'Test Kitchen': How To Make Vegetarian Dishes Pop With A Little Umami | St. Louis Public Radio

'Test Kitchen': How To Make Vegetarian Dishes Pop With A Little Umami

Originally published on March 13, 2015 10:46 am

Just because a meal is vegetarian doesn't mean it can't be "meaty." One trick to heighten the depth of flavors in plant-based dishes? Use ingredients that offer a pop of umami, say Bridget Lancaster and Jack Bishop of America's Test Kitchen, who have released the new cookbook The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.

Umami (which means "delicious" or "yummy" in Japanese) is the name of the savory flavor in meat and fish — and it's recognized as one of the five tastes, along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami "incites our taste receptors on our tongue to kind of pick up that savory note from foods," Lancaster, the executive food editor of the Test Kitchen, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

And umami isn't limited to meat. Mushrooms, tomatoes and soy sauce are foods that are high in glutamates, which are the natural compounds that stimulate our umami receptors.

"As a whole, a lot of vegetarian foods, especially a while back, were kind of one-dimensional," Lancaster asserts. "They were a little bit sweet or a little bit bitter. Especially our main courses in this cookbook really satisfy a lot of the flavors on our palate."

Bishop, the editorial director of the Test Kitchen, says a favorite recipe of his in the book is the mushroom Bolognese.

It's the soy sauce, he says, that makes the flavor snap.

"You would think, 'Soy sauce in an Italian recipe?'" he says. "It doesn't read as soy sauce in the final dish. But again, it's adding more depth than if you were to just add an equivalent amount of salt. ... If you add soy sauce, you get salt and you get the glutamates."


Interview Highlights

On using tomato paste to add structure to a vegetarian dish

Jack Bishop: I think a great example is an Indian curry. So [people tend to] think if there are no chunks of tomatoes, then there are no tomatoes in it. But often we'll add, after we've browned onions and garlic and if it's a curry, we've added some ginger — we might add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste and brown that briefly to bring out its flavor. ... Then you go ahead and you add the water, you can add the coconut milk, and there are no chunks of tomatoes, per se. I'm thinking of a recipe in the book with potatoes and cauliflower and peas and it's not a tomato curry ... but there is a tablespoon of tomato paste in there that's providing backbone, structure to the dish, and really, depth. And you probably wouldn't identify it in the finished dish, but leave it out and you would notice the difference.

On soy sauce

Bridget Lancaster: Soy sauce is one of those ingredients that is also umami-packed. It has lots of those glutamates in it. It's kind of a power ingredient when you're talking about vegetarian cooking, very similar to mushrooms: You add a little bit and it's going to give that meaty, savory flavor. The surprising thing is that you don't have to just use it for stir-fry or other types of Asian dishes. We use it as a seasoning, so you can use it [in a] soup. ... We use it to season [vegetarian] meatballs, all sorts of things.

On Parmesan

Lancaster: My very favorite cheese for cooking is Parmesan, for a few different reasons. And I'm talking about the real Parmesan that actually has a rind attached, not the green can attached. The really good Parmesan Reggiano has that crystalline texture. I think you get a lot of punch with a very little amount, so even though it's incredibly expensive, you actually don't have to use a lot to kind of make its presence known. But the best part of it is the rind — I have a whole bag of them in my freezer that I keep. I cut them up into 1- or 2-inch pieces ... and then any time I'm making a soup, whether it's vegetarian, like a bean soup, or not, I will throw in a Parmesan-cheese rind. If I'm making stock ... and it adds this meaty flavor to dishes itself and it gives a more satisfying feel to the soups. Then [I] fish it out before serving.

Ultimate Veggie Burger
Daniel J. Van Ackere / Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

On veggie burgers

Bishop: The store-bought ones are not an advertisement for eating or making vegetarian burgers. They're just very sad. ... We developed about a half-dozen [veggie] burger recipes. My favorite contains pinto beans, beets and bulgur and it's got such great flavor. And what I really love is the texture. So bulgur is a type of wheat, it cooks really, really quickly and it gives it kind of that nubby [texture], whether it's a turkey burger or a beef burger. ... The shredded raw beets, they add a little bit of creaminess to it; they add some sweetness to it; they add some nice flavor. ... There's a little bit of ground walnuts, which again, adds some savory notes. ... And then the best part is you serve them with sriracha mayonnaise.


Recipe: Mushroom Bolognese

Jack Bishop says it's the soy sauce in the Mushroom Bolognese that really makes it pop.
Joe Keller / Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

Why This Recipe Works: We wanted to create a vegetarian pasta sauce that mimicked the rich, long-cooked flavor and hearty texture of Bolognese. Traditional Bolognese sauce gets its rich flavor from a combination of several types of meat, so we turned to two types of mushrooms to replicate that complexity: Dried porcini delivered depth of flavor, while 2 pounds of fresh cremini gave the sauce a satisfying, substantial texture. To further round out the sauce's savory flavor, we added two umami-rich ingredients: soy sauce and tomato paste. To make prep easy, we used the food processor both to chop the cremini roughly and then to finely chop the onion and carrot. Pulsing whole canned tomatoes in the food processor allowed us to get just the right texture. We also used red wine to lend richness and depth and a little sugar for some balancing sweetness. A dash of heavy cream at the end rounded out the sauce and gave it a decadent silkiness. Cremini mushrooms are also known as baby bella ­mushrooms.

