For 2017 we should start a campaign against cruelty to vegetables.
How many times, in an eating place, have you been served a bowl of watery cauliflower, carrots or broccoli as an accompaniment to your meal? They come, regardless of the season, either half raw or cooked to within an inch of their lives, often swimming in their cooking water and completely unadorned. They’ll have been delivered to the restaurant kitchen, ready prepared and packed into sweat inducing plastic. No animal we kill should die in vain and the same should be applied to vegetables. Eating out should be slightly decadent with some effort put into the preparation and cooking of food. Staff shortages in the catering industry have meant cutting labour costs but it shouldn’t be at the price of standards.
It makes economic sense for establishments to go easy on meat and heavy on vegetables. Innovative restaurants like Deane’s Eipic and Ox in Belfast have been lauded for their vegetable focused menus and there’s no reason why that can’t be applied across the board. Eating seasonally is what our grandparents did and I’ll go along with that philosophy every time. My heart skips a beat when I see a trailer load of carrots on a country road. My mind goes into overdrive at the thought of the intense sweetness and the endless culinary possibilities. Last year I invested in a food dehydrator and dried out strips of carrots. It deepens their sugariness and adds a crunchy texture. Roasted carrots, brushed with a little mustard and rolled in chopped crispy, dehydrated carrots adds a whole new dimension to this orange root vegetable. You don’t need to invest in any equipment – line a baking tray with parchment, place the carrots on top and place in your oven at it’s lowest temperature.
Purple sprouting broccoli is coming into season now. It’s a thin stemmed version of the brassica with purple hued small florets. There’s no waste with this robust, colourful vegetable – simply steam or boil in salted water and toss in good oil or butter. My favourite vegetable is cima di rapine, literally translated from the Italian as turnip tops. Slightly bitter green leaves are topped with tiny florets. It’s blanched in boiling water and then fried with garlic and olive oil. The purple variety is the nearest you’ll get in this country to the Latin classic and it suits being prepared in this way. For my recipe this week its blanched and then cooked on a char grill pan (if you’re an all year round barbecue user – apply cooking method here). Lemons are grilled to form a basis for a dressing – this brings out their natural sweetness and feta cheese is added for a creamy balance and some almonds for texture. A sunny side to brighten up a dull January.
Cauliflowers are at their best now – snowy white flower heads embedded in deep green leaves. Cauliflower cheese is an iconic dish that everyone loves and the other recipe this week takes this flavour combination to a different dimension. Cauliflower pieces are fried in a light, crispy batter and served with a creamy dip of sharp cheese and smoky bacon.
We are blessed to have beautiful produce all year round here – the least we should do is to respect it at all times.