Old dogs, new tricks

So I had a thought tonight. Well, I actually had a few, but only one that would be really relevant to this blog.

Assuming we live until we’re about 80, and eat 3 meals a day, we’ll eat 87,600 meals in a lifetime. Now I’m pretty sure there aren’t 87,600 separate ingredients on the planet, or even 87,600 specific combinations to create what we would generally consider a “dish”. Time to let those ingredients start doing some healthy experimenting, mingling with different crowds, networking, or whatever analogy you feel is most appropriate.

Funnily enough, just as this thought started to spread its wings in my little head, I wandered on over (or whatever the internet term for “wandering” is) to Celine‘s beautifully charming blog and found her latest recipe for the Peanut Butter Banana Bacon Sandwich. Before even having to read her justification of it, I actually thought it sounded delicious. More importantly, it’s totally what I’m feeling right now. I know a lot of people who say their impulse buys when they’re out shopping are their best buys. Well my best dishes result from impulse cooking when I have no idea what to make but know that I want Ingredient A, B and C in my mouth and can’t decide which one I want most – so I get them all in there at once.

So here are my current favourite foods, and ways in which I think we should start using them. I’m pretty unadventurous myself, but if I change anything with my diet in the near future I want it to be this, so please send me any suggestions!

Avocado

I know, I was averse to playing around with this one too – it’s just so good on its own with lemon juice and/or black pepper that doing anything more to it would be like auto-tuning Pavarotti. Or you could argue that when it stars in guacamole, why give it a sidekick appearance or, worse, a cameo? But why not spread the love and virtue? Massage it into a kale salad for an effortlessly healthy creamy dressing – I’m not even going to post a link here because there are just too many to choose from. Or just start with baby steps and eat it with Tabasco or barbecue sauce. Or go all out and cook it into brownies or a myriad of raw desserts which use avocado as a base to hijack its smooth creaminess. Not much of a dessert person, throw it into a smoothie or even go really nuts and bake it?

Yes, go and buy an avocado or three.

Coconut

Yes, yes, pina colada. With coconut water being so “in”, the new coconut milk yoghurts gaining popularity, and everyone raving about how much they love Thai curies, not to mention to ubiquitous bland old coconut flakes half-heartedly sprinkled into many muesli varieties, you might argue that coconut doesn’t have such a bad time. But there is so much more it is capable of and we’re not giving it any room to shine! My latest use for coconut is grated into stir-fries (with creamed coconut) alongside fresh ginger and garlic, and poured into curries paired with Madras curry powder. Make satay sauce WAY more often. Use creamed coconut as a substitute for margarine in fruit crumbles. And it’s just too creamy not to be used in a parfait or mousse or parfait-mousse or mousse-parfait or whatever you end up with after throwing a bunch of ingredients into a saucepan and mucking around for a little while on a cold snowed-in winter afternoon.

Sweet Potato

Everyone goes wild for pumpkin and squash at this time of year, but what about sweet potato? Sweet potato fries, baked in its jacketcurried with coconut milk (I love crossed two things off the list at once), mashed, made into a soup with carrot, orange juice (yes, orange juice) and ginger, stewed with chickpeas, kale, tomato, paprika, cinnamon (yes, cinnamon), chopped dried apricots and sultanas, or baked into all manners of pies and other baked goods.

Tofu

Where to even start? I’m not sure why I haven’t lost it yet when somebody tells me how bland tofu is and how much they dislike it. Apart from the long-suffering stir-fry and all its variations, I have indulged in many breakfasts/lunches/dinners/brunches/random snacks of scrambled tofu, grilled it and sliced it and stuffed it in a sandwich, and cubed it and eaten it raw in salads drizzled with soy sauce and sesame oil. More interestingly, it makes a great smoothie addition, adds creaminess to a spinach-and-ricotta styled lasagne (or spinach-and-ricotta anything including filo parcels), miraculously paves the way to a vegan quiche filling, provides binding and moisture (not to mention protein) to vegan brownies and, my proudest achievement yet, fills a praline or truffle pretty satisfactorily. Next items on my tofu to-do list: vegan omelette and prOats.

I think I have made my point.

Or have I? No, not really, as my point wasn’t just to give you a non-exhaustive list of things to do with 4 select ingredients. My real point was about having a varied diet. I think I pointed out in an early post how much more varied my diet is now I’ve gone vegan, and I have heard that echoed numerous times by other vegans. Meanwhile, the fundamental flaw in fad diets, and one of the key definitions of a fad diet, is the focus on – or exclusion of – one particular food, ingredient, or food group. So let’s not do that, eh? Let’s go and let our guilty pleasures loose, and call it a “varied diet”. Let’s have fun with our food, and let our health reap the benefits. Let’s peruse the supermarket aisles to buy something we’ve never heard of, just because it’s on special. Let’s let our fridge run so low we have only 3 ingredients to cook with, and we never would have thought of putting them together. On a slightly more serious note, don’t forget that certain vitamins and minerals inhibit the absorption of others – so if you’re always eating the same combinations, the fact that you have a varied diet overall may be totally irrelevant as you cancel the nutritional properties out. So I really do mean this quite seriously, just go nuts.

(And a quick update on Ben’s first day on a plant-based diet – he missed breakfast as he was called into work early, but managed a few pieces of fruit and a smoothie, with some more fruit and a biscuit as a snack, then homemade chilli and rice for lunch with a protein shake – he commented that he worked out that his chilli and rice alone contained about 22g of protein – another one who finally understands that vegan diets do contain protein! He is feeling good so far and has enjoyed his food, and is looking forward to seeing how he feels tomorrow.)

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