Flavor. We definitely consider it an essential part of the diet around here, but it’s not often that we talk about its direct relevance to nutrition. After reading a great article by Mark Schatzker last week, I was inspired to take a moment to highlight this underappreciated piece of the human nutrition puzzle.
Shatzker describes flavor as an “ancient chemical language,” which is such a beautifully fitting depiction of the science. “Flavor is the body’s way of identifying important nutrients and remembering what foods they come from.” We have evolved to seek out our favorite flavors, but we’re facing a problem because this synergy between us and our diet has been disrupted by our modern food supply. Factory farming and other questionable contemporary food production techniques yield lackluster products, in both nutrition and flavor. On top of that, a highly profitable industry of food scientists and flavor chemists have stepped in to fill the flavor void, adulterating products with enticing extracts and additives that tempt our senses but that provide none of the benefits that our bodies are craving. Shatzker’s new book, The Dorito Effect, is definitely going on my reading list. The message, which is very consistent with the way we do things around here, is to get your flavor from real food, because it’s what your body really wants.
So how can we put this theory into practice? Today, let’s remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated to craft big flavors from natural ingredients. Serving as a prime example: Chimichurri in a Hurry. Just a handful of the highly flavorful and nutritious compounds in this classic Argentine condiment include antioxidant myristicin from parsley, antimicrobial allicin from garlic, and anti-inflammatory capsaicin from chili peppers. And we get to enjoy all of those whole-food benefits in just a matter of moments thanks to my favorite blender-hack.
If you’re a food blogger, you’ll begin by taking an artsy sun-drenched photo of your ingredients. Those are home-grown peppers and parsley from my front stoop, and you better believe they have real flavor!
If you’re not a food blogger, you get to go straight to the fun part: jamming lots of tasty vegetable matter into a jar! I roughly chop the scallion to make it fit, and I give the hot peppers a quick mincing to avoid any over-sized spicy bites. Everything else just goes straight in!
If you’re not familiar with the mason jar magic bullet, this is where the magic happens. Effortless prep, ready for storage, practically zero cleanup!
Here it is in action! I started by stirring a generous spoonful of the chimichurri into the water while cooking a pot of brown rice. This lightly seasons the grains with a first layer of flavor. Then the rice went into bowls with some simple shredded salsa-braised chicken breast out of my pressure cooker (so convenient, life changing, I promise you’ll hear about this soon my fellow Instant Pot fans [editor’s note: here it is!]). Then sliced avocado, and, obviously, more of that irresistibly tangy+garlicky+herbaceous chimichurri.
It was seriously so delicious, I can’t wait to make it again. Simple foods with big flavor… the way nature intended! Below I’m listing some of my favorite ways to use this sauce, and I’d love if you would share any fresh ideas:
- For the traditional approach, pass at the table to serve with grilled meats or veggies (or even halloumi!)
- Spread a thin schmear over whole-grain toast, with or without avocado
- Slather on a grass-fed beef burger
- Drizzle over your favorite veggie soup for a Latin-American take on soupe au pistou
- Spoon over a fried egg (extra delicious over leftover brown rice or quinoa)
- Since a big portion of the chimichurri is olive oil, you can use it in place of other fats when sauteing quick-cooking ingredients like shrimp or tender vegetables