Friday, February 04, 2011
On all kinds of culinary goodies ...
Would it be pushing it to say that people don’t eat well these days? With hardly any free time under our belt, stressed and joggling through too many ‘to-do’ tasks, we find ourselves forced to eat fast meals, if not actually fast food. Lunch time is short and even this much anticipated break is used to deal with emails and other professional or personal duties. Dinner often happens in front of the telly in the living room, with a bowl on our lap. Lack of resources and money is another factor which contributes to a poor and boring diet.
I love food. The belief “you are what you eat” (hence the description of my blog) has always appealed to me because food is interlinked with psychology and social background. We are influenced by what we have read, seen, visited, smelt, tasted, tried and sampled. Food is all about discovery - including self-discovery.
Should somebody need to be a foodie or be rich in order to appreciate a delicious bite? Not at all. Gourmet is not only about dining at the most exclusive restaurant in town. We have been led to believe that hard-to-get products (such as tuna fish, macadamia nuts, truffles, or Japanese Wagyu beef, to name just a few) constitute the basis of a gourmet dish. Quite to the contrary, gourmet food is all about simple ingredients that taste good and take you to a trip to Paradise.
Good food (or what is often referred to as gourmet) is, in my opinion, cooked with passion and style using fresh, simple ingredients.
Here are some dishes that can easily be boring, but which can equally be twisted-and-turned into a true gourmet experience.
Boring: eggplant salad with salt and mayonnaise
Exciting: eggplant salad with avocado, zucchini, red onion, cherry tomatoes, toasted sesame seeds. Decorate with green lettuce leaves and sprinkle vinaigrette on top
Boring: boiled eggs with salt
Exciting: boiled eggs with a sweet mustard sauce and green salad as a side dish.
The mustard sauce I often make is delicious and easy to prepare in a very short time: 2 spoons Dijon mustard, 1 spoon regular mustard, 1 teaspoon of honey, ½ or 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 4 spoons low-fat cream (or yoghurt) and linseeds
Boring: plain yoghurt
Exciting: Yoghurt will never be boring when you revamp it into raita, labneh or lassi, the last being probably one of the most versatile drinks on earth! (Click on the link to pick your own favourite lassi.)
Boring: polenta as a side dish (a staple in the Romanian diet)
Exciting: polenta cubes, squares, wedges or triangles broiled in the oven with grilled paprika and balsamic vinegar sauce
Boring: honey spread on bread for a quick and healthy breakfast
Exciting: grind some almonds or dry coconut flakes and mix them with honey. Spread them on fresh baguette or Irish soda-bread. Enjoy it with strong coffee in the morning.
Boring: baked pumpkin with brown sugar or cinnamon/nutmeg sprinkled on top
Exciting: roasted pumpkin cubes with minced ginger
Boring: fried potatoes, aka chips with ketchup from a jar
Exciting: cut the potatoes in 8, boil them for 10+ minutes, drain them and put them in an ovenproof dish. You can roast them in many ways, after adding the following herbs and/or spices:
European style: herbs (use your imagination: rosemary, herbes provencales etc), Camargue salt or fleur de sel, a dash of olive oil
Indian style (Bombay potatoes): mustard seeds, onion seeds, cumin, coriander, sweet paprika, hot chilli, curry leaves, freshly grated ginger, turmeric, garlic, garam masala powder mix, olive oil, salt
Lebanese style: mint, sweet paprika, one diced tomato, mint, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, fleur de sel, olive oil
My own style J: cumin, coriander seeds, linseeds, pumpkin seeds, fleur de sel, extra virgin olive oil
Have them with one of the following dips: raita, satay (peanut butter, coconut milk & spices), tomato & mint chutney, honey & mustard sauce. All should be home-made.
