Articles Posted in the Food, Green tips, Lifestyle category

Summer salads: Tabbouleh

September 3, 2010
Posted in Food

My sister asked me today what salad she thought she should serve for a lunch with a friend tomorrow.

The thing about salads is that they can be supremely dull: a couple of salad leaves, tomatoes and some sort of cheese is not inspiring, even if it is easy to put together.  Fancy salads, on the other hand, are just that: fancy, over the top and time consuming.

Which is why I thought of tabbouleh. It’s certainly not dull and yet is fantastically easy to make. A little bit of chopping and you’re done.

Tabbouleh is just as well described as bulgar wheat salad (or cracked wheat). You get it in most shops and, like couscous, it doesn’t need to be cooked as such. It’s a perfect summer salad because it has the flavour of tomatoes, lemons, parsley and a light hint of spring onion.Many recipes call for huge amounts of parsley. You can adjust this according to your taste, but it does still need a healthy dose of parsley.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup bulgar wheat (cracked wheat)
  • 2 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (vary this according to taste)
  • 1/2 cup chopped spring onion
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped mint
  • 2 cups chopped ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper

In a bowl soak the bulgar wheat in water for about 20 minutes and then drain well. Put the wheat into a serving bowl, add the parsley, onions, mint and tomatoes and toss it all up.

In a separate bowl whisk the olive oil and lemon juice. Pour this over the wheat mixture and you’re done.

Perfect for a summer lunch.

There are infinite variations on this salad. This is the most basic of them. You could add cucumbers, for example, to get it another fresh taste. Try it this way and then experiment.

Celebrating spring with chai tea

September 1, 2010
Posted in Food

It’s hot, it’s sweet, it’s spicy. and there is nothing like it on a hot summer day. It’s chai tea. And with today being spring day it’s a perfect drink to celebrate the fast approaching summer.

Originating in the Indian sub-continent Masala Chai (“spiced tea”) is made by brewing tea with a mixture of spices, sugar and milk. The result is a warming, spicy cup of tea that somehow seems appropriate on even the hottest of days.

 

Making chai is simple and quick. This is the way I usually make it but, because there is no fixed chai recipe, it’s just as good if you vary the spices, the quantities and how you prepare the spices.

Typically Chai is made with any number of spices, including cardamom, cinammon, peppercorns, cloves, star anise and ginger. These are usually crushed, but for a lighter flavoured tea don’t crush the spices before adding to the pot. Crushing the spices will give the tea more of a “kick”.

Ingredients

  • 1 litre hot water
  • 1 big teaspoon cardamom pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 or 2 whole star anise
  • 2 regular teabags
  • 1 cup milk

Bash the spices up in a pestle and mortar. Cardamom and star anise seed pods will remain which is fine. Put the spices into a pot over medium heat and toast the spices for a minute. They mustn’t burn but you’ll smell the fantastic aroma as they toast.

Add the litre of hot water to the spices. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Then add the two teabags to the pot and simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Finally, add the cup of milk and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Strain the larger pieces out of the tea and serve with sugar.

From the kitchen to the emergency room

August 22, 2010
Posted in Food

I did it. I sliced a piece of my finger off. I’ve cut myself a couple of times previously while cooking but this time I really sliced a piece off. Not a big piece of my finger but large enough to create a gush of blood resembling a small slasher movie and prompt a visit to the local casualty ward.

I was chopping some tomatoes for a quick dinner. I wasn’t really concentrating. The next moment my kitchen resembled that of Gordon Ramsey. The F-Word was bouncing off walls and I was hopping around looking for something to staunch the blood flow.

A painful reminder of why good knife skills are essential.

Here are a couple of timely videos about using the pinch and claw grips to avoid ending up in your local emergency room.

Banishing demons: Easy Mayonnaise

August 21, 2010
Posted in Food

I’m going to say it. Making your own mayonnaise is a big deal. At least to me.

It’s got a reputation for being fiddly and finicky to make, but making your own mayonnaise is a small badge of honour in the cooking world. Homemade always tastes better but most people just can’t be bothered.

