Posts Tagged ‘vegetable’

Sweet Potato Logo

I must admit, I came to the sweet potato party quite late in life. Considering I eat pretty much anything I don’t know why I’ve been so ambivalent towards the sweet potato / boniato.

Perhaps it’s the way I’ve always seen it prepared; baked jacket-potato style with its orange flesh collapsing in on itself and scooped straight out of its blistered skin. And what is it about the skin that takes on irregular shiny-caramel looking spots where the flesh is peeking through? And when mixed in with carrots and parsnips as part of the Sunday roast veggies drizzled in maple syrup, the sweet potato pretty much disintegrates into the buttery maple juices at the bottom of the pan.

I think I may have answered my own question!

At a party years ago, I remember there was a sweet potato and peanut butter filo parcel which all the veggies were enjoying but I couldn’t decide whether i liked it or wondered whether it should be dessert; all it needed was some vanilla ice cream and a dusting of icing sugar and I’d have been happy…I think.

But it was on a trip to LA that my love for the sweet potato was restored. After several food blow outs I fancied something light but not salad-light(!) and came across a plain chicken breast with fries dish on the menu, that as it arrived on the table I thought, wow these American potatoes are really orange! After the first bite I realised they were sweet potato fries, duh! However, they were sweet, salty and acidic all in one bite. My eyes lit up, they were coated in salt, and freshness of lime zest and juice screamed through.

Since sweet potatoes and boniatos (white fleshed Caribbean sweet potatoes) are currently in season what better way to celebrate them than to try and recreate these lime, salty, sweet potato fries which I have shamelessly decided to call, margarita sweet potato fries; the tequila is optional.

Note: cutting them thicker makes for lighter work but they take longer to cook.

Grill some chicken breasts and corn on the cob to make this a great mid-week family supper. But I warn you, the first time I made this I ate the entire tray of sweet potato fries and left everything else!

 

 

 

…sweet potato fries which I have shamelessly decided to call,
margarita sweet potato fries; the tequila is optional…

Margarita Sweet Potato Fries

1st: Preheat the oven to 210°C

2nd: Wash the sweet potatoes to remove any soil or grit they may still have and slice into fries or wedges should you wish. There is no need to peel them.

3rd: Drizzle with olive oil and season well with salt flakes, pepper and lime zest.

4th: Cook in the oven for anything from 25 to 40 mins depending on size. Try to turn them once and get good colour on them throughout the cooking process.

5th: Squeeze lime juice over them as they come out of the oven and sprinkle with fresh coriander.

These fries are great with chicken but make a tasty accompaniment to grilled pork loin and white fish; anything that will pair well with zesty lime juice.

Whether you eat them as a side dish or as the main I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

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Be it the bleakest winter or the height of summer, there are always tomatoes.

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I’m not trying to be cloyingly obvious with the statement but surely if it’s in the sunnier months where the vegetable (or should I say fruit?) has had months of intense heat and sunshine to help it ripen and fill it with the goodness of the fertile soil and summer sun, it follows that this is when a tomato is at its best.

Each fruit or vegetable has a prime time when it’s at its seasonal best. That means extra flavour, extra crunch, extra juiciness.

So why is it that walk into any supermarket, grocers, corner shop, in the middle of winter, you will always find a tray, box or pack of plump, red tomatoes?

They have been engineered for efficiency and convenience.

They have probably been cultivated in a polytunnel/greenhouse.  This artificial environment grows tomatoes that may look the part but do they actually taste like a tomato should if they haven’t been exposed to sunshine?  Simple: No. These tomatoes will be firmer (able to withstand transportation bruising), full of water and tasteless!

Take for example my simple yet delicious summery, tomato salad.  It’s not so much a recipe as a couple of ingredients and seasonings in a bowl:

Tomato Salad

Chop tomatoes into different sizes depending on their variety, chop a couple of cloves of garlic, season, and a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil and some balsamic vinegar.  Tear basil leaves and mix everything around so that the flavours get to know eachother.  Do not serve cold. 

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Admittedly, in summer is when you are going to get different variety of tomatoes in supermarkets and there are so many varieties around that each time you make the salad it will be slightly different.

Serve this salad in winter and firstly it won’t be that appealing but mainly you will have a tasteless, watery salad.  However, in summer the flavour will be much sweeter, juicier and the colours of the different varieties will make your salad come alive!

So why eat seasonal?

If taste alone is not convincing you that eating seasonally is best then here are a few other reasons:

1) Cost Effective: as the produce is in abundance, prices are lowered to shift the volume that has been grown – any not sold get thrown out!

2) Nutritious: as grown in respective conditions, the product exhibits all its natural nutrients as the phytochemicals that give the fruit/vegetable its colour and give it its antioxidant properties are developed to their most effective.

3) Environmentally Friendly: seasonal fruit and veg don’t have to travel as far as when off season therefore reducing the amount of fuel needed to transport them.  Chemical washes and wax coatings (used to protect the produce on long journeys) can be dispensed with.

4) Supporting the Community: Normally local producers are responsible for selling seasonal produce – its the large supermarkets that import from all over the world and charge an excessive price for tasteless fruit and veg.

5) Break the habit: Try to get into the habit of buying your fruit and veg from the public market or independent shops in town rather than from supermarkets.

