or two and a half to one or whatever
SM: You do more in the pasta method?
CK: Yeah, just the pasta method. Because you're never going to get the amount of water right. Two you have to be really careful because most wild rice is not all wild rice, because it's so expensive. It's a mix, right with other stuff,
SM: it will say on the package.
CK: But yeah, but the real stuff is really expensive. So, if you cook a wild rice mix in a lot of water, some of that stuff, that's not really why rice is going to get blown out fast. Do you do want to make sure you're dealing with all wild rice, which is going to cost a pretty penny
Caller: Yeah, I will definitely say that I do have all wild rice sitting on top of my fridge, it did cost a penny and I would love to be able to cook it correctly. Just throw
CK: Just throw in a bunch of salted water and simmer it for 45 minutes
SM: You know, I actually do agree with Chris because the thing about doing the ratios is it doesn't mean anything if you have a different sized pot, meaning if you have a tight little pot, you know it's going to be covered enough if you have a wider pot, then the water is going to evaporate sooner. So, I'm going to go back and agree with Chris that the pasta method is probably better.
CK: Dear diary. Sara agrees with me today
SM: I’ve come to that conclusion with white rice. I no longer go with proportions. I now go with finger
CK: The height of a finger.
CK: If you put your finger at horizontally
SM: Right, right, right
CK: It's the thickness of a finger
SM: Right right because every pot is different. So yeah, I would do salted boiling water, but I would keep a very good eye on it. And as soon as it starts popping open taste it and see how you like it. And if you want it all to pop open, because you can overcook it. And you also can under cook it
CK: el dente wild rice is not a good idea.
Caller: No. I will keep that fine.
SM: And let us know how it goes. Graham.
CK: Thanks, Graham.
Caller: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much, guys
CK: Take care.
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, my name is John. I'm calling from Boston.
CK: How can we help you?
(13:00) Caller: A couple of years ago, I was given a carbon steel gratin dish because of a love of a cheesy French Alpine recipe called croute ____. super cheesy and bready, gooey, and crispy all at the same time. It's really amazing. Until my average, Tuesday night in Boston includes ski touring to a hut. I think I'm looking for other ways to justify the shelf space for the pan. I recognize this is just a frying pan with two short handles. But nevertheless, I was wondering if you guys had any creative ideas of how to use a gratin technique without the usual heavy cream or thick cheese that accompany the traditional recipes. Figured desserts and crumbles and streusels are a way to start but what about other sides or mains?
CK: Well, leave out the heavy cream or cheese. I mean you can just put whatever you want. You could put vegetables you could do a combination of meat and vegetables. You know whatever in the pan, put it a high oven roast it, take it out, finish it with a gratin finish which could be breadcrumbs with seasonings or breadcrumbs with cheese or whatever you want. Put that on top, throw it under the broiler for a few minutes to finish and you're good to go. A gratin has just got you know a coating covering a top layer of some kind, which is usually browned under a broiler so you can do anything you want underneath that layer and it doesn't have to have any cheese in it.
Caller: Would you try anything other than breadcrumbs under the broiler? Like, is there anything else you can think of that we can fire under a broiler
SM: I was going to say a mixture if you threw some nuts in there, it would be healthier. You could mix up the crumbs and the nuts and they would brown up nicely. You know let's say you used panko or even croutons you know just a little oil and some nuts did that. I mean in terms of the cheese, you know a good option is just Parmesan on the top because a little bit of parmesan goes a long way and it will still give you that nice browning on the top, but you could do like a really nice robust vegetable stew with eggplant tomatoes, and then just put some crummy stuff on top.
CK: I had a white pizza in Vermont of all places recently that was fabulous. They put a little fresh ricotta on it and when they finished it. So little piles of fresh ricotta on and then under the broiler for a couple of minutes. That would be fabulous.
SM: You know, what you're making me think of is a lot of Greek dishes, they'll make a béchamel and you can make a bechamel meaning a cream sauce with 1% milk even can they will do like a ____ moussaka or something and they'll put the béchamel on top and then they'll sprinkle some Greek cheese more like Parmesan on top and that will brown it and that will give you the creamy cheesy stuff without all the heavy creamy stuff.
CK: Or feta
SM: Or feta is great too. John, I think it's okay to splurge every so often too
16:00 SM: so sometimes use it for the full on ______
Caller: Yeah, the cold weather certainly helps.
