Sauces, Salads, Olive Oils and Vinaigrettes: Exploring Phenomenal Foods and Flavors Part II

Grilled asparagus with pecorino cheese and lemon olive oil

(  I recently attended a 2.5 day course called "Exploring Phenomenal Foods and Flavors: A Culinary Master Course for Dietitians".  In Part I of this post, I shared with you a Focus on Ingredients and Flavors: Modern American Eating where Chef Lucien Vendome, from Nestle, helped enlighten dietitians about how we can build tasteful flavors with healthier ingredients, and how to spot food trends [though after a morning full of tasting, I felt anything BUT light!].

On Day 2, the course was held at the...wait for it...Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone, in St Helena, California.  Pinch me!  Did you know, the CIA was established in 1946 at Yale University by 2 registered dietitians who wanted to provide training for soldiers returning home after the second World War? I felt so proud to be a dietitian as I walked up the grand steps to enter into the prestigious CIA.  

Mastering Flavor Balance: A Deconstructed Mole Tasting

Chef Bill Briwa, a CIA Chef Instructor, led our first session with a discussion on balancing flavors in complex dishes by having us "deconstruct" or break down a mole [pronounced mole-ay] sauce, popular in Mexican cooking.  We went through a guided tasting of the ingredients that make up a mole sauce, and noted how the flavor of the sauce changed by  manipulating the contributing ingredients.  

Building vertical flavor in our mole sauce:

Building on what we learned on day 1,  we tasted the difference between when we pureed a chile versus toasting a chile and then pureeing it.  The same chili had a different flavor profile through the simple application of culinary technique.  Through toasting, the chili was made more "vertical" in flavor, as opposed to just horizontal in flavor.  Here's how to toast a pepper: 

  • Take the pepper and press it against a hot surface for ~10 seconds.  The act of toasting the chile helps to reduce some of its natural bitterness.  
  • Remove the seeds and ribs of the pepper (which contains 40% of the pepper's heat).
  • Puree the pepper, adding small amounts of water until desired consistency.

We also tasted the difference between a regular spice mixture versus one that was toasted first.  Again, by applying a simple technique of toasting, the flavor became rich and more interesting.  

After combining the 4 toasted chilis, toasted spices, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chicken stock, chocolate, brown sugar and vinegar, we ended up with our mole sauce - a flavor explosion in our mouths.  This mole sauce is ideal with beans, rice and tortillas.  

Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Did you know - extra virgin olive oil is freshly pressed fruit juice of the olive?   Olive oils are not all the same.  Chef John Ash lead us through an olive oil tasting, which showcased the vast flavor profiles of different olive oils - from fruity to grassy to peppery.  We tasted olive oils used in vinaigrettes, soups, salads and savory dishes.  

To taste an olive oil, rub the sample cup against your hand to slightly warm the olive oil. Then take a small amount in your mouth and explore the flavor including its finish.

Adding flavor with olive oils:

After tasting the different olive oils, Chef John also demonstrated how olive oils can add flavor to foods.  He took asparagus, grilled it, then served it with crispy proscuitto, shaved parmesean cheese, lemon, capers and then drizzled a lemon-infused olive oil over the plate.  Super simple, and highly flavorful.  


Chef John demonstrated using a smoked olive oil as a way to generate a smoky flavor in a Haba Bean Soup. The smoked olive oil is likely a healthier alternative to creating a smoky flavor via the BBQ.  

From Beans and Greens to Vinaigrettes and More: A Salads Master Class

In my house, we eat salad on most days - so this Salad Master Class was especially relevant.  Chef Lars demonstrated how salad can be transformed from boring into culinary delights, when ingredients are expanded from boring old ice berg lettuce, to include beans (legumes), greens, grains and fruit.  Chef Lars made a few vinaigrettes - one featuring cumin, one with mint and one with citrus.  

Vinaigrette 101:

  • Vinaigrettes are made from oil and vinegar, traditionally 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar (though, personal preference should dictate the ratio).  Myself, I prefer more of a 2:1 ratio of oil to vinegar.
  • Spices, herbs, garlic, sweetness (honey, sugar) and other additions can enhance the vinaigrette to become more complex in flavor.  
  • Vinaigrettes can be used as a salad dressing, marinade, dip for vegetables, with grains, pasta, beans and other sauces.  

Cumin Vinaigrette:

  • EVOO
  • chopped mint infused into lemon juice
  • crush toasted cumin seeds
  • salt
  • lemon juice
  • red wine vinegar

This Cumin vinaigrette recipe would be delightful with cucumbers, tomatoes, or butternut squash.  It would also be fabulous on top of pasta for a vegan pasta sauce.

Are you getting hungry yet?  We completed our morning with a seated family-style lunch.  AND - that was just the morning!  There was more food in the afternoon as we continued on our culinary adventure!


Lunch plate: 

Lemon Olive Oil Cake:

A closer view: lemon olive oil cake with a lemon olive oil ice cream:

Let me finish with a reflection that sums up how I felt about this learning experience:

"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions" OW Holmes, Jr.  


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