Roast Pork with Crackling and Spiced Aubergines

LATEST research says that butter is better for you than margarine. After 40 years, we discover that butter, a natural product made from cream, is better for us than margarine, which contains ten ingredients.

We’ve now discovered that fat is good for us and that low-fat diets were often detrimental to our health.

In a widely reported piece in the British Medical Journal, eminent cardiologist at Croydon University Hospital, Dr Aseem Malhotra, said that it was time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease.

He has concluded that there is no argument to back up the theory that saturated fats from non-processed foods are detrimental to our health.

He says that saturated fats have been ‘demonised’ since a landmark study, in the 1970s, concluded that there was a correlation between the incidence of coronary heart disease and total cholesterol.

An entire food industry has evolved, and profited, from this low-fat mantra for four decades and yet low-fat foods are often loaded with sugar and added salt, so, says Dr Malhotra, it’s time for a paradigm shift,

“We are now learning that added sugar in food is driving the obesity epidemic, plus the rise in diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” he says.

The relentless message that saturated fat must be avoided to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease has dominated public-heath campaigns and dietary advice for 40 years.

This recommendation clearly has not produced the desired result.

Dr Malhotra highlighted the fact that the amount of fat consumption in the US has decreased from 40% to 30% in the past 30 years, yet obesity rates have rocketed.

Questionable dietary advice has also led to the over-medication of millions, who have been prescribed statins to control their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Dr Malhotra also says that “adopting a Mediterranean diet after a heart attack is almost three times as effective in reducing mortality as taking a statin”.

He adds that doctors need to embrace prevention, as well as treatment.

Dr Malhotra says that sugar-rich foods are more likely to result in a heart attack, via metabolic syndrome — a cluster of symptoms including high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity (the plague of the 21st century).

Butter, full-fat milk, cheese and even eggs (for a period) were demonised, while oil-based spreads and low-fat products flew off the shelves.

Many schools changed over to serving low-fat products to their students, and even questions on the Leaving Certificate paper suggested that margarine was more beneficial to your health than butter, a fact that incensed my niece in her recent exam.

Despite the paranoia around cholesterol levels, a recent University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study indicated that 75% of acute heart patients do not have ‘high cholesterol’.

Professor Robert Lustig, paediatric endocrinologist at the University of San Francisco, said “food should confer wellness, not illness.

“Real food does just that, including saturated fat, but when saturated fat got mixed up with the high sugar added to processed food, in the second-half of the 20th century, it got a bad name.”

Which is worse, the saturated fat or sugar?

The American Heart Foundation has joined in the debate.

“Sugar, many times over, plus added sugar, causes all the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome.

“Instead of lowering serum cholesterol with statins, which is dubious at best, how about serving up real food?”

They have a point.

Roast Pork with Crackling and Spiced Aubergines 

You may need to order the joint ahead to ensure that the rind is still on — no rind — no crackling!

Serves 6-8 

1 x 2.25kg (5 lbs) loin of organic free-range pork with the skin rind intact

Maldon Sea salt  (optional) 

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Spiced Aubergines (see recipe)

Maldon sea salt

Rocket leaves 

Score the skin at ¼-inch (5mm) intervals running with the grain — let your butcher do this if possible because the skin, particularly of free range pork can be quite tough. This is to give you really good crackling and make it easier to carve later.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/regulo 5.

Sprinkle some salt over the rind and roast the joint on a wire rack in a roasting tin. Allow 30-35 minutes per 1lb (450g). Baste with the rendered pork fat every now and then.

Meanwhile cook the Spiced Aubergines.

Just before the end of cooking time remove the pork to another roasting tin. Return to the oven and increase the temperature to 230C/450F/regulo 8, to further crisp the crackling. When the joint is cooked the juices should run clear. Put the pork onto a hot carving dish and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes in a low oven before carving. Serve two slices of pork per person with some Spiced Aubergine and garnish with rocket. Sprinkle a few grains of Maldon sea salt over the pork.

Rustic roast potatoes and a good green salad would also be great.

Curly Kale Soup 

The recent frost has sweetened the kale. One way to use it up is in this delicious soup. Note that if this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to the boil and serve. Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups.

