I'm dedicated to cooking. For me it has always been a life saver. The evening meal is my special time.
Everyday it comes around and every day, for me, what-to-cook is an adventure.
So I get to explore different ingredients and different cuisines; pursue passions; indulge in foodish dilettantism...and eat.
I prefer to cook for others...but if I'm doing meal-for-one, I can sneak in the foods that others may be distrustful of.
Cooking got me feeding 2 kids and rests as the baseline of achievement for those days that I'm ill. I may spend the good part of a day recumbent, but for me , being able to get up and cook an evening meal is an obsession.It is a register of worthwhile things done in a day that may have little else to show for it.
So everyday, come tea time, my habit is to experiment...
Consequently I'm grounded in a few culinary traditions.Over the years my core passion has been Middle Eastern foods but of late I deflected to an interest in Turkish tucker which is different again.
More recently I'm in East Asia, in Malaysia and Korea, with taste beds half way to Latin America.
That may seem a strange mix but consider the core anthropological fact that so many vegetables, so popular in Asia, emanate from Central and Latin America. Preparing them is both different and similar, each side of the Pacific Ocean.
But in this mix -- after decades of cooking meals -- I'm alighting on a 'style' -- a cuisine -- that has a certain dietary logic that, at least, suits me.
Its constituent parts are:
- Meze : small side dishes which I'm familiar with via so many Arab menus.And while I've put in the hard yards, making and growing Mediterranean style side salads, my passion today, meze-wise, is the way the Latinos create salsas. While 'salsa' means 'sauce' it doesn't have to be wet and runny, nor does it always include tomatoes or chillies.Salsas, like meze, can be made of many things...and I mean many things you may not realize can be served together in the same bowl.Similarly, the Malay tradition of sambals is a Occidental version of the salsa. In Korea the side dish habit is referred to as Banchan. Indeed, in all these traditions your local menu is formatted by these small side dishes.They maketh the meal.
- Starch: Since embracing the family curse -- Diabetes II -- I've been following a low carbohydrate diet. It works and my blood sugars are stable.But recently I've been fascinated by what's being referred to as safe starches. These are the non-grain starches/bulk foods like spuds, sweet potatoes, yams, taro, plantains...and rice(although that's a grain). I keenly grow 'em if I can and I cook 'em. Despite the carb quotient. I explore their nutrient qualities, food traditions and attributes. En route I've become a sweet potato junkie and embraced an addiction to sweet potato noodles (called dangmyeon, Korean: 당면).
- Yogurt and pickles: While I used to make sauerkraut I now limit my lactobaccilus indulgences to home made yogurt and the Melbourne Celto-greek in me wants to have yogurt at every meal. I've gone beyond Tzatziki (greek yogurt and cucumber, a Greek national obsession) and are now in free form Cacik mode. Cacik is 'yogurt and...'[insert vegetable here]. Wonderfully creative it is too -- region by region. Also from the Turks -- the Ottomans -- I leant to respect pickles. By that I mean pickles per se, that aren't necessarily fermented. Indeed, pickles like this are really a salad as they are cut with vinegar in mind. A similar pickle tradition exists in Korea (say no more than kimchi) and Japan -- all very meze, very banchan , salsa-like. While the taste may be a fav, the underlying logic is that you eat an acid with your meal. Indeed research shows that acids consumed via yogurts, pickles our sourdough fermented breads impact on the metabolism of the carbohydrates eaten at the same meal.
Perhaps you are wondering, what all this has to do with gardening.As it turns out: a lot. The KITCHEN GARDEN lends itself to growing a range of different herbs and veges that can be employed as meze, table starch, or pickles. In all this: fresh is best and seasonal variety rules.
If you move away from 'salad' thinking or the melange of separated vegetables mono-culturally prepared as accompaniments to whatever, you are stepping into a sort of trans-global mix of ingredients and food traditions that can be fed by your garden habit by dint of the adage: 'a little bit of this and that.'
And since I've recently planted some yam bean/Jicama I gotta say that Jicama salsa is a quintessential convergence of what this approach can generate: starch + vegetables + acid.
That's the clincher you see: small dishes. Eclectic blend of what the garden delivers: served up as pickles, sambals, salsa....with a starch passion sponsored -- maybe by what's gown out back.