(Serves 4 to 6)

2 pounds cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed and minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup dry red wine

1/2 cup vegetable broth

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 pound fettuccine or linguine

Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Working in batches, pulse cremini mushrooms in food processor until pieces are no larger than 1/2 inch, 5 to 7 pulses; transfer to large bowl. Pulse carrot and onion in now-empty processor until chopped fine, 5 to 7 pulses; transfer to bowl with mushrooms. Pulse tomatoes and their juice in now-empty processor until chopped fine, 6 to 8 pulses; set aside separately.

2. Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add processed vegetables and porcini mushrooms, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high, and cook until liquid has evaporated and vegetables begin to brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

3. Stir in garlic and sugar and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in wine and simmer until nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes.

4. Stir in processed tomatoes, vegetable broth, soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce has thickened but is still moist, 8 to 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in cream.

5. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add sauce and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and adjust consistency with reserved cooking water as needed. Serve with Parmesan.


Recipe: Potato Vindaloo

Why This Recipe Works: Vindaloo is a complex, spicy dish that blends Portuguese and Indian cuisines into a potent braise featuring warm spices, chiles, wine vinegar, tomatoes, onions, garlic and mustard seeds. We set out to translate its comfort food appeal into a hearty vegetarian version. Centering our dish around potatoes seemed right, as it required low and slow cooking to develop complex flavors, and a combination of red and sweet potatoes elevated our stew's flavor even further. However, after 45 minutes of simmering, the potatoes still weren't fully cooked. A second look at our ingredients showed us why: The acidic environment created by the ­tomatoes and vinegar was preventing our potatoes from becoming tender. To test our theory, we whipped up another batch, this time leaving out the tomatoes and vinegar until the end, cooking them just enough to mellow their flavors. Sure enough, after just 15 minutes, our potatoes were perfectly tender. To give our vindaloo exceptionally deep flavor, we used a mix of Indian spices plus bay leaves and mustard seed, and simmered them with the potatoes, which soaked up the flavors as they cooked. Serve over rice with a dollop of yogurt.

(Serves 6)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped fine

1 pound red potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Salt and pepper

10 garlic cloves, minced

4 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 1/2 cups water

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and potatoes begin to soften at edges, 10 to 12 minutes.

2. Stir in garlic, paprika, cumin, cardamom, cayenne and cloves and cook until fragrant and vegetables are well-coated, about 2 minutes. Gradually stir in water, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in bay leaves, mustard seeds, and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Stir in tomatoes and their juice and vinegar and continue to simmer, uncovered, until flavors are blended and sauce has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaves, stir in cilantro, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Recipes excerpted from America's Test Kitchen: The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. Excerpted by permission of America's Test Kitchen.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Now that spring is near, it's a good time to be thinking of delicious vegetarian dishes. My guests Jack Bishop and Bridget Lancaster have some good tips about how to build flavor in vegetarian dishes - dishes intended to appeal to meat-eaters, as well as vegetarians. Lancaster and Bishop work with "America's Test Kitchen," which publishes cookbooks and produces radio and TV shows. Jack Bishop is the editorial director of the Test Kitchen and edited their new book, "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook." Bridget Lancaster is the executive food editor of the Test Kitchen and contributed to the new book. They've joined us several times before on the show to talk about what makes recipes work.

Bridget Lancaster, Jack Bishop, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Now, I have to tell you - after we did the interview about your meat cookbook, we got some angry responses from, you know, just a few listeners who felt that we were basically all monsters for promoting a meat-eating. And I'm wondering if you get that a lot, and I'm wondering if this vegetarian cookbook is atonement.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIDGET LANCASTER: I love that. It's kind of our atonement. Jack could probably speak a little bit more to this. I think, for myself, you know, as a person who enjoys a good steak, I, myself, am trying to eat less meat. And on occasion, that means coming across a vegetarian meal. And I think I'm not the only one out there. So this book is to appeal to the people that maybe are turning vegetarian, looking for more options or are vegetarians.

JACK BISHOP: Yeah, Terry, I like to think as a creative collective, which is what "America's Test Kitchen" is, filled with a lot of strong personalities - and we all are pushing our own agendas at times. I finally won is how I'm looking at this particular book.

(LAUGHTER)

BISHOP: This is my turn to get what I want. But seriously, you get a lot of requests for more vegetarian food. And it's interestingly mostly coming from people who eat meat, but want to take a break a day a week, two days a week, four days a week from eating meat and have no idea how to feed themselves, especially when it comes to dinner. I mean most people are pretty good at breakfast and lunch without meat, but you get to dinner, and it gets a lot more complicated.