Serves 6 

50g (2oz) butter

140g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and diced (7mm/1/3in)

110g (4oz) onions, peeled and diced (7mm/1/3in)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2 litres (2 pints) chicken stock or vegetable stock

250g (9oz) curly kale leaves, stalks removed and chopped

50–125ml (2 – 4fl oz) cream or full-cream milk

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and turn them in the butter until well-coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and boil gently, covered, until the potatoes are soft. Add the kale and cook with the lid off, until the kale is cooked. Keep the lid off to retain the green colour. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both their fresh flavour and colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the cream or creamy milk just before serving.

Yoghurt with Honey and Dates 

Unsweetened natural yoghurt, very cold

Irish honey

Medjool dates, fresh

Thick cream

Fresh almonds or lightly toasted almonds

Fresh mint leaves 

For each person half-fill a pudding bowl or glass with yoghurt.

Stone dates and chop them roughly. Put a few on the top of each helping of yoghurt.

Spoon a good dollop of thick cream over the top, and then trickle over one teaspoon of runny honey.

Scatter a few almonds and a couple of shredded mint leaves on top.

Spiced Aubergine

Serves 6 

500g (1 lb 2 ozs) aubergines

Lots of extra virgin olive oil

1 inch (2.5cm) cube of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely crushed

50ml (2 fl ozs) water

1 tsp whole fennel seeds

2 tsp whole cumin seeds

350g (¾lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or 1 x 400g (14ozs) tin tomatoes + 1 tsp sugar or honey to taste

1 tbsp freshly ground coriander seeds

¼ tsp ground turmeric

1/3 tsp cayenne pepper (more if you like)

Sea salt

50g (2ozs) raisins 

Cut the aubergine into ¾-inch (2cm) thick slices. Heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive in a grill pan. When hot, add some aubergine slices and cook until golden and tender on both sides. Remove and drain on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Repeat with the remainder of the aubergines, adding more oil if necessary.

Put the ginger, garlic and water into a blender. Blend until fairly smooth.

Heat three tablespoons of oil in the frying pan. When hot, add the fennel and cumin seeds (careful not to let them burn). Stir for just a few seconds then put in the chopped tomato, the ginger-garlic mixture, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, salt and sugar or honey. Simmer, stirring occasionally until the spice mixture thickens slightly, 5-6 minutes.

Add the fried aubergine slices and raisins, and coat gently with the spicy sauce. Cover the pan, turn the heat to very low and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Serve warm.

The spiced aubergine mixture is also good served cold or at room temperature as an accompaniment to hot or cold lamb or pork.

Hot tips 

The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards announced their shortlist in the Avonmore Cookbook of the year category. Kevin Dundon’s Modern Irish Food, Chapter One Ross Lewis, 30 Years at Ballymaloe Darina Allen, Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen Rachel Allen, The Nations Favourite Food, Neven Maguire, The Weekend Chef Catherine Fulvio. You can vote for your favourite at

Seek out heritage Woodside Saddleback pork from Martin and Noreen Conroy if you really want a fantastic joint of juicy (chemical free) pork with crackling. It sells out early at Midleton Farmers Market on a Saturday or Mahon Point on a Thursday — 087-2767206.

Ballymaloe Cookery School 12-Week Certificate graduate Caroline Gray has opened the cutest Café Gray in Greystones in Co Wicklow — I haven’t managed to get there yet but I hear terrific reports. 087-1260206.

I’m often asked for recommendations for places to eat or stay in Dublin. The capital food scene is exploding at present but I’m set in my ways and No 31 in Leeson Close is still my home from home in Dublin. Great breakfast, love the fluffy cheese omelette and the little bowl of porridge!

Gillian Hegarty’s Tuesday Supper Club at Ballymaloe House on Tuesday, Nov 19 — Gillian prepares and cooks a Tuscan Dinner and on Tuesday, Nov 26, Sunil Ghai from Ananda Restaurant in Dublin will join Gillian in the kitchen. A set four course meal including aperitif costs €45. To book, call 021-4652531.

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