CK: Once a month
SM: And then do a few sit-ups and you'll feel much better.
CK: John, thanks for calling.
Caller: All right, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
CK: All right. This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help in the kitchen, give us a ring anytime 855-426-9843 one more time 855 – 426 - 9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: This is Bill from Colorado Springs, Colorado.
SM: Hi, Bill. How can we help you today?
Caller: I've got a simple question about sifting flour, cocoa powder, confectionery sugar, that kind of stuff.
Caller: When I've done sifting, should I force those little bits through the sieve? Or should I just toss them? I mean, it probably doesn't matter, but it's going to affect the weight. I assume I weigh it after I sift
SM: Well, you know recipes, if they're written well will tell you when to sift it. So, it will say two cups of sifted flour, or two cups of flour sifted. I mean, in the old days, everything was sifted to get rid of little bugs and you know, things like that is not really an issue these days. But the reason to sift it before you measure it is to lighten it up. So, it's much more aerated. In that case, you know, just push all the flour through. For something else like confectioner sugar, just do your best that's again, so it doesn't clump in whatever you're adding it to. Usually if you're weighing it, it doesn't tell you to sift it.
CK: But two cups flour, comma, sifted means you obviously weigh it and then sift it
SM: Right of course. But anyway, I think the real key here, what you're looking for is where that comma is where that word sifted is if it's before or after
CK: Now, just to really irritate everybody. I never sift the flour ever.
SM: I don't either.
CK: Now, if you're doing something where there could be clumps, like some kind of a sugar that might be clumpy, then I get it but flour. I would never bother sifting flour. I don't think it makes a difference. But the other
SM: But the other things I would generally force them through as best as I can. And then you bang the sifter over the bowl, which will make that go through even faster.
CK: Did we answer any of your questions, or we just confused everybody?
Caller: You hit most of them. But I wanted to go back to the weight of flour in a cup. Yep. And I think what's really key is that you use whatever measurement, the developer of the recipe used
CK: Yes, you're correct.
SM: That's 100% true.
CK: And it's all over the place. I mean, King Arthur says one thing we say something else
SM: King Arthur is 120 grams per cup. And Chris would say more,
CK: We say 130 135.
SM: That's right.
CK: But in ounces, essentially all-purpose flour is five ounces per cup
SM: But I agree with what you just said, which is if you have somebody who has a serious recipe tester, developer and they say at the beginning of the book, I use this kosher salt, I use this weight for flour, then you can trust that the recipe will work because that's how they tested it. So that's a very good point Bill
CK: What if someone's not serious? What if their comedic recipe developer? Sara’s giving me, Sara has the best looks ever. You don't ever have to talk you can just look at me now.
SM: I know really.
CK: I know exactly what you're saying now. Anyway, I think we answered your question.
Caller: Yes, you did. Thank you very much
SM: And that was a very good question Bill
CK: Great question. Thanks Bill
Caller: Thank you very much.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next journalist Larissa Zimberoff tells us about the future of the plant-based food industry. That and more after the break This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball right now it's my interview with journalist Larissa Zimberoff, her book, Technically Food: Inside Silicon Valley's Mission to Change What We Eat is a look at the science behind the growing plant-based food industry are so welcome to Milk Street.
Larissa Zimberoff: Thank you, Chris. It's so wonderful to be here.
CK: So, when you use the term new food, we're talking about Impossible Burger we're talking about creating meat out of plants or in the lab, what is a new food?
LZ: So, its algae, it's mycelium. It's growing mycelium in a big metal tank and making it into chicken. You know, greenhouses have been around for a very long time. But vertical farms haven't been around for longer than maybe 15 years. So, these are not necessarily new ways of science, but new ways of thinking about what can be our food.
CK: I remember the book Diet for a Small Planet, and you quote from it, you say the most wasteful and inefficient food systems? Are those controlled by a few in the interests of a few. Now, I understand why at the time that was written, but you're now extending this concept to the new foods. So why would the new foods still fit this description controlled by a few in the interests of a few?
LZ: I think that initially, these companies are mission based. However, the trend shows that big food is getting into their their swimming pool of new foods. So, we may think it's lots of small startups with lots of ideas and innovation but in reality, if we looked at plant-based meat, we would see only a few companies, and also many of them owned already by big food.
