Healthy pick: Say yeah to soy

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Soy sauce has become an integral part of all our kitchens today.

Its flavour is hard to beat, in fact it is magical – it has the ability to rescue many dishes that would otherwise be disastrous! This sauce was discovered in China more than 2,500 years ago, and is believed to be one of the oldest condiments.

This is how the story goes – it is believed that during the 6th century, when Buddhism became popular in Japan and China, vegetarianism created the need for a meatless seasoning. What they used was a salty paste of fermented grain – the first known product to resemble the modern day soy sauce! A Japanese priest, studying in China then, came across this new seasoning. On his return to Japan, he improved on this sauce, and over the years, the Japanese modified the ingredients and its brewing techniques. The main change was the addition of wheat in equal proportion to the soybeans. This resulted in a sauce with a perfectly balanced flavour profile that enhanced other foods without over-powering them.

Although there are many types of soy sauce, all are salty and earthy tasting brownish liquids used to season food while cooking or at the table. Soy sauce forms an important part of many cuisines. Different countries make different soy sauces, and it is rarely appropriate to substitute, say, Chinese soy sauce for Japanese soy sauce which is known as shoyu. The English name soy came from soi in the Satsuma dialect of Japanese. Soy sauce comes in two varieties – ‘light soy sauce’, which is a thin light-brown liquid, and ‘dark soy sauce’, which is the same thing only with caramel added for colouring and thickening. Dark soy sauce is used when it is desired that the dish be coloured, or as a dipping sauce.

There are basically two distinct types of soy sauce available today – the naturally-brewed or fermented sauce and the non-brewed sauce. The naturally-brewed soy sauce is transparent with a light colour and a wonderfully balanced flavour and aroma. The non- brewed soy sauce is basically opaque with a harsh overpowering flavour and a distinct chemical smell. When cooking with naturally-brewed soy sauce, you’ll realise that this is more than just any flavouring. It has an amazing flavour that adds a depth and richness to all kinds of foods from burgers to fresh salads. I love using soy sauce in marinades and dressings. Here are a few that are tried and tested:

Ingredients: 2 long eggplants; 2 tblsps soy sauce; 1-2 tblsp olive oil; 1 tsp vinegar; ½ tsp dried red chilli powder; 1 tsp grated fresh ginger; 1 tsp finely chopped garlic; 1 tsp sugar; 1 tsp toasted white sesame seeds

Method: Trim off the stem end of the eggplants. Cut them crosswise into pieces about 2 inches in length. Then place the eggplant slices onto a steamer rack and steam over medium-high heat until they are cooked through but still a bit firm or else they will become mushy.

While the eggplants are steaming, make the sauce by combining soy sauce, olive oil, vinegar, ground dried chillies, garlic, ginger and sugar. Stir well to blend flavours.

Remove the eggplants from the steamer and slice each piece in half lengthwise and each half again into 2-3 long strips. Arrange the pieces in a single layer on a serving plate. Spoon the sesame-soy sauce evenly over the eggplant pieces, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. You can also garnish with fresh green coriander leaves.

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