Mayonnaise’s hard-to-make reputation is generally well-deserved. I’ve tried many times over the years, each time with an increasingly complicated recipe, but pretty much failed every time. The worst was on a Christmas morning when I had a dish planned for lunch that involved mayonnaise. After finishing off all the eggs and sunflower oil in the house in a number of failed attempts I had to resort to rescuing the remains of a jar of mayonnaise from the back of the fridge and spread it thinly.

I got away with that time but that wasn’t really the issue.

Then one day I happened upon this recipe. I can’t remember exactly where I got it but it looked pretty simple so I gave it a try and I’ve never looked back. We no longer buy that horrible over-preserved stuff from the supermarket any more. It takes just a couple of minutes to whip up this mayonnaise when you need some, and it last for a good while in the fridge.

There are a couple of tricks to getting this right but they’re not as complicated as some recipe writers like to make out.

The first thing to do is use room temperature ingredients, particularly the eggs. The second is to add the oil in a slow (really slow), steady stream. Spend the extra couple of minutes and get it right.

I use a liquidiser to make my mayonnaise, primarily because it has this cool lid with a very small hole it, which makes adding the oil really easy.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup (250ml) oil, sunflower or olive

Put all the dry ingredients and the eggs into the liquidiser and blend for four or five seconds. Next, with the liquidiser running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. You’ll notice the mixture starting to thicken.

Now add the vinegar and lemon juice and blend for another few seconds, just enough to mix it all up.

If you add the oil too quickly you ‘ll probably end up curdling the mixture. If this happens add a couple of drops of water. If this doesn’t work, you’ll have to start again.

The mayonnaise can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks, though you’ll probably use it all up before then.

I sometimes leave out the mustard or add some more cayenne. It still works and you can change your final flavour by doing so. You could also use a red wine vinegar to give it some colour.

No-fuss, simple Ciabatta bread

August 17, 2010
Posted in Food

I’m going through a bread phase. There is something uniquely fulfilling about making your own bread; it’s not just that it tastes better than the soft, sliced bread you get in supermarkets, it’s more than that.

Perhaps it is because in its simplest form bread-making is such a basic skill. And yet it can also involve great skill and artistry.

One of my favourite breads is Ciabatta. Making a good Ciabatta bread can be time consuming and pretty fiddly. This is my super-simple version which gives a great result but doesn’t take much time. It also produces excellent rolls for things like hamburgers.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

You could make this by hand but I tend to stick all of the ingredients into my bread machine and use the dough setting. I start with the water and flour, add the rest and set the machine. The resulting dough is pretty soft and sticky, which is another good reason to use a bread machine.

Once the dough is ready, take it out of the bread machine, place on a board, cover with a large bowl and let it stand for about 10 minutes.

Next, split your dough into two and shape into oval shapes. Alternatively, split the dough into six or eight pieces to make bread rolls.

Leave these to prove for about an hour. In warmer climates this may take less time, and in colder ones you may need more.

Once the dough has risen, place it in a pre-heated oven at 220 degrees C for about 20-25 minutes, until nicely browned. Spray the loaves lightly with water ever three minutes for the first ten minutes of cooking. This prevents the crust browning too quickly and keeps the crust moist enough to keep on rising. Spraying more than this can make the loaves very pale.

If you’re making bread rolls out of this, brush the surface with milk or egg before cooking. The milk gives the bread a lighter shade than the egg and the egg gives a deeper glaze.

Remove the bread from the oven and stand on a wire rack to cool before eating.

SA government rejects GM potatoes

October 23, 2009
Posted in Food, Green News

Copyright: iStockphoto

Copyright: iStockphoto

The South African government has rejected the Agriculture Research Council’s (ARC) application to provide genetically modified potatoes to local farmers, saying it was concerned about its safety and economic effect, reports Business Day.

“This is probably the most significant victory of my career,” said Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), which spearheaded the campaign against the GM potatoes. “For a pro-genetically modified government to refuse a commercial application on safety grounds is quite ground breaking.”