CK: So the new foods is an expression of IP is really Silicon Valley meets Big Ag and is found a way to, uh, to have the attributes of a startup or the digital startup. But you also mentioned they had a mission. And in what exactly is that mission?
LZ: Yeah, they're looking to end industrial animal agriculture. Most of these founders are vegans, and animal cruelty is very high up on their list. I think climate is beginning to trump the save the animals play. So right now they're mission based, as more investment comes from big food as more investment comes in from bigger players, as companies are bought up, I think that could change. These companies are also dependent upon like you said, this, like agricultural system, they still depend on crops, culture, meat will depend on nutrients that we already know. So, I think one of the problems is that no one's rethinking our American diet. They're just layering on a new piece of technology on an old system. So, I wrote the book because it was like, well, where's my health in these priorities? Because I didn't see it. And to me, that's where one of the problems exists.
CK: Let's try to make sense of this. Because this is complicated. So, you, right, if you were to eat whole peas, you get phytonutrients. And when you process peas to make pea milk, then you're losing everything else. So, before we get on to the new foods, or the new building blocks, the first step is processing of foods. And that is problematic or not.
LZ: So, most food is processed in some ways. So, people like to make this argument that milk has to be processed, you know, it comes from a cow, and it has to be pasteurized. There are all these sort of steps that are quote unquote, processing. But a pea being turned into pea protein into pea milk. That's many, many steps of processing. So the pea is fractionated and turned into carbohydrates, starch and protein, the protein is taken in one place, it's grown in another place, and then it goes to somebody else who processes it and maybe to somebody else, right so it's how many steps did your food take to get created.
CK: What are some of the challenges in the burgers, trying to get the sense of you know, blood red meat in that had to be that took a long time to figure out how to do that. How did they figure that out?
LZ: So Impossible uses something called heme, which is a hemoglobin. It's it's the iron that moves around in our blood, but it also comes from soybeans. But because they needed at scale, what Impossible is doing is genetically engineered. And so, this heme helps change the color from pink to red. And it changes the flavor. Something that helps the maillard reaction that sort of that browning effect. But if you look at Beyond Meat, you know they're using beet root to color it or they're using I know that they've been trying to get it from flowers, herbs, and there aren't relying on that heme. But I think that cultured meat is is the is the holy grail.
CK: So, the hamburger, obviously is one of the first things people are working on. Are we ever going to get a ribeye steak? Or is it only going to be ground meat?
LZ: Oh, Chris, people are working on this all night and day. So, I recently tried Wagyu and elk and lamb from a company a startup in California called Orbillion. Now they did not have the texture, but they had flavor and they had animal cells. I think these cultured meat companies are really working hard but they can only make meat for the rich. You know every time you scale up going from the lab to 100-gallon 1000-gallon 10,000 gallon, bigger, bigger 100,000 you know sugar is made at these quantities. But sugar is simple compared to culture and meat. So, getting there is really I mean it's it's one of those mind bending principles that we may or may not ever achieve.
CK: So let's talk about the building blocks. So, you mentioned mycelium, which is one of the biggies. What is mycelium in what do they do with it?
LZ: Mycelium is certainly one of the ones I'm very excited about. Mycelium is the threadlike network under the forest floor if we found it in nature, the mushroom is the fruiting body that grows above ground. So now people are growing mycelium in these big steel tanks or there's a company on the East Coast making bacon. They're growing it in trays, so layer upon layer upon layer this Mycelium is kind of instructed to grow. And then they have the slab that they then can smoke and add flavors to and then they can cut it like bacon. So, this mycelium is maybe five to seven ingredients, very simple with not many steps of processing. It does grow exponentially fast. In the same way that people look at cultured meat and say how is that possibly going to scale? You can look at mycelium and think oh, that's easy. It can be fed scraps of scraps can be the carbohydrates that it needs to grow, then it just needs water. And it's pretty delicious.
CK: So here, here's where I get confused. So, you talk about I think you had a steak made from mycelium and other things. And I thought it was pretty good. And you say it's a fairly simple item. How do we choose between let's say mycelium and then analog protein or textured vegetable protein or isolated soybean protein? Are some of these things, good ideas and hold the weight of the future? Or some things you think are potentially bad? How do you rate these building blocks?
