The flavors of various cuisines have a lot to do with how they start. Called aromatics, they are combinations of vegetables and herbs (and sometimes even meats) that are heated in some fat at the beginning of a dish. The heated fat helps these ingredients release addictive aromas and impart deep flavors into the dish that’s being cooked. These culinary foundations help define what makes a French dish French or an Indian dish Indian. While some of these are more exact with specific proportions, others are more loosey goosey. However, none of these are carved in stone and will vary depending on the dish. Here are some of the most common sets.
Cajun Holy Trinity: Sauté 3 parts onion, 2 parts celery and 1 part green bell pepper in butter and olive oil. Supplement with garlic, parsley, shallots, and/or paprika.
Chinese: Sauté garlic, scallions, and ginger in cooking oil. Supplement chilies, shallots, chives, cilantro, Chinese five spice, and/or star anise.
French Mirepoix: Sauté two parts onion, one part each celery and carrot in butter. This can be supplemented with parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and/or herbs de Provence. A variation, called a white mirepoix, replace the carrots with parsnips.
German Suppengrün: Sauté one part each leeks, carrots and celery. Supplement with parsley, thyme, celery leaves, rutabaga, parsley root and onions.
Indian: Sauté onions, garlic, chilies, and ginger in ghee. Supplement with tomatoes, cardamom, cumin, curry, cloves, fenugreek, garam masala, and/or turmeric.
Italian Soffritto: Sauté onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in olive oil. Supplement with fennel, bay leaves, wine, parsley, sage, prosciutto, and/or pancetta.
Latin Sofrito: Sauté garlic, onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes in olive oil. Supplement with chilies, bay leaves, coriander, cumin, paprika, cilantro, bacon, chorizo, ham, wine, and/or vinegars.
Middle Eastern: Sauté garlic, onions, tomatoes, scallions, and raisins in cooking oil and clarified butter. Supplement with ginger, saffron, turmeric, and/or cinnamon.
Polish Włoszczyzna: Sauté leeks, carrots, celery root, and parsley root. Supplement with carrots, parsnips or parsley root, celeriac, and savoy or white cabbage leaves, and sometimes celery leaves and flat-leaf parsley.
Thai Curry Pastes: Sauté shallots, garlic, and chilies in cooking oil and coconut milk. Supplement with galangal, kaffir lime, and/or lemongrass.
These ingredients provide strong foundations and signature flavors for many of the world’s dishes. No matter what you’re making, it’s good to start with a solid base on which to build a great dish.
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