The ACB campaign focused on the ARC’s application for commercial release of its SpuntaG2 potato, which has been engineered to kill the tuber moth, a common pest that damages crops in the field and in storage.

Potatoes SA, fast food outlet McDonald’s, and food retailers Pick n Pay and Fruit and Veg City have also expressed objections to the ARC’s application, saying they were concerned about consumer choice.

Full story: Business Day.
African Centre for Biosafety statement

Green revolution needed to feed the world, says UN

February 19, 2009
Posted in Food

Changing the ways in which food is produced, handled and disposed of across the globe – from farm to store and from fridge to landfill – can both feed the world’s rising population and help the environment, a new United Nations Environment Programme study has found.

More than half of the food produced today is either lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain, says the report entitled “The Environmental Food crises: Environment’s role in averting future food crises”. The report was released this week at a UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum meeting in Nairobi.

“There is evidence within the report that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet,” says Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary-general and UNEP executive director.

The UNEP report lists some sobering stats about food:

  • Food losses and waste in the United States are estimated to be as high as 50 percent. Up to a quarter of all fresh fruits and vegetables in the US is lost between the field and the table.
  • In Australia food waste makes up about half of landfill.
  • Almost a third of all food purchased in the United Kingdom every year is not eaten.
  • In Africa, the total amount of fish lost through discards, post-harvest loss and spoilage may be around 30 percent of landings.
  • In developing countries, food losses in the field between planting and harvesting could be as high as 40 percent of the potential harvest because of pests and pathogens.
  • A third of the world’s cereals are being used as animal feed and this will rise to 50 per cent by 2050.
  • An estimated 30 million tonnes of fish are discarded at sea annually.

The report shows that many of the factors blamed for the current food crisis – drought, biofuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and especially speculation in food stocks may worsen substantially in the coming decades.

Add to that climate change and the fact that the world’s population is expected to grow to over 9-billion people by 2050, from about 6.7-billion at present, and trouble lies ahead.

“We need a Green revolution in a Green Economy but one with a capital G”, says Steiner.

“We need to deal with not only the way the world produces food but the way it is distributed, sold and consumed, and we need a revolution that can boost yields by working with rather than against nature.”

Simply ratcheting up the fertiliser and pesticide-led production methods of the 20th century is not the answer, says Steiner.

“It will increasingly undermine the critical natural inputs and nature-based services for agriculture such as healthy and productive soils, the water and nutrient recycling of forests, and pollinators such as bees and bats.”

The report says that increased use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides, increased water use and cutting down of forests will result in massive decline in biodiversity. Already, nearly 80 percent of all endangered species are threatened because of agricultural expansion, and Europe has lost more than 50 percent of its farmland birds during the past 25 years of intensification of European farmlands.

Organic agriculture is highlighted as holding promise. A 2008 UN study of small-scale African farms found that organic practices outperformed traditional methods and chemical-intensive conventional farming and also found strong environmental benefits such as improved soil fertility, better retention of water and resistance to drought, says the report.

Organic agriculture is predicted to continue to grow, despite the economic crisis, says UNEP. Sales of certified organic produce could reach close to $70 billion in 2012, up from $23 billion in 2002.

Some of the findings in the report are:

  • Food prices may increase by 30-50 percent within decades.
  • Continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation.
  • The removal of agricultural subsidies and the promotion of second generation biofuels based on wastes rather than on primary crops could reduce pressure on fertile lands and critical ecosystems such as forests.
  • The amount of fish currently discarded at sea could sustain a 50 percent increase in fish farming and aquaculture production, which is needed to maintain per capita fish consumption at current levels by 2050 without increasing pressure on an already stressed marine environment.
  • Up to 25 percent of the world’s food production may become lost due to ‘environmental breakdowns’ by 2050 unless action is taken.
  • Water scarcity may reduce crop yields by up to 12 percent and climate change may accelerate insects, diseases and weeds, reducing yields by another 2-6 percent worldwide.
  • Continuing land degradation, particularly in Africa, may reduce yields by another 1-8 percent.
  • Croplands may be swallowed up by urban sprawl, biofuels, cotton and land degradation by 8-20 percent by 2050.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, population growth is projected to increase from the current 770-million to over 1.7-billion in less than 40 years, and climate change, land degradation, water scarcity and conflicts mean that unless a major economic, agricultural and investment boom takes place, the situation may become very serious indeed.