LZ: Yeah, packaged food is sort of become the building block of the American diet. And packaged food isn't the best right because so much is going into it. I'm talking like chips and candy and cookies and and these burgers made from you know, 15 ingredients that have textured vegetable protein or soybean protein isolate that have multiple ingredients that have been touched by a dozen companies, if not more, and then are created into these burgers. Now mycelium doesn't have to go through that. It's simpler, we might say there's not a lot of downstream processing. So, this company in Boulder, the startup Meaty can grow it in a tank, compress it into a chicken shape, which I tried, and then sell it to me with just a few other ingredients and the the macronutrients the building blocks are the things we know it's not engineered to be the Dorito and to me, that's the difference.
CK: So, on the cutting edge of this technology, are the some really exciting things going on beyond mycelium etc.
LZ: Oh yeah, I think one of the crazy things Is that I haven't really wrapped my head around yet is there are people taking CO2 from the air and methane from the air and turning it into
c I know, right. So, you know, they could like set up shop next to Clorox or some kind of gas refinery and take their emissions out of the air and turn them into protein, the microbes will eat these emissions and turn them into eventually, they'll have a powder, and then that powder could be turned into a chicken. Or I kind of see it in a better way to be turned into fish food maybe or food for cows. But there are people tinkering,
CK: So, they'll call it the air burger.
LZ: Right, right. No calories. You can't even see it.
CK: This sounds like an episode of Flash Gordon from the 1940s. Well, that that would certainly be terrific. You know, recycling carbon emissions.
LZ: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's, it's definitely interesting, but hard to imagine that it's going to create something delicious, like, you know, an Italian meal, like your, you know, someone's grandma made.
CK: It makes you wonder, because I, my cooking now is becoming more and more basic, you know, plant-based grains, beans, other things. But but you know, sort of like Southern Italy, Calabria, that kind of thing. Very basic, very simple, not not too clever. And so, you always just wonder whether people went back to that kind of diet, which doesn't have a lot of really expensive ingredients, and the cooking techniques are pretty straightforward. Whether that's a better way to go than trying to make a $20 burger. Do you ever think about that, that there is something to learn from the past, right?
LZ: Yes, absolutely. I don't want the same investment that's going to food tech to be going to regenerative organic farming to be going to local food industry.
c You know, I don't want Impossible to be in every corner of the earth. Like, why do companies have to become the Facebook the Apple? The Impossible? Why can't we have smaller local food companies that are really focused on their, their, their community?
CK: Farming has a soul. Right small farming anyway, Larissa, it's been a real pleasure.
LZ: Thank you, Chris. I love being here
CK: That was journalist Larissa Zimberoff her book is Technically Food: Inside Silicon Valley's Mission to Change What We Eat. You know, I'm no fan of fake burgers. Many contain highly processed ingredients such as textured wheat protein, potato protein, soy-based hemoglobin, xantham gum, soy protein isolate, and many others. American corporations invest in products that they can patent they have intellectual property and not in commodities, such as tomatoes and broccoli. But the solution to better food is really very simple. Support small farmers who grow and sell food locally. This requires an investment in infrastructure so that say a pig farmer can find a meat processing plant nearby, with distribution into local markets. So, one more time it's really simple. Just eat unprocessed local foods. You're listening to Milk Street Radio, it's time to chat with JM Hersh about this week's recipe. Chicken and vegetable soup with chipotle chilies. J.M. how are you?
J.M. Hirsch: I'm doing great.
CK: You and I travel a lot, you more than me. And virtually every destination includes chicken soup. Almost everyone. We've had many of them and in fact, we've had more than one Mexican Chicken soup. But this one is one of my favorites. It has Chipotle chilies in it.
J.M: Yeah, this was a really fascinating approach to chicken soup. I know that that sounds almost like a contradiction and like how fascinating can a bowl of chicken soup be? It's comforting, but is it fascinating? Well, you know in Mexico City, I ate at a restaurant run by Josefina Lopez Mendez, and she offered me something called Caldo Tlalpeno. And it didn't come to the table as a big bowl of chicken soup, which was I think the first hint that something was going to be different here. It actually came in multiple bowls. This is chicken soup deconstructed or rather to be constructed at the table. So, it starts out as a bowl of rice, and on top of which is a bunch of shredded chicken. And then there's a separate bowl that has a really rich broth. And they've made this broth with the chipotles and tomatoes. And they simmer down to its really really rich and thick. And then there's all these other add ons in the sidebar is you know, green beans and carrots and zucchini, avocado, cilantro, lime, salsa, all this other stuff. So, she brings this all to the table and you you construct to your chicken soup. Your Caldo Tlalpeno the way you want and I going to say the layers of flavor and texture were just mind blowing.
