Eat your greens!

kale

Yesterday morning brought a long overdue visit to the doctors. For ages I’ve not felt like I’ve been firing on all cylinders, so following some strong encouragement from my better half (or as the kids put it “Dad, you just got told!”) I made an appointment.

I’d really felt like this before doing meat from my diet, and in many ways I’ve actually felt more healthy. Nonetheless I’m also well aware of the need to ensure that protein, minerals and vitamins normally gained through eating meat are found elsewhere.

The Doctor was completely unphased about my choice to go vegetarian, but quizzed me about what I was actually eating. Amongst my pride at mastering a wide range of dishes knew I was vulnerable and it wasn’t long before the question was posed ‘and what about greens?’.

There was no escape.

I knew full well, but had avoided the fact that greens (i.e. spring greens, kale, spinach and broccoli) are very high in vitamin A and crucially Iron so are really essential components of a vegetarian diet.

My creativity in the kitchen has its limits. How to take the dark leaves of spring greens and particularly kale and make them edible, let alone enjoyable, I thought was simply beyond me. Kale was the biggest mountain to climb, since my only memory of it was as a bitter mound that had been boiled to oblivion.

I tried to dodge the question, responding weakly ‘I eat plenty of beans and lentils (which have some iron)’. The doctor was unmoved. ‘No, greens!’.

I was defeated, and knew I had to do something about it as the return visit to collect my blood test results would require a progress report. So I decided to face my fear, and went to buy a pack of kale.

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Leek and mushroom risotto

risottoThe Italian dish Risotto is a real favourite in our house. I’m not going to pretend that Risotto is quick to cook, some packet mixes can be put together in about 20 minutes, but the real thing takes more like an hour. However, the result is ample reward for a little patience. This recipe uses leek and mushroom, but once you’ve got the hang of it you can use all manner of combinations. Roasted squash is particularly tasty.

Risotto is prepared using Arborio rice. This is essential because, unlike long grain or basmati rice, Arborio has a very high starch content and it’s the starch that gives Risotto it’s wonderful creamy texture.

I make Risotto with a ratio of rice to cooking liquid (stock) of 1:4. So, per person I measure out 100ml of rice (note this is by volume rather than weight) which will require 400ml of stock. This means that for 4 people you will need 1.6 litres of stock which sounds far too much, but Arborio rice absorbs a huge amount of liquid while cooking. Because of this you need to ensure you use a large enough pan, preferably with a thick base to aid even heat distribution as you don’t want hotspots where your rice will stick and burn.

One particular ingredient that I’ve found to have a huge impact on flavour is a good slug of wine, and for risotto I’ve found white is best. As an aside, we tend to use fortified wine for cooking as it keeps well and doesn’t have to be finished off once its open. We are currently using Japanese rice wine, Sake, because we happened to have a bottle, tried it and it worked. Sake is not widely available, so when the bottles empty it’s likely to get replaced with Vermouth.

Risotto is cooked by adding the cooking stock gradually, waiting for each quantity to be absorbed by the rice before adding the next. This is what takes the time, and why the optional beer is on the ingredients list. If you don’t work out what to do with it then you won’t be needing it.

You can make this with just fresh mushrooms (in which case add a couple more), but the dried mushrooms add a real depth of flavour. A 50g packet of dried porcini mushrooms costs up to £3 but you don’t need many and they last for ages when stored in a sealed bag or container.

Ingredients (serves 2)
1 leek
1 tbps olive oil (or 15g butter and 1tps olive oil)
50ml white wine
200ml Arborio rice
800ml vegetable stock
A few dried mushrooms (around 7g in weight)
330ml bottle of beer (optional)
4 large mushrooms (we use chestnut mushrooms)
Salt & pepper
Parmesan cheese or similar (optional)
Rocket (optional)

