Sales of processed and junk food appear to have peaked (2005) and continue to slide. A recent New York Times article analysing trends reported a seismic shift in our culture away from processed food towards whole, real, fresh foods.
Consumer demands for natural and less processed food and drink are already forcing companies to remove artificial ingredients from their products and to replace them with more natural formulations. McDonald’s in the US, responding to consumer pressure, now plans to use eggs sourced from cage-free hens and antibiotic free chicken.
Joanna Blythman’s book Swallow This — Serving up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets has been hugely influential in informing the general public about what happens behind closed doors in food processing. Clean labels, climate change, concerns about waste and other natural phenomenon are also affecting the worldwide food supply.
Sustainability is now a necessity for the bottom line and the common good.
The growing emphasis on physical fitness and diet has spawned a whole new craze and market for ‘clean foods’, energy and sports drinks, vegetable juices, raw foods and food that supposedly make us ‘glow’ with good health. The Spiralizer (a gadget to make spaghetti from vegetables) and the Nutribullet are still selling like ‘hot cakes’ as the juice craze continues to endure.
As food allergies and intolerances become more widespread (a symptom of how our food is produced to provide maximum yield at minimum cost) desperation grows to find alternatives — non-dairy, non-gluten and free-from-foods continue to gain more shelf space. Looks like ‘alternatives’ could be set to become mainstream.
‘Do you have any allergies?’ is a standard question in restaurants. There are now 14 allergens that restaurants need to be aware of.
The growing distrust of large multinational corporations has given a boost to the artisan food and drink sector. This situation doesn’t appear to be going to change anytime soon. There’s a craving for real, honest, handmade, homemade.
The FSAI and Taste Council of Ireland added gravitas in May 2015 when they published guidelines for The Use of Food Marketing Terms. There also seems to be a growing realisation that the quality of food and indeed drink from small production systems is generally quite different to that of large intensive enterprises. Hopefully, this will prompt a growing appreciation of the quality produce from the family farms of Ireland.
Our shopping habits are gradually changing — little, often, local. Online shopping apps that simplify online and mobile ordering and delivery services are beginning to have a real impact. Restaurateurs in the US and the UK are nervously watching the e-revolution and the trend of ‘home delivery’ and services like Munchery, which delivers restaurant-quality food from a production kitchen to your door, cutting out restaurants altogether.
‘Fine Dining is over’, sounds a bit dramatic but our eating habits have changed dramatically during the last decade. Casual restaurants and cafes offering fresh, seasonal, edgy food are ‘jammers’ while many of the ‘starred’ establishments find it more difficult to fill. Small and shared plates are increasingly an option.
Food has shot to the top of the agenda in so many areas, TV food programmes like The Great British Bake Off and competitions like Masterchef are super popular. Food supplements are guaranteed to boost newspaper and magazine sales.
The rise of a ‘food-centric media’ has apparently sparked a new interest in cooking. The number of food blogs has skyrocketed. For young people, its ‘cool to cook’ at home and share your creations via social media — it must be ‘good enough to tweet’.
A whole range of small food business has proliferated, cupcakes to spice mixes, macaroons and cake pops to falafel, mozzarella to charcuterie. Food carts and food trucks have enabled many passionate young people to get started in the food business.
Vegetables are at last beginning to move to the centre of the plate. The interest in ‘natural’ has boosted sales of ancient grains and super foods. Growing suspicion of tricky chemical concoctions has prompted a revival of interest in traditional and indigenous diets, ‘historical’ ingredients and food processing the ‘natural and old-fashioned way’.
This is an amazing salad based on one I ate at an incredible neighbourhood café in LA. Sqirl is one of those places where you want every single thing on the menu, right down to the drinks.
On my last trip to LA I ate there five times. For someone who doesn’t like routine that’s pretty solid. This is a play on what was my favourite thing on the menu. It has inspired favours with sumac and lime, and textures with kale and crispy rice.
I am going to ask you to cook your rice three times here, which may seem crazy, but it’ll create perfect little pops of crunch against the rest of the salad. This is a great way to use up leftover rice too — just skip the first cooking stage. It’s also really good topped with a softly poached egg or some feta and flatbreads if you are hungry. Bear in mind that if you use brown rice it will take about 20 minutes to cook.
Serves 4 as a light meat, 2 as a main
100g basmati rice (I use brown)
A bunch of curly kale, green or purple (about 200g)
The zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
3 spring onions
2 tbsp coconut oil
The zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lime
1 tbsp sumac (optional)
2 tbsp good olive oil
1 tsp runny honey
6 medjool dates
Fill and boil a kettle and get all your ingredients and a large frying pan together. Cook the rice in a small saucepan of boiling salted water until cooked. This will take 10–15 minutes.
Meanwhile, pull the kale from its stems and shred the leaves with a knife or tear into small pieces with your hands.
Put the leaves into a bowl, then add the zest and juice of the lemon and a good pinch of salt and scrunch it in your hands for a minute to break it down a little. Chop the spring onions finely and add them to the bowl.
