There is a Japanese proverb that I often use as a heading on a set menu in the restaurant: “Everytime you eat something new you add 73 days to your life.”
I’m always intrigued when people don’t like certain foods, especially when they haven’t tried them. I have been known to leave the kitchen to question customers about the reasons for their dislikes and often start a cookery class with a promise that I will convert students.
The reasons are usually the same – school food, over cooked, under cooked, not properly seasoned, cheap ingredients, poor texture or as simple as a negative memory are all reasons for us to dislike an ingredient.
When I opened Good Things in Durrus 15 years ago, it took me a couple of weeks to understand why so many staff were not joining us for staff meals. The food was new to them and they were afraid to try it. I discovered that a little persuasion and hunger worked a treat. When we take a simple ingredient and treat it well by doing as little as possible with it we can win most people over.
The ingredients in today’s recipes are simple, basic and on trend. Despite their familiarity, they are often those same ingredients which carry negative preconceptions for lots of people.
So I ask you to banish any memories of pickled beetroot and hippy food from the 1980s and start introducing these simple ingredients gradually into your diet. They will all work perfectly as starters or sides to your regular mains and one day you might just make a meal using them.
Oven baked beetroot served with garlic yoghurt sauce and onion seeds
I find it very hard to turn the oven on for just one dish so I find when I am baking beets for a family dinner I nearly always bake potatoes at the same time. Some grilled lamb chops or a nice chunk of mature cheddar with a green salad sounds perfect here.
4 medium beetroots
250ml natural yoghurt
2 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon onion seeds
Heat the oven to 200C. Wash the beets very well and allow to dry. Rub each beetroot with a little oil and put into an oven proof saucepan or casserole dish with a lid and bake in the oven until soft through with a knife. The cooking time will depend on the size and the time of year. You should start checking them after 30 minutes.
In the meantime, crush the garlic into the yoghurt and season to taste with salt and pepper. When the beets are cool enough to handle, cut in quarters or slices and pour the sauce over the top and finish by sprinkling with the onion seeds. If you are lucky enough to get the beets with their tops on cut the stalks a couple of centimetres from the base. Remove the leaves from the stalks, roughly chop them and cook in a little olive oil and salt. Sprinkle on top of the cooked beetroots.
Quinoa salad with roasted squash, mint and toasted pumpkin seeds
Quinoa, like potatoes, rice, pasta and polenta is unexciting until you add interesting ingredients such as a dressing, seasoning and spices. It’s so important not to over cook it so I suggest that you keep an eye on it once it has been boiling for five minutes and keep tasting it as it’s important to catch it when it still has a little bite to it.
Squash, about 700g
200ml olive oil
Zest and juice of 2 juicy lemons
1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200C and warm a tray. Break open the squash and cut roughly into 2cm dice. Put into a bowl and add just enough oil to evenly coat it, then season with salt and pepper. Spread on to the hot baking tray and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until tender.
2. Cook the quinoa in a pan with plenty of salted water and simmer for about 7-9 minutes. Mix the remaining oil with the zest and juice of the lemons. Drain the quinoa and return to the saucepan and mix in the lemon dressing. Put a lid on the saucepan and let the quinoa continue to cook in the remaining heat as it absorbs the dressing.
4. Lightly toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry pan. Take a large serving bowl and add in the warm quinoa and fold in the roasted squash, mint leaves and seeds and toss everything together gently, being careful not to mush up the squash. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
Kale with turmeric and chilli
Spring cabbage and all variety of kale will work here. This greens dish goes very well with a lamb or chicken curry or just with rice.
400g kale or spring greens, stalks chopped and leaves shredded
1 clove of garlic chopped
1 small onion chopped
75g soaked and drained desiccated coconut
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
Chilli powder to taste
Salt to taste
1. Mix the kale with the garlic, onions, coconut, spices and salt.
2. Place a large pan over a high heat, then add just enough oil to coat the bottom and add the vegetables and stir fry until the stalk and leaves are tender.
3. Add 100ml water, cover with a lid and simmer for 5 minutes.
Raw salad of kale, apple, leeks and spiced pecans with a mustard dressing
This works great as a starter or with hot or cold ham or pork.
200g kale, shredded fine
1 red apple, sliced thinly
1 small leek, shredded
Chilli powder – a pinch!
1 Garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp lemon juice
7 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. Put the pecans in a mixing bowl and add just enough oil to evenly coat them, making sure you have no excess. Then add salt and chilli to taste. Heat a pan and lightly toast the nuts until the aroma starts to fill the kitchen making sure not to let them go from brown to black!
2. Mix all the ingredients together. If you have an electric mixer do use it as it brings a mustard dressing together very well.
3. In a large salad bowl mix the kale and apple in the dressing. Sprinkle the leeks and pecans on top and serve.