“The Environmental Food Crises” report offers seven major recommendations:

  1. To decrease the risk of highly volatile food prices, price regulation should be created to buffer the tight markets of food commodities and the subsequent risks of speculation in markets.
  2. Encourage the removal of subsidies for first-generation (food crop-based) biofuels and promote environmentally sustainable higher-generation biofuels (based on waste) that do not compete for cropland and water resources, but also do not compete with animal feed.
  3. Reallocate cereals and food fish used in animal feed and develop alternatives to use in animal feed by developing alternative feeds based on new technology, waste and discards.
  4. Support farmers in developing diversifed and resilient eco-agriculture systems.
  5. Increase trade and market access by improving infrastructure, reducing trade barriers, enhancing government subsidies and safety nets, and reducing armed conflict and corruption
  6. Limit global warming
  7. Raise awareness of the pressures of increasing population growth and consumption patterns on ecosystems

Source: UNEP

Image: by JBloom, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Books to whet your apetite for good food

November 21, 2008
Posted in Food

If you’ve ever dreamt of stepping off the career treadmill and moving to a farm somewhere, you’ll find Christine Stevens’ book “Harvest. Recipes from an Organic Farm” (Jacana) inspiring. Because that’s exactly what she did seven years ago, to become an organic farmer and wine-maker in the Western Cape.

“Harvest” is more than just a recipe book, though. It has a lovely personal feel, not just because of the way Christine writes about each of her recipes, but because it’s illustrated with beautiful photographs of the farm and the family. It all looks and sounds idyllic.

“The truth is that it might look romantic from the outside, but farming for real is an incredible challenge on every level,” writes Christine. But the book leaves you in no doubt that however steep the learning curve may have been, she loves her life on the farm.

With no supermarket down the road, she’s had to learn to be pretty self-sufficient, growing her own organic vegetables, herbs and fruit. Many of her recipes are inspired by what’s ready to eat in the garden. So, for instance, there’s a recipe for a french bean, pea and broad bean salad – because “these are the first of the spring vegetables ready to harvest”. All the recipes are simple and relatively quick and easy to prepare (because there’s not a lot of time to faff around in the kitchen when you’ve a farm to run).

I love the chapter names, they’re not you’re usual starters, poultry, meat, desserts etc, they’re more a description of what you might feel like eating: in the chapter called “Crunch” there’s simple salads and light meals straight from the garden. Here she writes: “Everyone seems to be cooking with organic ingredients these days, which is wonderful, but I think we still forget what it’s like to just pick something off the bush or vine, or dig it out of the soil, give it a quick wash and pop it in our mouths.” She’s absolutely right.

In the “Nourish” chapter you’ll find recipes for cooked garden vegetables. They include things like sage mash, ratatouille and farm vegetable soup. There’s nothing new, but it’s unpretentious food that just looks delicious.

The “Fill” chapter is about keeping two growing, “permanently hungry” boys fed. These are quick, healthy meals that are tried and tested family favourites.

Then there’s the comfort food section … cakes, biscuits, bread etc. Christine bakes her own bread, claiming: “Once you get into a rhythm, baking a fresh loaf every day becomes part of daily life and, of course, it makes the whole house smell wonderful.” I’ll take her word for it.

The “Feast” section has very enticing beef, pork, chicken and lamb recipes for long family lunches. The chapter on desserts, entitled “Indulgence”, is full of fruity, creamy, crumbly things. And then the final chapter, “Hoard”, contains recipes for preserving the summer crop for the less bountiful winter months in marmalade, jellies, pesto, sauces and such.

