Blending, in the culinary context, is the process of mixing two or more ingredients, most often to form a homogenous substance. This process is applied while preparing a number of foods. Blending is traditionally done by combining different ingredients manually. However nowadays, the ubiquitous food processor is used in almost all modern cuisines for preparing blended recipes. All the ingredients that need to be blended are put in the machine which emulsifies the ingredients to a desired consistency which may be smooth or coarse depending upon the setting of the machine. Both dry and wet ingredients can be blended. Blending of dry ingredients results in powders whereas blending wet ingredients results in a paste or a liquid, the latter being commonly known as a puree.
Popular blended recipes include cocktail drinks, smoothies, salad dressings, chutneys, batters for pancakes (especially of Indian pancakes), a number of juicer recipes. Apart from this, blending is an intermediary process in the preparation of a number of dishes across the world. For example, the filling of a dessert fruit pie may be blended and poured into the pie shell before baking.
History of Blended Recipes
The process of blending has been a part of almost all cuisines of the world since ages. In the Asian cuisines a number of blended recipes were popular even during the ancient times. For example, chutney, the very famous Indian condiment, is mostly prepared by blending two or more ingredients together along with seasonings and spices in a base of water or any liquid cooking medium. When the electrical blender was not invented, blending was done manually and it involved making a paste of the different ingredients used in the chutney with the help of a mortar and pestle or milling equipment. The mortar and pestle are used in many other cuisines too. The molcajate, a predecessor of the modern mortar and pestle which was used by the Aztecs and Mayans and other Pre-Hispanic Americans, was one of the earliest blending equipments used. Many cuisines had equipment similar to the molcajate. Pesto, guacamole and spice pastes were some of the dishes that were prepared by blending since ancient times. With the invention of the blender by Stephan Poplowski in 1922, blending gained immense popularity in the different cuisines of the world. Many blender recipes which were avoided due to a lot of tooling required on the part of the chef for blending ingredients manually, made a comeback into mainstream cooking of many cuisines as the food processor made not only blending but also grinding and pulverizing easily and quickly accomplished tasks.
The Process of Preparing Blended Dishes
Blending, in essence is the mixing of two or more ingredients to a homogenous consistency. The original ingredients cannot be separated after blending as a new food is formed which may or may not be of the same state as the constituent ingredients. As discussed, this can be achieved manually or as in more contemporary kitchens with the help of a food processor, a blender or an emulsifier. The basic process involves collecting all the ingredients required for blending, putting them in the blending container in the correct proportion and then blending them either manually or electrically. If a food processor is used, the chef does not have to toil for blending the ingredients as this is taken care of efficiently by the machine. Blenders are of different types, and the term generally refers to the high-powered machines which emulsify ingredients put in them very fast to the desired consistency. They are generally differentiated from the low-speed hand-held mixers which cannot blend many solid foods satisfactorily. However, these days many high speed hand-held blenders have also been introduced into the markets.
Electric blenders are conveniently-sized and can fit into the economically spaced modern kitchens. They only need a power point for drawing electricity. The blender, essentially consists of a container for holding food and blades which are attached to a motor underneath. The blades rotate when the motor works and pulverize and/or emulsify food at a high speed. Blenders are portable and can be carried to outdoor locations without fuss, if required. Blenders are everyday kitchen equipments as a lot of blended recipes, like certain soups, condiments and purees are a part of everyday menu. Fixing a cocktail drink, generally a party affair requires blending too.
Popular Blended Recipes/Blender Recipes
Blending, as mentioned earlier is used in preparing a variety of recipes. Popular blended recipes include:
· Pureed foods- This is the process of making a smooth paste or a liquid of foods like meat and vegetables. This is usually made with one ingredient. For example, tomato puree, which is a very common cooking base, is made by pureeing tomatoes. Whole or diced tomatoes are placed in the blender, which mashes them to a smooth paste. A little water is added for making a paste of vegetables which are not succulent.
· Pulverizing – A number of mixes are made by using the blender. For example, nut and spice powders are made by pulverizing the nuts and spices in the blender. The Indians use a number of pulse powders as condiments with rice and other dishes. Nut butters are popular western condiments prepared by blending. Peanut butter is one such creamy spread made of peanuts which is a favorite accompaniment for many food items like sandwiches. The butter is made by crushing roasted peanuts to a smooth paste in a blender with some peanut oil. Other nuts like almond, cashew, Hazelnut, Pistachio and walnut are also used for making spreads or butters which are preferred over diary butter owing to their superior nutritional worth and flavor. Spice mixtures, a well-known member of which is the curry powder, are made by blending the constituent ingredients in the appropriate proportions to each other. Recipes for dry mango powder(amchur), chilli powder, and garam masala powder( famous Indian spice mix) are some of the commonly known blender recipes of the Indian cuisine.
· Cocktails – Blending is an important process in mixing many cocktail drinks. Bender is used to evenly mix the constituent drinks and also to crush the ice that is added to the cocktail to enhance its appeal. The preparation of popular cocktails like Pina Colada, margarita, and zombie involve the use of blender.
· Preparation of molds and desserts – blending is an important process in preparing vegetable, seafood, meat and dessert molds. The constituent ingredients are cooked and then blended with seasonings in the blender to form a smooth paste which is set in a mold by using gelatin and freezing it. Juices of a number of fruits or vegetables are blended together and served as non-alcoholic cocktail drinks which may be appetizers or refreshment drinks. The Smoothie is a dessert beverage that is made by blending and chilling fruits and vegetables. The beverage is made rich with the addition of a creamy base like yogurt at times. The Frappuccino is a dessert iced coffee drink made by blending and chilling the constituent ingredients. It tastes delicious when served with ice cream topping.
· Emulsions- The blender is used for making emulsions. The vinaigrette is a popular emulsion made by blending vinegar with salad oil and flavoring it with herbs and spices. It is used primarily as a salad dressing and secondarily as a sauce and also as a marinade for different dishes.
Benefits of Blended Recipes
Blending is a process in which an ingredient is crushed to its minutest form, as seen in the case of pureed recipes and juices and this is beneficial in a number of ways as observed:
· Blending helps in the release of nutrients which are quickly and effectively absorbed by the body. Fruit juices are thus one of the most preferred forms of consuming fruits. The aged and the very young humans who have difficulty in chewing food owing to absence of teeth find consuming their diets in the blended form easy. Food consumed in the blended form is also digested well in comparison to solid food. Blending also enhances the taste of many drinks like a milkshake or a buttermilk drink.
· Pureed fruits, vegetables or meat are preferred forms of using an ingredient that need to be well assimilated in a dish. These ingredients, in the solid form, may not be incorporated in the dish to the desired extent. Thus whenever a recipe demands usage of an ingredient in the pureed form it is recommended to use it in the prescribed form and not in any substituted form.
Techniques Similar To Blending
The word blending is often used interchangeably with the word mixing but both are different. Mixing refers to merely combining ingredients. For example, dough may be made by mixing flour with water and salt in a dough mixer. Blending involves breaking the constituent ingredients to their minutest forms and then combining them. A food processor may be provided with dual functionality which provides for both mixing and blending.