I grew up in a family who loved food. I spent much of my childhood watching one of my grandmothers, aunts or uncles, or my father cooking or baking something enticing. The act of preparing food has always been filled with joy for me and sharing food, filled with love. I always envied those of my friends who grew up with a strong cultural food tradition. My friends whose mothers made olives, or whose grannies rolled rötis. While I always loved the familiarity of family cooking, I always had an appetite for the more exotic! So while I know that not everyone is as adventurous, many opportunities present themselves for us to open ourselves up to new and interesting eating. Some of you have expressed unwillingness to try okra or a fear of cooking this unfamiliar little vegetable. Okra was taken to America by the African slaves, which is how it found itself entrenched in Southern cooking. Okra can be ‘slimy’ when cooked; this slime is what is used to thicken dishes like a good gumbo, but it can be off-putting especially to the uninitiated. A good way of avoiding it is to slice the okra into discs and fry in some olive oil. I like frying it until starting to turn lightly crunchy and brown and then adding some freshly chopped tomato or paste if you prefer. Allow the tomato time to cook and mellow, season to taste and wait for the okra to be tender. Ground cumin works very well, especially as a nod to its African roots, maybe with some fried onions and a squeeze of lemon in there too, but basically make a tomato-base okra stew – delish!
Okra, North African Style (vegetarian)
Last week’s watercress soup was part of a new year clean up, so I thought I’d give you something that is potent for detoxing and yummy too. Parsley and coriander are two power herbs. Parsley is rich in vitamin C, A, folate and iron. Coriander on the other hand is one of the few herbs used in heavy metal detoxing, it penetrates the cell membrane and helps rid the body of mercury, lead and others. I know coriander is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it. Parsley and coriander make a great pesto, versatile and different. Take a handful of parsley and a handful of coriander, remove the stems and blend with some extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, walnuts, salt and pepper. Add a good squeeze of fresh lemon to give a little lift in flavour. Parmesan is normally a vital ingredient in pestos, but I like it like this – pure, clean goodness. Feel free to add parmesan to your taste though. Spoon generously over grilled meat or vegetables, or stir through some pasta. Think of this as a tonic – not just an accompaniment, but a tool to aid well-being. I know I always go on about feeling virtuous when eating something delectable that is also good for you, but in this instance think of healing as the primary objective and just enjoy the added benefit of wonderful taste.
Keep your food clean, fresh and as local as you can. If you have time plant something edible and watch it grow into something nourishing for your body and soul. Take some time out and eat an alfresco meal, taking advantage of the glorious weather we are having. Connect with your food, eat well. Enjoy!