In Gibraltar we may not have areas for people to grow enough fruit and veg to sell but there are several people who try to grow their own produce.  I know of a couple who purchase an organic veg box from a local gentleman who will supply them with a variety of his produce at a very reasonable price.  Opening the box is like Christmas-come-early in anticipation of what you’ve got to cook with!

calendarseason copyFollowing the seasons can be difficult if you are already in a cooking pattern.  But with a little imagination you might find that you rediscover something you always enjoyed eating but have stopped cooking.  This not only applies to fruit and veg but to meat and fish too.

I was once told by a fisherman to only eat sardines in a month without an R, namely May-August.  The main reason being that April is spawning season hence we shouldn’t fish sardines before then for fear of depleting stocks and making it an unsustainable food source.  Lamb becomes a desired menu item in Spring. Cheaper cuts can be served all year round but a joint of lamb is at its most flavoursome in Springtime.

Eating seasonally leads us into a more sustainable eating system.

Our main difficulty in Gibraltar is that most of our food is imported from the Uk or Spain by supermarkets.  Buying organic is not necessarily buying seasonal.  The fact that nothing sold is grown/reared here means that very little food we get is local.  Our nearest sources of food come from Morocco and Spain.  There is very little space to make ourselves available of allotments and ground share initiatives to grow our own.

To find out what foods are in season at the moment click on the following link: www.eattheseasons.co.uk   It’s a great site that not only gives you foods which are in season at the moment but also which wines are best during these months. 

With summer being the season of abundance now might be the time to give this a go.

You might find, as I am sure I will, that you never eat a wintry tomato again.

The recent Horsemeat scandal has left farmers incensed as meat sales have plummeted, supermarkets have lost billions in profits and governments struggle in vain to draw a line under the scandal over horsemeat being sold as beef.

horsemeat

So with consumers ditching beef for veggie ready meals it makes me question why people feel that creating vegetarian dishes can be difficult.  Wouldn’t it be just as easy to buy ingredients to create a vegetarian dish than buying a microwave pre-packed one?

By creating your own dish, you control the quantities, the amount of salt, volume… So why don’t some people cook their own vegetarian dishes?  Simple:

 Vegetarian = Boring!

If you try to convince a non-vegetarian that a meat free meal is delicious and exciting then you’ll just be faced with the deadpan certainty that they are awaiting the punchline in your joke.  Either that or they think you’re going to resurrect the vegetable stir-fry.  It is just a case of changing a mindset.  Question: how can culinary giants such as Italy and Spain create amazing vegetable dishes without the ridicule of their respective nations?  Answer: by never compromising on flavour.

The key to a great vegetable dish is to keep it simple.  Let the product speak for itself such as aubergines and honey; a simple Starter to any meal:

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Aubergine and honey

1st: Heat a griddle pan for approximately 8mins before you start cooking.

2nd: Slice the aubergine however you wish; I tend to favour cutting them in half along their length and then slicing into thin strips along the length of each half.

3rd: Pour olive oil into a dish and soak both sides of the aubergine slices in the oil.  Aubergines are like sponges and will soak up a lot of oil so try not to leave them dunked in the oil for too long.

4th: Griddle until scorch marked and softened from the griddle.

5th: Drizzle honey over just before serving.

Use ingredients to compliment your vegetable:

Mushrooms with garlic, chillies and butter IMG_23271

1st: Make the Garlic, Chillies and Parsley butter found on the recipes page.

2nd: Share between the mushrooms.

3rd: Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and bake at 180°C for 20mins.

Disclaimer:  The butter retains a lot of heat so take care when eating as you don’t want to end up with your palette blistered to shreds!

For the more adventurous cook why not try a Roast Vegetable Lasagne or an impressive melanzane alla parmigiana where instead of using lasagne sheets you use slices of aubergine with plenty of parmesan.  

Toptip: When roasting vegetables don’t add salt until the end otherwise they braise in their own cooking liquid.

Or if you want to impress:

Aubergine rolls filled with spinach, ricotta and pine nuts: 

aubergine rolls

Photo taken from bbcgoodfood.com

1st: Soften the aubergine slices by either griddling or cooking them in the oven.

2nd: Mix the wilted spinach leaves with the ricotta cheese and add a good shaving of parmesan.  Season to taste.

3rd: Either use tomato passata from a jar or create your own.

Start to assemble the dish:

4th: Place a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce into the bottom of the oven dish.

5th: Add a teaspoonful of the mixture to one end of the aubergine slice and roll it.  Repeat this for the remaining aubergine slices.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.  To make this a dinner party indulgence why not cover in bechamel sauce before sprinkling with parmesan cheese.

Most of these vegetable dishes make a great accompaniment to any meal.  For example both the mushrooms and the aubergine rolls can be a side dish to meat or chicken if you so wish.  But celebrating them as a main course with some crusty bread is just as rewarding.  Remember, there are plenty of health benefits from eating more vegetables, they are tasty and good on the budget.

Buy vegetables at the height of their season as this will mean you’ll get the best quality product at the best price.  Buy what you need as they have a limited longevity; buy small but buy often.

No, I am not a vegetarian, but I hope through this blog entry I may have given you some ideas as to how to take the jump and cook up simple meat-free dishes that you won’t find boring or predictable.

Give them a try!