Method
1. Top and tail the leek (remove the hard tip and tougher leaves from the other end) then slice thinly and rinse well as leek often accumulates grit between the leaves.
2. Pour the oil or oil and butter into a large non-stick frying pan, place on a medium heat then saute the leeks until soft but not browned.
3. If you are using stock cubes, then make up with boiling water and leave in a jug or a pan. If you are using fresh stock this needs to be brought to a boil before taking it off the heat.
4. Add the dried mushrooms to the stock to re-hydrate. This will also transfer some of their flavour to the liquid.
5. Roughly chop the fresh mushrooms and set aside.
6. Add the rice to the pan and stir into the leeks. Increase the heat slightly, then after around 30 seconds add the wine and stir into the rice. The liquid should bubble off quickly, but don’t worry about this as it’s the flavour we’re after. Turn the heat back down to a low simmer.
7. Add the stock to the pan around 50ml at a time and stir in (leave the dried mushrooms in the stock for as long as possible). The rice will gradually absorb the liquid and start to swell.
8. Once each quantity of stock has been absorbed add the next 50ml, and so on. This process will take around 30-40 minutes so be patient.
9. Once you’ve used 3/4 of the stock add the fresh and dried mushrooms to the pan and stir in. The dried mushrooms should be quite soft by now.
10. From now on test the consistency of the rice before adding more stock in case it is cooked. The texture should be ‘Al dente’, which means it will be soft but have a little ‘bite’ to it.
11. When the rice is cooked, season with salt and pepper to taste
12. Serve with shavings of Parmesan cheese and rocket leaves.

Seasonality

One of the best ways to enjoy fruit and vegetables at their best, and their cheapest is to buy them in season. Check out a new feature on the blog, letting you know what’s in season in February.

Fed up with horse? Eat more veg instead

This time it’s lasagne. Another nightmare for the food industry’s PR teams as black beauty one again makes it into the nations dinner plates.
There was a time, not so long ago, when we could go into our local butchers shop and buy minced beef with total confidence about what it contained. We knew because that mince had arrived in the shop as cuts of chuck steak or flank (which made a cheaper and slightly less dry mince than steak) and was minced in the shop buy the guy who served us. Sadly the shop has now gone and our choice is the supermarket or a trek to a butchers in the next town where the more expensive steak mince is our only option.
The root of the issue for us, and for Findus, is cost. It’s no longer possible to guarantee quality at a price many people are able or prepared to pay so something has to give. Unfortunately the casualty in all this is the value sector because selling chicken nuggets for 99p or a lasagne for £1.50 is, quite frankly, asking the impossible.
The truth is that while housing costs have rocketed over the last 20 years the proportion of our wages we spend on food has fallen. This perhaps gives us a clue to our predicament and explains why so many independent retailers have thrown in the towel. So we are faced with some difficult choices. If we demand traceability in our food and guarantees over the ingredients then we will have to pay more for it – simple as that.
In my mind the only practical solution is to examine what we eat, and in particular our dependence on meat as the cornerstone of our diets. We don’t have to drop it completely, but we can eat less. And if we eat less of it we can afford to be a little more choosy about what we buy when we do. When I buy a pack of mushrooms in the supermarket I can be pretty certain what they are and I can be confident they contain no cauliflower whatsoever!

Hello ….

… and welcome!

This blog comes out of a journey to discover ways of eating that are healthy, yet don’t cost the earth. As food prices have continued to rise, income has fallen and I’ve become more concerned about the environmental and economic impact of our food choices it’s led me to seek out ways of eating healthily, yet using ingredients that are inexpensive and do not rob someone else of their staple.

I’m really bothered about the effect of poverty on diet, and the options available to people having to feed a family from a low income. Cheap food is often based on low quality ingredients, heavily processed to disguise it’s origins. Yet, there are so many ways of using readily available ingredients and with a little effort to produce a feast for far less than we expect.

So, whether you’re looking for low-cost recipes or some ideas for eating vegetarian I hope you find something useful.  I’m not a full-time blogger, so it will take me a little while to add content – please be patient. If you have something to add- or a link or blog you can recommend then please get in touch.

Thanks for visiting – I hope you will come back soon!

 

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