GROSS: Jack, you wrote that this is not your mother's vegetarian cooking, so how old is the mother that you're thinking of? (Laughter)And - like, my mother's vegetarian cooking was largely canned string beans or carrots and peas, so who is the mother that you're thinking of, and how is your cookbook different than that mother's vegetarian cooking?

BISHOP: To be clear, my mother, who - no doubt - is listening on her public radio station in Miami at the moment - I am not speaking about my mother. But I'm speaking about mothers in the 1970s, which is when I was a teenager. And I'm thinking about macrobiotic brown rice.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BISHOP: You know, that food that didn't look very appealing, and it actually tasted even worse - that was the sort of the beginning of this idea of thinking about eating in a different way and a healthier way, but it really didn't work. It was just dull, stodgy, heavy, bland, boring. I mean, I can't think of enough bad adjectives to describe the kind of cooking I'm thinking about from the 1970s.

GROSS: (Laughter) OK. Well, let's talk about what's in your vegetarian cookbook. Let's start with some flavor-builders that you say will give the dishes a meatier flavor, even though this isn't a meat cookbook. When you say meatier, what do you mean?

LANCASTER: Well, I think when we say meaty, we're meaning that really savory flavor that you get from things, of course, like meat. You get it from fish, as well. But there are other ingredients out there that have these components. It's - umami is the actual taste - or yoo-mami (ph) - however you pronounce it. And it incites our taste receptors on our tongue to kind of pick up that savory note from foods.

So mushrooms, which, you know, my parents - when I was growing up, they would tell me, you know, to eat more mushrooms because it tasted like meat. Well, they already know what we know now - is that it has that meaty - the glutamates, the flavor compounds that give off that meaty flavor.

Tomatoes are another thing. They're naturally high in glutamate, so they give a meaty flavor. So then you take tomatoes, and, of course, you cook them down, you concentrate them into tomato paste - just a little bit is enough to really add that savory richness to foods. And I think as, you know, a whole, a lot of vegetarian foods, especially a while back, were kind of one-dimensional. They were a little bit sweet or a little bit bitter. Especially our main courses in this cookbook really satisfy a lot more of the flavors on our palate. You've got the savory. You've got the sweet, the bitter. You've got the salty. And I think that's what makes things taste more satisfactory or, you know, leaves you satisfied after a meal.

GROSS: Surprise us with something that you would put some tomato puree in to give it that savory flavor that we - you know, a dish that we wouldn't associate with tomato.

BISHOP: I think a great example is in Indian curry. So you don't really think if there are no chunks of tomatoes that it doesn't have tomatoes in it. But often, we'll add - after we've browned onions and garlic, and if it's a curry, we've added some ginger, we might add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste and brown that briefly to bring out its flavor. And the tomato paste, because it's got all the liquid cooked out of it, has a really intense umami, savory flavor. There are a lot of glutamates in it.

And then you go ahead, and you add the water. You can add the coconut milk. And it isn't - you know, there are no chunks of tomatoes, per se. I'm thinking about a recipe in the book with potatoes and cauliflower and peas. And it's not a tomato curry, per se, but there is a tablespoon of tomato paste in there that's providing backbone - structure - to the dish and, really, depth. And you probably wouldn't identify it in the finished dish, but leave it out, and you would notice a difference.

GROSS: So let me ask you about mushrooms. If you're using mushrooms for the savory flavor that it's going to give to whatever it is you're cooking, do you need to stir-fry - to saute them first to kind of bring out the flavor, to release the flavor?

LANCASTER: I think sometimes you would want to saute them. But we do have a couple of applications where we grind up mushrooms, and we use them almost as a ground, quote-unquote, "meat" - things like our vegetarian chili. We have a vegetarian chili that not only uses ground mushrooms, but also ground walnuts for a similar kind of rich ground meat texture. Into those are - of course, they're just lightly sauteed in the chili, so they don't get that really, really dark flavor. But, you know, you're just really concentrating the flavor more than anything. So we do use mushrooms in several different applications.

GROSS: So in talking more about how to develop flavor in vegetarian dishes, you rely a lot on soy sauce. So what does soy sauce contribute?

LANCASTER: So soy sauce is one of those ingredients that is also umami-packed. It has lots of those glutamates in it. So it's a power ingredient when you're talking about vegetarian cooking. Very similar to mushrooms - you add a little bit, and it's going to give that meaty, savory flavor. And, you know, the surprising thing is that you don't have to just use it for stir-fries or other types of Asian dishes. We use it as a seasoning. So you can use it in soup. We use it in a mushroom soup. We use it throughout. We use it to season meatballs - all sorts of things. Any time that we want to - of course, meatballs without meat - and we use it any time that we really want to give that deeper flavor.

GROSS: So when you're using it to season, as opposed to using it directly on your food, are you using just, like, a really little bit of it?

LANCASTER: Yes. You are using just a little bit. Really, there's maybe a couple teaspoons or a tablespoon that would go into an entire dish.

