do you under-utilise this common ingredient?
[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]

broccoli with couscous-2 broccoli with couscous-3

When it comes to Asian ingredients, you’d have to class soy sauce as one of the most common. It was the only Asian sauce to grace my mothers pantry when I was growing up in the country. In my travels, while I have found it difficult to find oyster or fish sauce, most places will stock a bottle of soy. I even remember seeing a bottle in a very spartan, excuse-for-a-supermarket when I was travelling in Cuba – surely one of the saddest food countries in the world.

But it’s only been in recent years that I’ve begun to experiment with using soy for more than Asian style dishes, like egg fried rice. Actually I can remember the very first time the thought even occurred to me. I was reading Skye Gyngell’s wonderful first book, A Year in My Kitchen and had got up to her essential ‘toolbox’ recipe for cooking lentils. There were two ingredients that really surprised me. First was red wine vinegar, but then I guess she was just making a dressing for the lentils in the bowl, perfect sense. The second though, was soy sauce. WTF?

So I did the only sensible thing and immediately began making plans to cook up a batch of Skye’s lentils. OK, so as a confessed lentil-addict, I hardly needed the excuse, but it was there. Needless to say, the lentils were a HUGE success. The soy just added something almost inexplicable to the earthy, wholesome little buttons. It added more than just saltiness. It brought them to life. It deepened their complexity. It really beefed up their ‘umami’, the savoury sense of taste. Lesson learned.

Since then, I’ve use soy and a tin of tomatoes instead of vegetable stock with great results in a simple carrot soup. It’s become my favourite seasoning ingredient in a simple vinaigrette of sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, as features in my soon-to-be-released book: 5 ingredients | 10 minutes. It was a key ingredient in my winter vegetarian favourite braised mushrooms. And played a supporting role to boost the flavour of my vegetarian home baked beans. It also made an appearance in the onion gravy for a classic bangers and mash.

I’ve even eaten it with vanilla icecream (you only need a few drops to add a wonderfully intense caramelly flavour to your icecream – try it yourself). Actually soy in desserts is definitely an unexplored territory for me – watch this space.

But if that’s a bit too out-there for you, why not start with this couscous and broccolini salad. I used to always use chicken stock to flavour my couscous, but a spoonful of soy sauce is far more cost effective and, I think, even more delicious, adding the savouriness without completely taking the other flavours hostage in a barrage of chicken-ness.

broccoli with couscous

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
couscous & broccolini salad

serves 2

You can pretty much use broccoli and broccolini interchangeably in this recipe. I have a slight preference for broccolini because I love their long asparagus-like stems. Actually asparagus would make a lovely addition to or a substitution for the broccolini.

The almonds add a bit of nutty crunch but you could easily go without. It’s delicious warm, but also wonderful chilled, so feel free to make extra for work lunches.

This is wonderful as a simple main course for lunch or dinner. I’ve also used it as a base for a side salad, replacing the almonds with a bunch of coarsley chopped flat leaf parsley – kinda like a broccoli tabbouleh – just the thing to serve with babaganoush.

1 bunch broccolini, chopped
1/2 cup couscous
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
small handful flaked almonds

1. Bring a cup of water to boil in a medium saucepan.

2. Add broccoli and cook for 4 minutes.

3. Remove from the heat. Add couscous, soy, vinegar and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Stir to combine and season.

4. Stand, covered for another 4 minutes.

5. Fluff couscous with a fork. Taste and season.


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  • I hadn’t thought of using soy sauce with couscous! It looks yummy, and the pictures are beautiful – love the contrast of smooth plate and painted wood.

  • So glad I found this blog! The cous cous looks great! My Mum used to rub a little bit of soy sauce over her roast chicken, I always thought it was a bit odd, but tasted so good!

  • kristie
    great idea to put some soy on roast chicken – your mum is a clever one!

    exactly – the anchovy effect but for vegetarians ;)
    The lentils are french style green lentils cooked with a bay leaf and other things – it’s in my book in Sydney – will have to wait until the week after next when I’m back in the big smoke to dig it out – you’ve given me a great idea – promise to report back.

  • When we use soy sauce as a dip on the side for dumplings, we cut through the saltiness with a little bit of sesame oil. It’s delicious!

  • I am definitely going to give this a go, as I too am always looking for new ideas with couscous. (I used to think I didn’t like couscous, until I realised that you could add stock and lemon juice . . . doh!) Love soya sauce too, although worry sometimes that I have overdone it and my food is too salty . . . fabulous in Thai salads too.

