This week's Wake up your Palate joins my two loves, science and cooking, together in the Mailliard Reaction.  The Maillard reaction gives toast its distinctive flavor, beer its dark color and self-tanning products the power to turn skin brown. It is responsible for literally hundreds of flavor compounds including artificial maple syrup! Simply, this special reaction naturally makes food taste better and also gives a signature brown color (grilled steak or fish, pretzels, baked bread). 


How does it work?  When amino acids (the building blocks of all protein) and sugars are heated, they interact with each other and combine to form new aromas and flavors.


The Maillard reaction occurs in cooking almost all kinds of foods, although the simple sugars and amino acids present produce vastly different aromas. This is why baking bread doesn't smell like roasting meat or frying fish, even though all these foods depend on the same Maillard reactions for flavor.


The Maillard reaction, or its absence, distinguishes the flavors of boiled, poached, or steamed foods from the flavors of the same foods that have been grilled, roasted or anything cooked at temperatures above the boiling point of water. 


Using this information, your cooking at home can be raised to a better and more flavorful place without adding fat, sugar or salt. In my opinion, it separates a meal that could be amazing into one that actually is. 


This recipe is going to double down on the Maillard Reaction for optimal flavor.  We are adding a whole host of flavor combinations by first browning the chicken and then the mushrooms and garlic. You get the flavor off the bottom of the pan by deglazing with broth or water and then scraping up the bits with a wooden spoon.  You could certainly take all the ingredients and place them in the pot at the same time and cook it till tender, but it would not taste the same since it is lacking the Maillard Reaction. This soup is fast, slightly sweet and 100% wholesome. Toss it together in about 30 minutes and enjoy a hearty weeknight soup that will satisfy all the mouths in your home.


Chicken , kale, wild rice and root vegetable soup

-2 Breasts of chicken, chopped

-1 head of kale, chopped, discarding the tough spine

- cup of wild rice

-1 cup cremini or baby portabella mushrooms

-2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

-1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

-8 cups of low-sodium chicken broth

-Black pepper to taste

-1 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

-2 TBSP olive oil, divided


In a large pot, add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned. Remove from the pan and reserve. Add second tablespoon of olive oil, mushrooms and garlic then cook until the mushrooms soften, about 5 minutes.  Deglaze the pot with 1 cup of broth. Scrape up the browned bits of flavor with a wooden spoon. Toss in cooked chicken, wild rice, butternut squash, black pepper and cayenne (if using). Bring the soup to a boil and then lower heat, simmering until the butternut squash is fork tender.  Add the washed and chopped kale and cook an additional 4 minutes. Ladle into your bowls and enjoy. 

Kelly Bowlin
Kelly Bowlin
Administration Director & BAC Foodie :) 
Bay Athletic Club
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