BISHOP: Terry, a favorite recipe of mine is a mushroom bolognese sauce. Bolognese is the traditional Italian meat sauce that's made with ground pork, ground veal, ground beef where as you're sauteing the ingredients to add a little bit of tomato paste and some soy sauce.

GROSS: Oh.

BISHOP: I think it's a tablespoon of soy sauce. And you would think soy sauce in an Italian recipe? And it doesn't read as soy sauce in the final dish, but again, it's adding more depth than if you were to just add an equivalent amount of salt. All you're really getting is salt. But if you add soy sauce, you get salt, and you get the glutamates, which are the things that stimulate the taste receptors on your tongue.

There are actually five tastes that we can perceive. You know, when I went to school, there were four. There's sweet and sour and bitter and salty. Those were the four that I learned. But the scientists have now agreed that there is a fifth receptor, which is this umami, savory receptor which glutamates activate. And they send these little signals to our brain that say savory, satisfying, robust. You know, things like nuts have a lot of the same characteristics, and that's how they activate that part of our taste buds. Mushrooms - and soy sauce does that in a very direct, sort of concentrated way.

GROSS: Oh, the idea putting soy sauce in a tomato sauce is so interesting. So let me ask you about another ingredient that you use as a seasoning, and that's Bragg liquid aminos. And it sounds like you should be using that in the science lab and not in the kitchen.

(LAUGHTER)

BISHOP: Yeah, I love this one. So one of the things we were trying to do in the Test Kitchen for this book was when we were working on Southeast Asian recipes that are made with fish sauce, which, of course, is not vegetarian, how were we going to replace that? And fish sauce is different than soy sauce. And so Bragg's liquid amino acids is actually derived from soybeans, like soy sauce, but it's different. And it has a sort of fermented flavor, and it savory like soy sauce. But it's got some of that funkiness that you get from usually anchovies or little fish that go into making fish sauce. And we thought it was a really good replacement in - if you want to make a vegetarian pad thai. Soy sauce is really wrong there. And if you're not eating fish sauce, the Braggs liquid aminos is a perfect substitute for the fish sauce.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the new "America's Test Kitchen" cookbook, which is "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook." And my guests are Bridget Lancaster and Jack Bishop. And Jack is the editorial director of the Test Kitchen and edited the new cookbook, and Bridget Lancaster is executive food editor of the Test Kitchen and contributed to the book. Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are Jack Bishop and Bridget Lancaster of "America's Test Kitchen," and we're talking about the new Test Kitchen cookbook which is called "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook." You use eggs in a lot of different dishes, sometimes as flavoring, sometimes as a central part of the dish. Why do you use eggs so much? Is it 'cause of the protein or because of the flavor or consistency?

LANCASTER: Well, I'm an egg lover. I could eat eggs breakfast, lunch and dinner. And one of the reasons that they appeal to me so much is that they're so quick to cook. So most egg dishes are eggs that actually use a fried egg or a poached egg, something like that. It means to me it's going to be a pretty easy dinner. But I love that creamy texture of a just-cooked egg yolk, especially if you kind of break it up into the rest of the ingredients, you put it on a salad. There's a dish that I love called shakshuka, which is Tunisian, and it's basically - you make this pepper sauce. And it's a little bit sweet. It's a little bit spicy. And you cook the sauce down. It's got tomatoes and chilies in it. And you cook it down until it's rather thick, and then you crack eggs right into the sauce in these little divots, almost like you would with corn beef hash. And then you cover it and let the eggs poach right in there. It's the easiest dish. It has that protein in it, so it gives that satisfying feel after you're finished eating it. And you know, you put a salad on the side of that, and it's perfect.

GROSS: How do you get around the fact, when you're cooking vegetarian and you're using soy or using beans, that those are both foods that are famously difficult for many people to digest?

BISHOP: Well, one thing with the beans is, soaking will help. So if you're using dried beans, to soak them. And when we soak beans, we actually throw a little salt in there, so we're actually brining the beans, which will help them cook up to be extra creamy and not starchy. The second thing is that most experts agree that familiarity reduces the problem. And so the more you eat beans, the more your system tolerates them. And so you know, if at first you don't succeed, try again, would be my advice.

GROSS: You use a lot of yogurt and often use that as a substitute for milk or cream in dishes. Is cooking with yogurt different than cooking with milk or cream?

LANCASTER: I think it's a little bit different. Of course it's going to have a lot more flavor than just milk, but the thing about yogurt - and you do also want to do this with something like buttermilk or regular milk - you want to temper it often when you add it to a hot dish. Otherwise, it will split. So when you're cooking with yogurt, you're looking for that...

GROSS: What do you mean by, it will split? You mean it will curdle?

LANCASTER: Exactly. It will curdle. The proteins actually split away from the whey that's in the yogurt. And again, this will happen sometimes with milk, or it'll happen with buttermilk. It won't happen, usually, with heavy cream because there's enough fat in there to prevent the casein proteins from splitting. But with yogurt, you would want to take - yogurt that you're going to add to, say, something like a curry, a vindaloo, anything like that - you would want to take a little bit of the hot sauce and add it to the yogurt first, kind of stir it in. And you're bringing that yogurt up to a temperature that's closer to the sauce itself. And then you would add the yogurt back in. Just at the last minute, maybe, you know, heat it up over a very gentle low heat, but you don't want to start boiling it, again because the yogurt will start to split at that point.

GROSS: One of the great things about yogurt is the good-guy bacteria that are in it, the probiotics that are in it. If you cook with yogurt, are you automatically killing the probiotics?

BISHOP: Yes, you are. You know, if you're really interested in yogurt for the probiotics, have it with your granola in the morning. Those bacteria don't survive once they get heated.

LANCASTER: Or you could dollop it right on your fritters and have it right at the end.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: You do cook with cheeses. What are your favorite cheeses for cooking with?

LANCASTER: My very favorite cheese for cooking is Parmesan, for a few different reasons. And I'm talking about the real Parmesan that actually has a rind attached, not the green can attached. The really good Parmigiano-Reggiano...

(LAUGHTER)

LANCASTER: ...Has that crystalline texture. I think you get a lot of punch with a very little amount. So even though it's incredibly expensive, you actually don't have to use a lot to kind of make its presence known. But the best part of it is the rind. The rind of the Parmesan - I have a whole bag of them in my freezer that I keep. I cut them up into, you know, one- or two-inch pieces. I keep them in my freezer. And then any time I'm making a soup - whether it's vegetarian, like a bean soup, or not - I will throw in a Parmesan cheese rind. If I'm making stock, sometimes I'll do it there, too. And it adds this meaty flavor to dishes itself, and it kind of gives a more satisfying feel to the soups.

GROSS: And then you fish it out...

LANCASTER: Yes.

GROSS: ...Before serving, right (laughter)?

LANCASTER: Yes, otherwise somebody thinks, what did you just serve me? They don't look pretty after they've been in there for a while.

(LAUGHTER)

BISHOP: Yeah, I think it's a great alternative to bay leaves, which - I'm always a little doubtful that bay leaf you throw in the big pot - what's it doing? But it's kind of the same idea. You throw that rind in at the beginning, and then make sure to fish it out before you serve the dish. But you could really taste the Parmesan flavor that gets infused into the broth or the liquid or the stew that you're using.

GROSS: One of my favorites tastes from childhood was mozzarella cheese, like melted mozzarella cheese because of pizza and because of veal Parmesan, which were my, probably, two favorite dishes when I was growing up. Do you cook a lot with mozzarella?

LANCASTER: I do. I cook a lot of mozzarella. I eat a lot of mozzarella too. I have two boys in my house, and that's a favorite cheese. We do cook a lot with mozzarella. You want to use a mozzarella that is whole milk. It has a lot better flavor to it. When you start getting into fat-free, you're basically buying rubber to put on your pizzas. And you really don't want that. It doesn't have a lot of flavor. It has that odd, you know, extraterrestrial to it when it melts. It's not a very good experience. So you want as close to the full-fat mozzarella that you can find.

GROSS: Jack, anything you want to add about cheese?

BISHOP: Yeah, and if I could follow up about the mozzarella - if you're baking with it - let's say you're making a pizza or you're making a beautiful summer tomato tart. This is a case where actually getting the super high-end mozzarella that comes packed in water probably isn't the best idea because there's so much water in that cheese that it's going to ruin the crust. And so that supermarket shrink-wrapped mozzarella, if you're baking, especially something where you're thinking that water might cause some harm, is not the best idea, and you want to, you know, make sure that you're using a shrink-wrap cheese rather than one in water. Now, of course, if you're making a caprese salad, go ahead and get the cheese that is packed in water. It's going to have a better flavor, a softer texture. But for baking, stick with the shrink-wrapped stuff.

GROSS: You use a lot of broths for vegetarian cooking, and you actually - and I'm glad to hear this - recommend a couple of store-bought broths so that we don't have to start from scratch (laughter) to cook the broths. Do you want to recommend a couple of your favorites?

LANCASTER: Sure. There are actually three favorites I'm going to give you. One is Orrington Farms. It's actually a vegan chicken-flavored broth. And that's a base and seasoning, so you can just use a little bit at a time and reconstitute it to make your broth. And then there's Swanson, which has a certified organic vegetable broth. Both of these are so much better than a lot of other store-bought broths out there because they can tend to taste - I think that they often taste too much like celery, or they taste too much like carrot or too much, really, like nothing. And then when you go to make your own - making your own is easy, but it can be time-consuming if you really want to get that balanced flavor.

The third option, though - we've actually come up with our own base. And I was a skeptic of this because I didn't think that there could be anything that was easy that would end up being so good, especially in terms of vegetarian cooking, but it's a broth base that we make. You take your food processor out, and you grind up some ingredients. There's - carrots, of course, go in there. Instead of celery, we added celery root, which has a much milder flavor. It has, instead of onions, which can be a little bit overpowering, we put in leeks, which have that nice, softer flavor. It also has a little bit of a buttery texture. And then we've got salt. The salt does two things to this mixture. It's obviously going to season it, but it also - you know how you would add salt or you would freeze ice cream with salt around it to keep it from freezing up solid? We add salt to this, and it keeps the texture so that it's scoop-able because we're going to grind up all these ingredients, including the celery root, the carrots, leeks. There's soy sauce in there. Again, going back to the umami, there's tomato paste. And you would mix that with the salt - there's some dried minced onion - and put it in your freezer in a jar. It stays in there for up to six months, but the best thing is - all you need to do is go in there with a tablespoon measure, scoop out a tablespoon and add it to a cup of boiling water, and you've got instant vegetable broth. So the whole prep takes maybe 10 minutes to do. You put it in your freezer, and it's there whenever you need it.

GROSS: My guests are Bridget Lancaster and Jack Bishop of "America's Test Kitchen." He edited and she contributed to the Test Kitchen's new book, "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook." After a break, they'll have a good suggestion for preparing broccoli so that kids will actually want to eat it. And they have a recipe for a vegetarian burger that isn't just a sad imitation of a hamburger. Also, we'll listen back to an interview with pioneering documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles who died last week. He and his brother, David, made the films "Grey Gardens" and "Gimme Shelter." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Jack Bishop and Bridget Lancaster of "America's Test Kitchen." He edited and she contributed to the Test Kitchen's new book, "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook." Jack Bishop is the Test Kitchen's editorial director. Bridget Lancaster is the Test Kitchen's executive food editor.

So quinoa has become this really popular grain. It's a grain most people had never even heard of until a few years ago. And it's, you know, undergoing this incredible surge of popularity, and that's in part because it's one of the gluten-free grains. So do you cook much with quinoa, and, if so, what do you do with it?

BISHOP: I think Bridget hates quinoa, and I love quinoa.

LANCASTER: (Laughter).

BISHOP: Is that a fair representation of our preferences?

LANCASTER: My favorite - or least-disliked quinoa is the brown quinoa, the one that has a deeper, nuttier flavor. But I haven't had very good luck with quinoa. And I have to say that I'm probably going to have to go back and try a few more recipes before I ban it from my lineup altogether.

GROSS: (Laughter) This is the controversial part of the interview.

(LAUGHTER)

BISHOP: Yes.

GROSS: And, Jack, why do you like quinoa?

BISHOP: I love its nutty flavor, and I love the fact that it's ready in 20 minutes. The challenges are, first of all, in the shopping. If it says that it has been prewashed, that's a good thing. There is a naturally bitter coating on these little, teeny seeds. Quinoa is actually a seed. And that coating is called saponin. And if they wash the quinoa, they get rid of that bitterness. If you buy quinoa that doesn't say prewashed, you should be putting it in a very fine strainer because those grains are very small and they're going to go through your colander. And just put it under running water; rake your fingers through the quinoa for 20, 30 seconds; rinse it; let the water drain away. And that will get that bitterness off of it.

The second thing is that a lot of people cook it like they cook rice. And so they put a little olive oil or a little butter in the saucepan and think they should be toasting the quinoa in the fat. Like if you're making rice pilaf, that's the best way to make rice pilaf. If you do that with quinoa, you get that bitterness again. So we actually toast it in a dry saucepan, so there's no fat in there. We just put the grains in. If they've been washed, we put them right in. You don't need to dry them, really. And toast them until they smell nutty and fragrant. And then you can add the water, the salt, any other sort of flavorings that you want - same thing at that point with rice. Once the liquid comes to a boil, you turn the heat way, way down - as low as it will go on your stovetop. Put the lid on. Come back 10 to 15 minutes later, fluff it so it gets a little lighter texture. You could add some lime juice. You could add some chopped peanuts, cilantro. Bridget, am I convincing you that quinoa is worth eating? I'm looking and thinking, I'm going to get Bridget to eat quinoa.

LANCASTER: I'm thinking, can I make that with bulgur instead?

(LAUGHTER)

LANCASTER: You know, another good thing for cooking anything Jack mentioned - the really, really low heat - and this is a good general tip, too - is you make a little ring. You take a piece of aluminum foil and you kind of crimp it into a long rope and then loop it around like a circle. Put it right on your burner, and that will raise the pan just above your burner. So even at the softest - the lowest heat, it'll make it a little bit lower. And sometimes you'll have better luck and food won't scorch that way.

GROSS: Do you have a suggestion for a favorite curry dish?

LANCASTER: I do (laughter). I love the potato vindaloo. It's one of my very favorite dishes. I love vindaloo of all kinds. My favorite place that I get it locally, they always ask me, do you want it American spicy or Indian spicy?

GROSS: (Laughter).

LANCASTER: And so I always take that as kind of a challenge each time I go in there. But I love it because I love potatoes. I'm of an Irish background. It's got a really good amount of cayenne pepper, which we bloom in some oil along with paprika and cumin. There's many spices and flavors in this. I do not miss the meat, and that's saying a lot.

GROSS: Do you ever cook with a prepared curry sauce?

LANCASTER: Maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

LANCASTER: I would say that I am familiar with a brand called Patak's. So, yes, I have done it before as well. I think - I think some of them are actually excellent. I've had some good luck with it. But between you and me, what I do if I am using something like that is I'll go ahead and saute onions and garlic and ginger first and then add that as a last-minute thing.

GROSS: Jack, do you ever make vegetarian burgers?

BISHOP: I do. And I've sort of changed my mind recently about these - that, you know, I think the store-bought ones are not an advertisement for eating or making vegetarian burgers.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BISHOP: They're just very sad. I mean, I feel like, you know, you've got a vegetarian coming over for summer barbecue and you go get, you know, a store-bought brand and it just has no flavor, no real texture.

LANCASTER: I think of them as a photocopy of a beef burger.

BISHOP: Twice removed (laughter).

LANCASTER: Yes, exactly. Almost there - looks like it, but that's it.

BISHOP: We developed about a half-dozen different burger recipes. My favorite contains pinto beans, beets and bulgur. And it's got such great flavor, and what I really love is the texture. So bulgur is a type of wheat. It cooks really, really quickly, and it gives it kind of that nubbiness that you expect whether it's a turkey burger or a beef burger. You get kind of some of that nubbiness from it. The shredded, raw beets - they add a bit of, like, creaminess to it. They add some sweetness to it. They add some nice flavor.

LANCASTER: They have the right color, too.

BISHOP: They add the right color. There's a little bit of ground walnuts which, again, adds some savory notes. You don't really say, oh, these have walnuts in them when you're tasting them. And then the best part is you serve them with Sriracha mayonnaise - a, you know, homemade version with some - you can use store-bought mayonnaise and just add some Sriracha sauce if you like. And it's just absolutely wonderful burger. It's super flavorful, and it looks pretty, eats well. If you've got a vegetarian who's coming over, he or she will be very happy with their burger. And, in fact, probably the people who are eating the meat will want to eat the vegetarian burgers.

GROSS: In honor of spring, which I hear is going to arrive soon, do you have a favorite salad that you want to recommend?

BISHOP: I have one. So it's a salad with crispy, spiced chickpeas and a honey-mustard vinaigrette. And what I love about this is the original goal for this was to make a salad with an analog to bacon. You know, I'm thinking about a wilted spinach salad that has a warm bacon vinaigrette. And we said in the kitchen, could we do something similar, but use chickpeas? And so we fry them in a little bit of oil - shallow fry them. And that they're tossed with smoked paprika, a spice you can get now in every supermarket. And it gives them nice color, gives them a little bit of smokiness, a little bit of cumin, a little bit of sugar and cayenne. And then all of the other things - it has some charred red onion, just sliced red onion that goes underneath the broiler. You can do it with arugula, with spinach. I mean, the lettuce is sort of up to you. You toss these crunchy, spicy, crispy chickpeas with really beautiful lettuce. You've got some tender, charred red onion, this honey-mustard vinaigrette. It's a fabulous salad.

LANCASTER: The only problem with that salad is the chickpeas never make it into the salad when I make it (laughter). They're so good. And they do give you that crunch that you would get with something like a bacon - you know, crumbled bacon over the top. But yeah, that salad ends up just being onions and lettuce.

(LAUGHTER)

LANCASTER: I just don't tell my guests.

GROSS: You're just snacking along the way.

LANCASTER: Exactly. Don't tell my guests about the chickpeas.

GROSS: So do you ever buy the prewashed greens?

LANCASTER: I do. I still wash them, though. Is that wrong?

(LAUGHTER)

BISHOP: I do the same thing. I buy them, and I wash them, which does seems to be the defeating the purpose of them. But I'm cautious. How's that sound?

LANCASTER: Yes. I do love my salad spinner. So I do buy them because, you know, things like romaine hearts, especially when they say that they've been washed, I just can't see how they have gotten into those tightly packed leaves. So, you know, I do whip out the salad spinner and I still give them a good rinse.

GROSS: So why do you bother to buy the prewashed if you're going to wash it anyway?

LANCASTER: I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

LANCASTER: I feel like I'm in a therapy session now.

(LAUGHTER)

BISHOP: Well, the reality is, for those of us who live in Northern climates, in the winter there are not a lot of options.

LANCASTER: That's true.

BISHOP: I mean, you're not being - there are no local greens. You know, the things that are not in a box or a bag came from the same places that are thousands of miles away and aren't really in any better shape in a lot of cases. And so, you know, the arugula, the spinach - I wouldn't say it's the most flavorful that you can buy in the dead of winter. But if you really feel like you want a salad and you live someplace where there is no salad growing for hundreds and hundreds of miles around, it's an economical choice.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, we're talking about "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook." And my guests are Jack Bishop, who is the editorial director of "America's Test Kitchen" and edited the new cookbook, and Bridget Lancaster is the executive food editor of the test kitchen, and she contributed to the book. Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more about cooking vegetarian. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, we're talking about vegetarian cooking. And my guests are Jack Bishop, who's the editorial director of "America's Test Kitchen" and the editor of the new vegetarian cookbook from the Test Kitchen, called "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook," and Bridget Lancaster, who's executive food editor of the Test Kitchen and contributed to the new cookbook. So any advice to parents who want their children to eat vegetables and want their children to enjoy eating vegetables?

BISHOP: My first thing is to roast the vegetable rather than boil or sim it - simmer it. When you roast the vegetable, two really good things happen. Number one, you get all of that browning, and browning equals flavor. And so you bring out the sweetness. It caramelizes little bit. I'm thinking about broccoli. I don't boil or simmer or steam broccoli. I roast it. I just cut it up into sort of one-and-a-half-inch florets, toss it with some olive oil and salt, throw it on a sheet pan lined with foil for easy clean up. Ten, 12 minutes in a 500-degree oven, and it's done. And that really works. Cauliflower, sweet potatoes - I mean whatever...

LANCASTER: Asparagus.

BISHOP: Asparagus, green beans - they all can be roasted. And so I think the other thing it does is it makes them a little - the texture a little bit - you get crunch bits.

LANCASTER: Absolutely.

BISHOP: And, you know, it's almost - you get these little bits of broccoli that almost seem like they're fried a little bit. And, you know, be generous with the olive oil. I mean, I would not think that one teaspoon of olive oil for a head of broccoli - that's not going to work. You're going to need two or three tablespoons of olive oil. It'll not only make it taste better, but you'll get some little crispy bits. Put really good salt on. I use a nice coarse sea salt right at the table for a little bit more impact, and it is the best side dish.

GROSS: So what you're doing is kind of doing - you're doing a slight imitation of a French fry?

BISHOP: A very slight - and I think if you try to sell it that way, it's not going to work to most children. But it's that same idea of, you know, brown tastes better. You get more interesting textures. Cauliflower, all the squashes, you know, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, you know...

LANCASTER: My kids request this done with broccoli all the time. If I told people at my kids' school that they are broccoli fiends, they would think that they're crazy, but they love this method done with broccoli.

GROSS: OK.

LANCASTER: And then a dipping sauce afterwards is great, too. You have a little bit of sesame seed that you sprinkle over the broccoli or the cauliflower or squash, and then they dip them in a little bit of, like, a sesame oil. It's so tasty.

GROSS: So you have both endured ordinary very, very snowy, challenging New England winters. Did you each have a comfort food that you turn to when the snow got really bad, and you were snowed in and just kind of miserable because of so much snow?

BISHOP: For me, it was macaroni and cheese.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BISHOP: And really, really good macaroni and cheese with a truffled Italian cheese.

LANCASTER: Oh, good grief.

BISHOP: Oh, yeah. We really got into it where it was like OK, we're going to go by another $20 piece of truffle cheese. But I had never made macaroni and cheese with such a good cheese before. And it kind of became a habit this winter of - I have two daughters. One is away at college, but the younger one is in high school, and she's still home. And, you know, she'd come home yet another awful winter day getting to and from school. And she's like we have that mac and cheese with the truffles? I was like OK, that sounds a good thing for dinner tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

LANCASTER: Well, I can't beat truffle cheese. My goodness. I think I've turned my kitchen into a soup kitchen this winter.

GROSS: (Laughter).

LANCASTER: It is so warm in the belly, and especially when the kids are going out, and they play in the snow. Or they walk our 150-pound Newfoundland around the neighborhood - get pulled by him. They come back all packed with snow. Soup is the best thing.

One of my favorites is a really creamy cauliflower soup, which - I never thought I would be saying those words. One of my favorite soups is a cauliflower soup. But the beauty of it is how we cook the cauliflower. Some is added at the start of the recipe, and that cauliflower kind of gives this nutty flavor. And then we add more cauliflower. We don't cook it as much, and it has that that brighter cauliflower flavor, that - little bit of that cruciferous flavor. There's buttery leeks in it.

But the best part - you puree that, so it's super creamy. There's no vegetable broth or chicken broth or anything like that. It's just water, leeks, cauliflower. The flavors are so developed, but the top, for crouton, is this sauteed bits of cauliflower floret. You just - you saute it in a little bit brown butter until it takes on this really nutty and crispy, almost, texture. You finish it with some vinegar, a little bit of herbs. You can't make enough of that soup.

GROSS: I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.

BISHOP: Thanks, Terry.

LANCASTER: Thank you. It was our pleasure.

GROSS: Jack Bishop edited the new book from "America's Test Kitchen," called "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook." Bridget Lancaster contributed to the book. They both have editorial positions at the Test Kitchen. Coming up, we listen back to an interview with pioneering documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, who died last week. He and his brother David made the documentaries "Grey Gardens" and "Gimme Shelter." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.