As I write this post it is now a year since the so-called horsemeat scandal erupted in the UK, after horse DNA was found in beefburgers and beef lasagne ready meals for sale in British supermarkets
Leaving aside the issue of criminality, what the scandal really revealed was how difficult it is to trace the origin of imported produce in our food supply chain. It showed that the longer and more complex the journey our food has to take to reach our plates the less confident we can be that it is what it claims to be. At the time of the scandal, the management consultancy firm KPMG pointed to the complex network of brokers, cold stores operators and subcontracted meat cutting plants across Europe that play a part in our meat supply chain. This chain was so complex that – according to KPMG – there were around 450 points at which the integrity of the chain could break down.
To me, what we choose to eat (and what we choose to feed our children) is one of the most important short-term and long-term decisions we make, and the horse meat scandal emphasises that it is in our best interests to source and support organic, seasonal, locally produced foods. The shorter supply chain that underpins local produce provides us with a substantially greater degree of confidence in the integrity of the food we purchase.
Time for a meat-free recipe.
This one makes use of a vegetable that still stands proud on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, through these wet and windy early weeks of British winter – the Brussels sprout. This much maligned but exceptionally nutritious vegetable works beautifully in this very simple but delicious stir fry. The sweet, spicy and intense sauce is a bastardised, vegetarian version of a classic sauce used in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine called Siracha, and I think it balances beautifully here against the lightly caramelised vegetables.
wok-fried Brussels sprouts with Siracha
300 g Brussels sprouts, trimmed
8-10 spring onions, sliced diagonally
1 tbsp groundnut oil, for frying
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 tbsp crispy fried shallots (available in Asian food stores, or make your own by deep-frying thinly sliced shallot rings until crisp, drying thoroughly and then storing in an airtight container until needed)
for the “Siracha” sauce
6 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp mirin (rice wine vinegar)
2 tbsp brown Muscovado sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
2 tbsp water
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1. Strip the individual leaves from each of the sprouts and place in a bowl. This is a bit time-consuming but is essential (after stripping the outer leaves you will eventually reach a tough centre, around the size of a pea, which can be added to the bowl as it is).
2. Place the chillies, garlic, mirin, sugar, tomato purée, soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice and water in a blender and process to a smooth paste.
3. Place a wok over a very high heat and when really hot add the groundnut oil. As it begins to smoke, add the Brussels sprout leaves. Cook for 4 minutes, stirring frequently. You want the sprouts to begin to catch and to start to colour evenly. Add the spring onion. Cook for a further 4 minutes and keep stirring to ensure the vegetables are browning evenly. Pour in the paste. Cook for a further one minute, stirring vigorously to coat the ingredients.
4. Serve immediately, either on its own or accompanied by jasmine scented Thai rice, with a scattering of toasted sesame seeds and crispy fried shallots on top.