CK: There was a salsa too on top
J.M: Yeah, yeah, there was a charred habanero salsa. And I’ve got to tell you, Josefina, she really leans in on the char and I'm not a guy who likes burnt food. So, I wasn't sure I was going to like this but man does it deepen the flavors I mean; she takes habanero chilies and she takes garlic cloves and red onions and she just puts them on a Kamal and really scorches them. And when they are really browned and almost, I mean to say crunchy, she just grinds them up into a salsa with some lime juice and some salt and boy does that flavor pop when you add it to this chicken soup.
CK: Why is it that American chicken soup doesn't even compare to this. It's so it tells you so much about a culture, right?
J.M: Oh, really does I mean you know, I when I think of the worst chicken soups of my childhood, I'm thinking limp noodles flavorless chicken broth that is more oily than flavorful. And you know, overcooked carrots and not very exciting. But this like I said it was just layer upon layer of texture, you know, you have a lot of the vegetables were actually raw or barely blanched. So, you're getting crunch from those green beans and from that zucchini, and then you're getting, you know, creaminess and that kind of richness from the avocado and you're getting the bright fresh herbal flavor from the cilantro. And then you're getting the depth from the Chipotles and the tomato, the savoriness it was a lot in the mouth a lot to kind of process but in a great way.
CK: This starts with chicken thighs or parts or whatever. And chicken broth, right and then you cook them together. So, you almost end up with a double broth that then I guess is the base for the soup but also you use to cook the rice, right?
J.M: Exactly. You're basically making kind of a bold broth. You take your tomatoes, you take onion and some chilies and the garlic and some cilantro stems and you simmering that to make this kind of enriched liquid and then you cook your chicken in it you're poaching the chicken in it, you take the chicken out and then you shred the chicken for use later. And then you make your rice separately. So now you have this really rich broth, you have your rice you have your chicken which has been cooked in a lot of those elements as well. And then you have all these other things that you add to it, you know the avocado and the vegetables and all that. And then when you start assembling it, it just really comes together.
CK: J.M. thank you. Chicken a vegetable soup with Chipotle chilies although that sounds very much like Fanny Farmer, so the authentic recipe is called what again?
J.M: It’s called Caldo Tlalpeno which I agree sounds far more romantic than the English.
CK: That's so much better. And so is the soup. Thank you very much.
J.M: Thank you. You can get this recipe for chicken and vegetable soup with Chipotle chilies at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette explain how kitchen utensils like the whisk got their names we'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?
Caller: This is Kayla and I'm calling from Hadley, Massachusetts.
SM: Well, hello, how can we help you today?
Caller: I recently had the opportunity to buy some flash frozen salmon from my local CoOp. And its wild salmon and I haven't cooked as much wild salmon as I've cooked farmed. And I'm finding that it's a little on the dry and tough side and I'm wondering if you have suggestions of ways to prepare it that would help it to be more tender.
SM: Well, it's going be different because it has a lower fat content than the farmed salmon. So, it's not going to be as tender. I would say make sure that you don't overcook it, for sure undercook it and how you know, very unscientifically is let's say you bake it or let's say you’re sauteing it and you stick a knife through it at a certain point when you think it might be beginning to get done. If it's completely cooked through the knife will go through easily. If it's not, you'll get resistance midway, which means it's like medium rare or so, so I would slightly undercook it. The other thing is, there's no getting round the fact that it's lower in fat content. So, I'd serve it with a buttery sauce or a fatty sauce of some kind. But let's see what Chris has to say,
CK: Ah, the French always comes out. Yes, here's a recipe for you. Get a 12-inch skillet. Hopefully you've sent her cut filet. So, they're all pretty even cut a couple lemons into fairly thick rounds and put the rounds on the bottom of the pan. Put some parsley or cilantro stems or tarragon in and then add a little stock like chicken stock and or some wine, white wine or just use white wine. Put the fish on top, bring it up to simmer, cover, cook 10 to 12 minutes. And that will give you a really moist, steamed fish. Just a great go to recipes that should work particularly well with a leaner, wild salmon.