Boring: warm milk
Exciting: hot milk with honey & ginger, or hot chocolate with honey & crushed mint
Boring: Filter coffee
Exciting: Coffee with hel (aka cardamom)
Boring: black tea with sugar
Exciting: black tea with rosewater & saffron sugar or Spiced Lebanese tea
Boring: plain green tea
Exciting: green tea with fresh mint or ginger
Boring: pancakes with jam or Nutella
Exciting: Crêpes Suzette, or crepes with wholemeal flour, banana, pumpkin seeds, milk & vanilla, and filled with honey
Boring: (gluey) pilaf L
Exciting: biryani, bukhari, paella, risotto
Boring: lentil soup, Lebanese style
Exciting: lentil-&-prawn chowder or mujardarra (lentil & rice with spices and sweet onion jam)
Boring: white bean salad
Exciting: white bean curry or carrot & bean soup
Boring: chicken schnitzels or plain chicken skewers
Exciting: chicken satay, or shish tawook
Boring: grilled turkey with green lettuce
Exciting: grilled turkey with forest fruit coulis or hoi-sin sauce
Boring: (European style) meatballs
Boring: British style fried fish (with chips)
Exciting: learn about fish, some fish are better steamed, grilled or baked in the oven.
Boring: plain water
Exciting: served with thin slices of apple, orange and/or tangerine, fresh mint leaves, orange blossom water, and ice cubes. Or plain water with rosewater.
Fizzy (sparkling) water
Boring: fizzy water with a slice of lemon and ice cubes
Exciting: ‘Saudi’ champagne - 1 measure apple juice, 3 measures fizzy water,
thin slices of apple & orange, fresh mint, ice cubes or crushed ice
Boring: carrots in boiled mint or coriander
Exciting: Moroccan style orange-&-carrot salad with cinnamon, brown sugar, orange blossom water, lime juice
Boring: couscous with tomatoes & red onions
Exciting: couscous with dried apricots, fresh figs, golden raisins, pistachios, almonds, spring onions, pomegranate (Use your imagination, add, remove, or mix any of the ingredients from the list)
Other tips that can make life beautiful:
Go to gourmet shops and make a mental note of the ingredients listed on jars. You can usually replicate them at home. Olive paste is very easy to make at home, and because you are not limited to a small jar, you can share this delicious Mediterranean black spread with your family and friends.
Opt for extra virgin olive oil instead of regular oil or very cheap olive oil.
If you have time, cook daily. Don’t eat food which is more than 24 hours old.
If you can, go to the market at least twice a week to buy your vegetables fresh and crisp.
If you don’t live in the city and have access to the outdoors, go fishing, and grow your own veggies and fruit.
If you have a small garden, plant at least some aromatic herbs and tend them with love and care. Plants need sunshine and lots of TLC.
Don’t buy sweets and biscuits from the supermarket. Bake your own cakes.
Invest in a good quality coffee machine, so that you can enjoy countless creamy cappuccinos and espressos at home.
Make your own chutneys, using a variety of ingredients, e.g. apple, tomato & mint, fig, mango, or peach.
Make sure to always have orange blossom water and rosewater in your pantry.
Buy fresh milk and bread every day.
If it is possible, use fresh herbs instead of dried ones (especially mint which is ideal for Lebanese style dishes such as labneh or raita)
If you can, make your own bread and pasta.
Avoid using ginger powder instead of ginger root. Ginger root stores well in the fridge.
Use honey and brown sugar instead of refined white sugar.
Have lots of different kinds of tea in the house.
Use coffee beans instead of ground coffee. That will surely wake you up!
ALWAYS go for fresh, local, bio and sustainable products.
Use imported products only for items which cannot and should not be anything but the original ™® (Roquefort, chorizo, Thai rice, basmati rice, salam de Sibiu, pappadums, exotic fruit & vegetables etc). Don’t buy garlic from China, peppers from Holland, watermelon from Turkey, apples from Italy etc, if they grow naturally in your country.
Read about food, spices & herbs; go through food blogs, listen to suggestions and learn (from mistakes, as well). :)
Have blue cheese or chèvre with a sip of velvety red wine, walnuts, and grapes. (La vie en rose).
If you have guests for dinner, be generous - be a perfect host. Your food will make people happy and your guests will want to come back.
This posting has been quite long (and I still haven’t finished!), but I hope you have found it interesting. I’ll probably update it one of these days. This is what I go for on a regular basis. It doesn’t cost extra money and it makes life sweeter in the kitchen and beyond.
And remember, when you cook it with passion, then it’s definitely gourmet!
PS. If you have any other suggestions on how to spice up a relatively boring meal, feel free to drop me a line. Your comments always make me happy... xx