  • neat! i love finding new ways to use staple ingredients. i’m especially intrigued by the soy + ice cream… i’ll have to try that sometime very very soon. can’t wait for your book! will it be out in the u.s.a. at the same time?

  • stephanie
    yes the soy and icecream thing is a revelation – first tried it at a food trade show – got cornered by some guys from kikkoman – secret it only adding the tiniest amount.

    thanks for asking about the ebook. the beauty of digital publishing is that it can be launched globally at the same time – so yes everyone will be able to buy it on the 6th

    I was the same about couscous – and you’re right – you do need to be careful – a little goes a long way

    wei wei
    dumplings – yum. will have to try my own soy and sesame oil dipping sauce – love it

  • I have known about and been using soy sauce for about 30 years. My dad first introduced me to it on a piece of steak. Since then I have used it in soups, stews, caseroles and stir fries, and as a dipping sauce with added chilli. I must admit I have never thought of using it on ice cream – that is a new one.

  • I grew up with soy, and my all time fave is a few drops into the egg yolk of a soft boiled egg that you’d have for toast soldiers, or for fried eggs.
    Our family travelling snack was two hard boiled eggs in a bag with a few drops of soy sauce. If the eggs got smushed during travel, all the tastier!

  • This recipe looks very delicious,cannot wait to try it. My husband puts soy sauce on most
    any thing instead of salt and now I am doing the same thing .

  • Soy sauce and ice-cream?!! I’ve got to try that… But back at home, we’ve started using soy sauce in all sorts of not-typically-Asian dishes when running out of ideas with a small pantry. I personally love adding a bit to my tomato-based pasta sauces, and it’s also just great with caramelised onions. Love my aunt’s soy sauce + balsamic vinegar drizzle for roasted vegetables, particularly eggplant. Also, I almost never marinate meat, but when I do I can’t avoid soy sauce.

    Great post as usual, just coming out of the woodwork because I love soy sauce.

  • Very interesting…I hope I remember to try out the icecream tip!

    “Cuba – surely one of the saddest food countries in the world”- you have me interested with this one…I have not been there (though I’d love to) but have been in Mexico where I found the food was nothing like I expected.

  • I got the icecream – just to try this out!! :D Now, do you just sprinkle on top and let it spread around a bit? Or do you have to mix it with the icecream a bit? In which case maybe I do do that and then refreeze it?

  • majeeda
    good question! You only need the tiniest drop of soy – we just put a drop on top of the icecream then stirred it though and ate straight away. love to hear what you think!

    and cuba and mexico are WORLDS apart when it comes to food – I loved Mexico – far exceeded my expectations but Cuba is a whole other story – still worth visiting for the other cultural aspects – just don’t excpect any gourmet delights

  • It’s true! It does taste a bit like caramel. How strange and lovely. I probably put the tiniest drop too much, but it was still very, very nice. :)

    Hmm, I thought Mexican food was better when I made it myself at home. I think I was confused between the westernised version and reality and that made it disappointing for me. That had never happened to me during travel before. Food is always one of the big pleasures.

  • Jules – it is a little known fact that I have been adding soy to my spaghetti bol for years. All this time I have had myself believe that I was on the forefront of the Australian fusion cooking movement …….. This has burst my bubble! Thanks! Just don’t spill the beans on my lasagna with balsamic salad dressing!!!! Catch you later – Jess.

  • yay majeeda
    glad you tried it
    I agree that food is one of the biggest pleasures of travelling

    sorry jess
    didn’t mean to burst your bubble. love the idea of lasagne with balsamic dressing though – but promise not to share it with the world.

  • As much as I absolutely love the flavour of soy sauce and used it and other soy products for many years, I rarely if ever touch the stuff now. The more I research about it, the more reports I come across strongly indicating how it messes with one’s hormonal balance. I would write more to defend this case, but will leave it up to those who care about their health and the health of their loved ones enough to reseach it for yourselves.

    BTW, for easy flavoring I now use Himalayan Rock Sea Salt which has about 70 + trace minerals (for a liquid version, I’ve put some in a jar and then cover it with purified water), and Stevia which is about 30 times sweeter than sugar (so you only need a tiny pinch or just a couple of drops), and really great for diabetics (available in drops and powder form at most health food shops)

  • hi robyn
    thanks for your comment – I’ve heard of soy being linked to hormonal balance but not soy sauce – will investigate thanks

    I’ve tried the himalayan salt and found it to be quite metallic tasting – wasn’t a fan

  • Great idea that soy sauce. I was wondering, have you ever tried using Braggs Liquid Aminos instead of the soy sauce? I use it frequently and love it.

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