Once the rice is cooked, drain it well. Put a large frying pan on the heat and when it’s hot, add the rice with no oil and dry-fry for a couple of minutes to get rid of any moisture.
Remove the rice from the pan, then put the pan back on the heat, add half the coconut oil at a time and fry the rice in two batches until it starts to turn lightly brown and really crispy. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt.
Now make your dressing. Put the zest and juice of the lime into a screw top jar with the sumac, if using, and two tablespoons of olive oil, add the honey and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Put on the lid and shake to combine. De-stone and roughly chop the dates and add to the kale. Once the rice is almost cool, add it to the kale and toss in the dressing.
My Aunt Nina’s grandmother, Liza from Karabakh, used to make this using mountain spring water, and the taste of those pickles was incomparable. Beetroot is often added to Armenian pickles for colour, which is similar to how it is made in the Middle East.
These pickles are delicious and we eat them in the summer and in winter. You can buy horseradish leaves and dill stalks in bunches from Polish delis specially for pickling, but if you can’t find them or the blackcurrant and cherry leaves, just substitute with some spices or aromatics that you like (celery would be great) or simply leave them out.
Makes a 3 litre (5¼ pint) jar
2 beetroots, peeled and sliced into discs
½ small white cabbage, sliced into wedges
200g (7oz) mixed runner beans or French beans, tailed
4 spring onions
1 head of new garlic, left whole, outer layer peeled
50g (2oz) dill heads or stalks
2 horseradish leaves, or 50g (2oz) fresh horseradish, chopped
2 blackcurrant leaves
2 sour cherry leaves
1 litre (1¾ pints) water
3 tablespoons sea salt flakes
10 black peppercorns
Place the beetroot at the bottom of a warm, sterilized two-litre (3½ pint) preserving jar, then top with the cabbage wedges, beans, spring onions, garlic and all the aromatics, apart from the peppercorns.
Bring the water, salt and peppercorns to the boil in a saucepan, then pour over the vegetables. Make sure everything is submerged, then seal and leave in a warm part of your kitchen (25C/77F) for about three days to pickle, then store in the refrigerator. The beetroot will gradually turn everything a deep pink. It should keep unopened for several months.
This is for honey lovers who are not scared of weird cake-making methods. You can use a good-quality crème fraîche to make the icing, but what you are looking for here is a beautiful balance between slightly sour and honeycomb sweet.
200g (7oz) butter, cubed and chilled, plus extra for greasing
2 egg s, lightly beaten
200g (7oz) golden caster sugar
200ml (7fl oz) clear honey
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
300g (10oz) plain flour
150–200g (5–7oz) pecans, half of them left whole, the rest toasted and roughly crushed
500ml (7fl oz) soured cream
100g (3½ oz) golden caster sugar
Grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4, and lightly butter 4 x 24cm (9½ inch) cake tins (or use 2 in batches).
Mix the eggs, butter, sugar and honey together in a large heatproof bowl and place it over a small saucepan of simmering water. Give it a stir, to help the butter to melt, then whisk with an electric whisk until the mixture becomes warm and fluffy. Let it cool.
Place the bicarbonate of soda in a cup and pour the vinegar over the soda, then tip the foaming mixture into the honey mixture and give it a vigorous stir.
Gradually fold in the flour to form a thick but fluid batter. Spoon a quarter of the mixture into each prepared cake tin and bake for 15 minutes or until deep golden. The sponges will still be soft while warm, so let them cool before taking them out of their tins.
For the cream, put the soured cream into a large bowl and whisk with an electric whisk. Add the sugar and whisk some more, then add the lemon zest and juice and whisk again until the cream is fluffy. Use half the cream to sandwich the four sponge layers together, then use the remaining cream to cover the top and sides.
Decorate the sides with the crushed nuts. Use the pecan halves to decorate the top of the cake. Alternatively, crush all the nuts and sprinkle them evenly all over.
Something magical happens to a cauliflower when you roast it. I usually turn to Indian spices when I think of cauliflower, but one bright May Day I turned to the sunshine warmth of saffron.
My bay tree was in full bloom and so this mellow but cheerfully favoured vegetable found its way into my oven. I throw in a handful of golden raisins for some sweetness and some almonds for crunch. Leftovers are delicious stirred through pasta with a little extra olive oil – conchiglie (shells) work well.
2 pinches of saffron strands
1 large or 2 small cauliflowers (about 1kg), leaves clicked off, head broken into medium florets, stalk roughly chopped
2 medium onions, peeled and finely sliced
1 tbsp Turkish chilli flakes or a good pinch of dried chilli flakes
3 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of raisins, (I use golden ones)
A handful of almonds, roughly chopped
A bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Heat your oven to 200C/180F/gas 6.
Put the saffron into a small bowl, cover it with a couple of teaspoons of boiling water and leave it to steep. Get a large deep baking tray, throw in the cauliflower, onions, chilli flakes and bay leaves, and season with salt and pepper.
Once the saffron has steeped, pour in the saffron strands and their liquid, add the raisins and almonds, toss everything together, then cover the lot with foil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes, until the tips are burnished and the cauliflower is tender to the bite.
Toss through the chopped parsley and serve.