SM: So, you're saying cook it in a wet environment,
CK: Steam it because if you dry roasted or sauté it, you're going to tend to dry it out. So that's what I would do.
Caller: Thank you. That's a great suggestion. Thank you to both of you.
CK: You're welcome. Thanks for calling.
SM: Yes. Take care.
Caller: My pleasure. Bye. Bye
SM: Bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a kitchen mystery that needs solving. Give us a ring our number is 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Marlo.
SM: Hi, Marlo, where are you calling from?
Caller: I'm calling from Wayne, New Jersey.
SM: How can we help you today?
Caller: I have a question about cooking with cast iron. Ever since I've been cooking more seriously, I've had a ceramic stovetop, and I've never quite been able to get cast iron to work for me. And somewhere along the way, I came up with the thought that maybe cast iron doesn't work as well on a flat ceramic stovetop as compared to over a gas flame.
SM: Well, here's the thing, it actually it really should work just fine. But you need to give it time to heat up because the thing about a gas stove. And that's why everybody loves it. You turn it on high and it's on high immediately the flame the heat. But with electric, it takes a while to get up there. And it takes a while for a cast iron pan to heat up. So, it's just understandably because the stovetop is not hot for a while the pan is going to take that much longer to get hot. So, I think you just need to give it more time. Chris, you agree?
CK: Yeah. Our Food Editor actually Matt Card who's he's had to cook in rental homes on an electric stovetop. He agrees with Sarah. But he said and I do the same thing now even on gas you heat up cast iron and sort of medium low heat for like 15 minutes.
SM: Wow. Okay,
CK: because you'll have hot spots if you heat it up too fast. So, you really want to get that whole pan hot, so it retains heat properly. I would go medium low for a longer period of time. And then when you're cooking with it to adjust the heat. Of course, cast iron is not going to adjust quickly because it's heavy. But just take it off the burner and move it to another burner quickly. And that's one way to adjust it but low and slow for heating it up and that should do it. So, I think Sara and I are actually agreed.
SM: Yeah, how rare.
CK: Amazing. Who's going to pay for dinner now?
Caller: No, I never heat it that long. So that's very good to know. Think of it
CK: Think of it this way. The heavier the pan the longer it's going to take for to absorb and distribute that heat, right? Yeah.
Caller: Yeah, makes perfect sense.
CK: All right.
Caller: Thank you so much.
SM: Yeah. All right, Marlo. Take care. Bye bye.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our own listeners.
Caller: Hi, my name is Patrick. And here's my tip for serving pie. I often was frustrated when pieces of pie would stick to the pie plate. So now I butter and flour my pie plate before I put in the dough just as I would with a cake pan. And now the slices of pie even the first piece come out cleanly.
CK: By the way, if you'd like to share your own cooking tip here on Milk Street Radio, please go to 177 Milk Street com slash radio tips Next up is Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette hosts of A Way with Words. Grant and Martha, what words are on your mind this week?
Grant Barrett: Well, we've been in the kitchen, going through the drawers trying to get all our utensils and order. And one of the things that we've got to thinking about is the argument over which tool in the drawer is actually the spatula?
Martha Barnette: Yeah. Chris, do you have strong feelings about the word spatula?
GB: Does it keep you awake?
CK: No, it's usually a wooden stick with a rubber end on it.
GB: You use that to flip your pancakes?
CK: Oh, I see what you mean. Oh, okay good point
GB: The thing is there are actually more than two different kinds of instruments that can be called a spatula. And it's no surprise because the origin of spatula connects to spades and swords and animals and lots of other things.
MB: Yeah, it goes way, way back to the Latin word spatula, or spatula, which goes back to a Greek word, that means a broad blade or a surface for spreading mixtures. And that same word gives us the word spade in a suit of cards, which is also sort of like a spatula, if you think about it, you know them the four of spatula.
GB: But interestingly, it's a different spade than the garden implement, which comes to English by a different path, even though way, way back, they probably are related.
