Real food begins and ends with the soil.
In a balanced, organic system, food is grown in the soil and it eventually returns, in the form of composted organic matter, to enrich the soil. For many centuries agriculture has followed this cycle of life and renewal, always looking to work with nature wherever possible. Plants receive nutrients from the healthy soil they are grown in.
But modern industrialised farming methods have given the false illusion that this natural cycle can somehow be broken without consequence. Large-scale chemical-dependent farms take from the soil but they not do not give back. Instead of healthy soils, their activities create dead and dying soils. Tons of artificial fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and the like are pumped into that dying soil in order to feed and “protect” crops. The result, ultimately is soil degradation and desertification, and the loss of more and more of the world’s arable land.
The global food industry has also encouraged farmers to practice monoculture (the growing of a single crop), a practice which has led not only to further soil erosion and degradation but also to the build up of pests and disease. It has encouraged mass deforestation in order to make room for plantations of palm oil, sugar cane, maize and soya bean, all destined for the meat industry or the processed food manufacturers.
The sum of these unsustainable practices equates to over half of all greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, at the same time as it is feeding us, industrial-scale food production is also slowly destroying us.
The meat industry is the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but so many other of the processed food industry’s activities – including packaging, refrigeration, transportation and food waste – add still further to the problem.
The food industry must be forced to change, and we consumers must use our collective influence to help drive that change.
Organic farming, with its practices of soil enrichment, crop diversity and environmental preservation, helps to improve soil fertility, reduce soil erosion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (organic soil actually traps carbon dioxide from the atmosphere). Each time we buy organic we are, in a sense, voting for the kind of world we wish to live in.
In that ideal world our governments would be levying hefty taxes on all food products which cause environmental damage and using the revenue gained to subsidise organic and sustainable sources of food.
Until that happens we consumers can contribute to the pressure for change by buying organic food wherever possible and by choosing local, unpackaged food over food which has travelled thousands of miles to get here.
On to the recipe.
I first made this dish for my wife Sara’s birthday back in March, for which we held a Spanish-themed evening involving a variety of vegetarian tapas dishes.
The dish is based on a simple, traditional Andalusian dish called berenjenas con miel, but I have substituted pomegranate molasses for the more traditional honey. Pomegranate molasses is a delicious, sweet yet slightly tart natural syrup which is made by reducing pomegranate juice. It is fairly widely available these days.
It’s astonishing how such a simple combination can taste so good.
aubergine with pomegranate molasses
1 tsp sea salt
100 g cornflour
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
extra virgin olive oil, for frying
1. Slice the aubergine widthways into ½ cm slices. Place in a colander and scatter with the sea salt to draw out excess moisture. Leave for 30 minutes then pat dry with kitchen roll.
2. Tip the cornflour in a bowl. Pour the olive oil into a frying pan to a depth of 1 cm and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, dredge the aubergine slices through the cornflour and shake lightly to remove any excess. Very carefully place the aubergine slices into the hot oil. You will need to do this in batches. Cook the aubergine for 2-3 minutes per side, taking care when turning them over, or until light golden brown and crispy. Drain on kitchen roll.
3. To serve, place the cooked aubergine slices on a serving plate and drizzle over the pomegranate molasses.