I love this book because it reminds you that eating is a sensory and social experience and that growing food can be a true pleasure – which is easy to forget when you live in a city. If this book doesn’t inspire you to start growing your own veggies, nothing will.

THE SECOND BOOK, “Love Green Food. Cooking and Eating with Consciousness” by Larissa Green (XLIBRIS) is also about organic food. Larissa Green is a trained cordon bleu chef who lives in Cape Town. She says, “Love Green Food” arose from a journey of personal healing and “a drive to ensure that we have a clean and healthy planet to call our home and to leave behind for our children”. Fine sentiments, indeed.

What really struck me is her attitude to cooking. She writes: “It’s all above LOVE! This is the most important ingredient. This is love for yourself, for others, for your environment, for nature and for your home.”

For Larissa, cooking is a spiritual experience. “The experience of creating something really nutritious for the body can transform a person, as the experience also feeds the soul,” she writes.

She describes organic food as “nice, clean food” that’s “almost like a medicine”. But sourcing organic food hasn’t always been easy, she writes that she’s had to put her culinary skills to the test and be creative in order to prepare a variety of dishes with minimal ingredients.

The main emphasis of the book is “to provide easy and great recipes to make all your own food without feeling like you have had to limit yourself in any way”.

I love the homemade flavour section. It contains recipes for things like pesto, sweet chilli sauce, various chutneys, preseved lemons and tomatoes, mayonnaise and thai curry paste. Follow these recipes and you won’t need to get your flavours from a packet or bottle again.

There’s a section on cereal grains, including some lesser-known ones like millet, quinoa, amaranth and spelt. And some bread recipes, including rotis and gluten-free bread and pastry.

The book also contains a nice assortment of breakfast foods, including fruit salads, porridges, muffins, pancakes, eggs and quiches, a few soup recipes and some interesting ways to cook veggies, including  crispy coated vegetables and vegetable fritters which might tempt fussy youngsters to eat brocolli and baby marrow.

I really liked the look of the salty fruit salad that involves melons and feta cheese, and a spinach, chickpea, summer fruit and goat’s cheese salad, which I’m sure could look quite spectacular. Also notable is a recipe for chai tea, a drink I have loved since a trip to Zanzibar many years ago.

My only “issue” with the book is one that I have with many health food recipe books and that’s the need for “specialist” ingredients like chickpea flour, coconut oil, spelt flour and Himalayan salt. It means I have to drive for kilometres to a health food shop to find them. But, I supposed you can always improvise with ingedients that are easier to obtain.

Other handy features in the book are a chart showing which vegetables are in season when, and a few recipes for organic and non-chemical household cleaners.

To learn more about Larissa’s cooking and eating with consciousness philosophy or to order the book, you can go to the LoveGreenFood website. Where you’ll also find a very handy South African shopping directory.

(Thanks to Maureen for the books)

Organic farming could feed Africa, says UN report

October 23, 2008
Posted in Food, Green News

The potential of organic farming to meet Africa’s growing food needs may have been underestimated. Britain’s Independent reports that a new study by the UN Environment Programme, which it says was released yesterday, shows that organic farming methods have increased crop yields by up to 128 percent in East Africa and provided much-needed income boosts for small farmers.

The UN’s findings provide a counterargument to increasing calls for genetically modified crops and industrial agriculture on the continent in the face of the global food crisis. Organic farming is seen by many as a Western lifestyle choice rather than a practical solution to feed Africa’s many hungry mouths. [See UK government's former chief scientist David King's remarks on the subject in the Guardian]

Read the full report on the Independent

Eat less meat and take a load off the planet

October 1, 2008
Posted in Food, Green tips, Lifestyle

Want to do something to help combat global warming? Eat less meat. This is the sage advice of the head of the world’s top scientific body on climate change, the IPCC.

“Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there,” Dr Rajendra Pachauri, was recently quoted in The Observer as saying.

This is one of the most effective lifestyle changes you could make to decrease your carbon footprint. Meat production is responsible for about a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, says the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Read more

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