MB: And then another word that is related to the word spatula, that comm says via French is the word spay in English, you know, which is an operation done with a sharp blade on your animal. And that comes to the French espeer, which refers to a particular kind of sword. But another really cool kitchen tool that I never thought much about until I started digging into it linguistically is the word colander, which comes from a Latin word colatorium, which means to strain. And that might not be that interesting to you but what got me all excited about it was it's also related to the word percolate which means to strain through if you're percolating.
GB: Percolating coffee. Got it
MB: Percolating coffee exactly. And one more word that will be familiar to you. Is that strained pineapple drink the
CK: Pina colada.
MB: There you go. The colada is related to colander.
GB: That's what colada means.
MB: Chris, this is what we live for these forehead smacking moments, you know, where we say, oh, that's where that comes from. And that's that connection
CK: In other words, it's a drinking game, right? Essentially
GB: Well, speaking of forehead smacking moments, don't smack your forehead as you pass the portcullis
because portcullis is also connected. You know, this is the big castle grate, g-r-a- t-e that blocks a tunnel or entrance. The port part comes from the French word for door. But the cullis part comes from the Latin for filter or strain is directly related to the same Latin colada. And in fact, there's a rare term cullis. Cullis, meaning a strong broth made, of course by filtering or straining.
CK: So, things go back to Latin very often,
CK: But they go through 85 permutations before they end up today. And now that in other words, if something started out in Latin where do they go next, most likely?
CK: Usually they kind of English through French, that's most often the case so many of our food words have traveled to us through French, the French influence on food throughout Europe and even large parts of the non-European language speaking world is a mix because they have such a strong food culture, like Russian, for example, has many food words, just like English does that come from French that were originally in Latin.
CK: Well, because they were hiring French chefs all the time in the 18th century, probably yeah
MB: Right. Right. Well, another great example of a term that goes all the way back to Latin is our term charger. You know, when you put a hot dish on the charger on the table, that goes all the way back to the Latin word carrus, which means a wheeled vehicle and it's where we get words like car and cargo and carriage and it led to the French word meaning to load charger and I we still have this meaning in English, you know, we charge a battery by loading it up with electricity or, or we charge our nanny with looking after the nannies charges.
GB: And this leads us to what a nanny really needs When she's doing work. She needs some zest, and you have zesters in the kitchen, that make zest that you might add to a dish. The origin is murky, but we do know we got it from the French again, and that it appeared in English by the mid 1700s. There's a theory that I like that it comes from an old expression of French entre resist a la zest that is to between exist and zest which means to be indecisive and be neither one thing nor another.
CK: Oh, I love that
MB: There's always the Australian expression. I don't know whether I'm Arthur or Martha. I use that one all the time.
CK: These are great.
GB: We're going to leave you with a little bit of talk about whiskers. Whiskers actually come from the same route as whisk when you whisk up a froth when you're doing your eggs. The whiskers on your face or the whiskers on a cat have the same origin. And they all go back to Scandinavian words that all have to do with quick motions that eventually lead to ideas of brooms and sweeping then to stir mix with a quick easy movement. And then by the 1500s a “wh” was added to the beginning of the word to make it more like pronunciation of the period where people would aspirating their H's like whip or whisk, but there is a strange term that I want to share. It's called flutter whisk, which meant feather broom, and it's where you had a dried goose wing you would use to maybe sweep out the kitchen
CK: Oh the old, dried goose wing.
MB: Yeah, but you know, dirty kitchen floor get out the goose wing. Put the kid to the work
CK: As long as the wings nice still attached to the goose.
MB: Right. Usually have those in twos.
CK: Yeah, that's good point
MB: One for the kitchen, one for another room
CK: Well, Grant and Martha, I'm just going to refer to you now as zist and zest. Guys, thank you so much. From colander to whisk, I’m up to date.
MB: Outstanding, Chris. Thank you
MB: Thanks, Chris.
CK: That was Grant Barrett and Martha Burnette. Co-hosts of A Way with Words. That's it for this week's show. If you tune into later want to binge listen every single episode, you can download Milk Street Radio on Apple podcast Spotify, wherever you find your podcast. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177 Milk Street.com There you can download each week's recipe. Watch the latest season of her television show and learn about our magazine. The latest cookbook Vegetables. can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter and 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison. Producers Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky, production assistant, Amelia McGuire, and production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. theme music by Toubab Krewe Additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX