It's awfully hard to get excited about a food called "nutritional yeast flakes." It sounds like something you either need a prescription to get, or a prescription to get rid of. Even worse, it resembles yellow flaked fish food. But trust me, this is an ingredient worth looking beyond its name and appearance.
Nutritional yeast flakes have been around for years, but they are all but unheard of outside the vegan world, which uses them to simulate the flavour of cheese. There's a reason they use them that way. These flakes are jammed with glutamates, the compounds that give us the savoury wonderfulness in Parmesan and steak.
But let's back up to the basics. Nutritional yeast flakes are produced by growing, harvesting and drying a variety of yeast, different from that used in baking. The resulting powder is loaded with B vitamins, has two grams of protein per tablespoon and has no fat, sugar, salt or gluten.
And yet it is a flavour powerhouse. Those glutamates (the same chemicals that give MSG its oomph) add lushly savoury, decidedly cheesy flavour to whatever they touch. That's why vegans use them to create "cheese" sauces. But you don't have to be a vegan to appreciate them.
You'll usually find nutritional yeast flakes in the grocer's natural foods section, sometimes in shaker-style canisters, or in the bulk section. So what should you do with them? In gen-
eral, they need to be added to a recipe with at least some moisture (the popcorn idea below is the exception).
Uses for nutritional yeast:
? The most popular use is as a popcorn topping. In a blender, combine a bit of kosher salt and a few tablespoons of yeast flakes. Pulse until finely ground, then toss with buttered (or oiled, if you're vegan) popcorn.
? SautÃ© small whole button mushrooms in a bit of olive oil. When the mushrooms are browned, season with salt, pepper and yeast flakes. Saute for another minute or two, or until the flakes have dissolved.
? Add a tablespoon or two to chicken soup to punch up the savory flavour.
? SautÃ© lean ground beef, then mix in a bit of yeast flakes, ground cumin, salt and pepper. Use as a taco filling or nacho topping. Or spoon onto buns.
PUMPKIN AND WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH SOURDOUGH CROUTONS
Makes: 6 servings
3 thick slices sourdough bread, cut into cubes
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
4 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes, divided
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
15-oz. can pumpkin purÃ©e
15-oz. can white beans (such as navy), drained
4 cups chicken broth
? Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the oven to 375 F.
Place the bread cubes in a large bowl. Drizzle with two tablespoons of the olive oil, then toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle one tablespoon of yeast flakes over the bread, then toss again.
On a rimmed baking sheet, spread the bread in an even layer. Toast for 10 to 15 minutes, or until slightly crunchy, then set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high, heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil. Add onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. SautÃ© until the onion is tender, about six minutes. Add the pumpkin, beans and broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Transfer the soup, working in batches if necessary, to a blender and purÃ©e until smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan. Add the remaining three tablespoons of yeast flakes and stir well. Season the soup with salt and pepper, then ladle into serving bowls and top with the croutons.
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