VEGA News Item

Savouring Our Salad Days. Food Writers in the Soup - 30/08/2007
Testing, testing, testing… we are always assessing the weekly recipes for inclusion in our contributions to the Portfolio of eating plans to give tasty effect to the expert advice...
1. Testing, testing, testing… we are always assessing the weekly recipes for inclusion in our contributions to the Portfolio of eating plans to give tasty effect to the expert advice uttered by nutritionists, medics, health professionals, and authorities such as the Food Standards Agency. When better, then, than a look at what’s on offer for veggies in the season of Salad Days, which still has 5 or 6 weeks to run at full strength.

2. Where better, then, to turn to than the Independent on Sunday’s Living Food section in its Magazine dated 8th July for inspiration and a trial of a worked example. Skye Gyngell seems an obvious choice, because she writes every week as the head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey and she is the author of the 2007 Guild of Food Writers’ Cookery Book of the Year.

3. Moreover, for our purposes, she appears to excel in boasting a food cupboard dominated by grains and pulses. “We’ve got a huge variety of dried beans from Spain known as arrocina, a plump taupe bean called zolfini from Tuscany, beautiful pale-brown lentils from Umbria, faro and polentas from just outside Venice. And, last but not at all at least, chickpeas”. The “mighty chickpea” sets “Skye Gyngell’s heart racing” with “its gentle, nutty flavour, and its wonderful affinity with chillis, lemon juice, and herbs”. Chickpeas are that “one pulse” with the “gently, nutty flavour of chickpeas and the way they sit so comfortably with the heat of chillis, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini paste to form a rough type of houmous eaten on toast or simply with flat bread”.

4. The enthusiasm continues as Skye Gyngell reveals “one of my favourite chickpea dishes is a type of curry we often make at Petersham that is laden with ground spices such as cardamom, mustard seeds, coriander, and cinnamon and then finished off with tamarind, maybe syrup, and tamari. I fold lots of green spinach through at the end, and the result is a comforting gently spicy dish that tastes good for you”. Will the enthusiasm never wane: “and that is why I think I am so fond of all these different pulses and grains: because when I eat and when I cook I want to create something that tastes ‘good for you’. Food should nurture and sustain both body and soul – that’s why I like good, honest food that tastes as it should – food you can happily drag your bread through. Nothing epitomizes that to me more than chickpeas, beans, lentils, or faro. Here are some of the other ways I look to cook chickpeas…”

5. Much as this enthusiasm may have impressed the Guild of Food Writers, but we at VEGA have had to come down to earth with a survey of the 4 recipes that Skye Gyngell offers: in 3 out of the 4 the mighty chickpea is demoted into 2nd place by unworthy and objectionable intruders – scallops with chickpeas, buffalo mozzarella, chickpeas, red pepper and olives: and chickpeas with fried eggs, labne (yogurt), burnt sage, and chilli butter. Only the fourth recipe, which we’ve chosen for our usual scrutiny, is untainted by any miasma of exploitation and slaughter and is therefore fit for the hopeful veggie, provided that s/he is satisfied with easily, available chickpeas over the selection of exotics listed in the article. Supermarket tinned or dried should do for most people.

6. So Skye Gyngell’s Independent on Sunday Chickpea, tomato, chard and bread soup is our VEGA selection this week. The audit of nutrients and other details that one would expect – and more – are set against a commercial well-labelled fresh soup from a local supermarket. This specimen is the New Covent Garden Food Co’s Three Bean and Red Lentil Soup, on which the “all natural ingredients” are listed as water, red split lentils (8%), cooked cannelloni beans (4%), cooked black eyed beans (3%), cooked red kidney beans (3%), onions, spinach, tomato paste, sun-dried tomato paste (tomatoes, water, salt, white wine vinegar) celery, vegetable oil, smoked garlic puree, parsley, smoked paprika, cracked black pepper, ground bayleaf. The Allergy Advice is: Contains: Celery; May contain nut traces; Suitable for Vegetarians. It can be consumed hot or cold.

7. To find in the Guardian Weekend for 28 July the New Vegetarian’s idea for a Sweet Summer Salad that includes cheese as an “essential” must annoy animal welfarists who want to enjoy their salad days uncowed: this cheesy vegetarian recipe for 4 servings does include 40g of whole almonds but inflicts its onslaught on the natural world with ingredients such as 20g honey, 10g butter, and 120g gorgonzola. Plenty of saturated animal fat and salt in that mixture!

8. VEGA is insisting that all publishers of recipes and writers of cookery books should give the nutritional details such as those that accompany our weekly recipes, in the manner of the information we took off the carton for the Three Bean and Red Lentil Soup. It is deplorable that chefs spoil vegetarians’ Salad Days with unnecessary and objectionable ingredients that could be omitted or substituted with a little ingenuity and at no loss to consumers in general. It is noticeable that the commercial soup stands up well in our nutritional comparison with the award-winning chef’s offering. It and competing brands and supermarket own brands are easily available and canny shoppers will know when to pick up bargains as stocks approach their sell-by dates. A population with stretched resources and needing all the tricks of thrifty self-catering is the new intake leaving home for uni. We’ll have some Fresher’s Fare for them and a special item to mark World Food Day on the 16th October. Watch this space for good advice that the Guild of Food Writers overlooks!  

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