Fewer and fewer of us are cooking our food from scratch.
In some cases this may be due to a lack of skills or confidence. In many cases, however, it is down to a distorted attitude to time.
We are in the grip of the “convenience” food industry, which encourages us to regard any time we spend preparing and cooking food as time wasted. Anything, it seems, which short-circuits time spent in the kitchen is a boon.
Often such “convenience” food products are things which someone with the most rudimentary skills could prepare themselves, and which can surely only save a minute or two.
Recent examples I discovered on a leading supermarket website included sliced courgettes, sliced red onion and peeled potatoes. How time-poor must you be to be willing to pay the huge mark up on these products?
Similarly, have we so lost the ability to cook rice, grate cheese or mash potatoes ourselves that we have to purchase them in these much more expensive “prepared” forms?
Of course, more sophisticated variants of convenience foods are to be found amongst the vast array of “ready meals” on supermarket shelves. These are where even bigger profits can be realised for the convenience food manufacturers. Often loaded with cheap bulking agents such as sugar, salt, corn and soya, these abominations are not only depressingly popular amongst those who regard themselves as “time poor” but also one of the reasons so many of us are overweight, diabetic or otherwise unhealthy.
No wonder, then, that several studies published over the past couple of years have emphasised the health and nutritional benefits of cooking food from scratch, finding that those who prepare and cook their own meals tend to enjoy a healthier diet than those who don’t.
On to the recipe, which I have created in association with Suma Wholefoods Cooperative. Under the terms of our arrangement, every couple of months I select products from the Suma Wholefoods range which Suma provide free of charge. It is a range which includes plenty of organic and ethically sourced products. Using the products I have chosen I then create an original recipe which appears on the Suma website as well here, on the Circus Gardener’s Kitchen.
I happily confess to being one of those outliers who enjoys time spent in the kitchen preparing and cooking food from scratch.
This dish is a good example, involving a fair amount of preparation, but rewarding all that effort with a dish that is a real flavour bomb. Beautiful ingredients are enhanced by Asian herbs and spices, all underpinned by a seductive umami base note, achieved from the combination of soya sauce and ground dried shiitake mushrooms.
If you cannot source Thai basil, use “normal” basil in its place. Crispy shallots can be purchased at Asian stores, but you can easily make your own by quickly deep frying thinly sliced shallots in very hot oil until golden and crispy.
It is best to use cold cooked rice in this dish, so, if you can, cook the rice well in advance. Using cold rice helps prevent the dish become soggy.
Finally, don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. Just prepare everything calmly beforehand, and value the time spent doing so. Then, once each ingredient is ready to be added to the wok at the right moment and in the right order, all of a sudden it becomes a straightforward and rewarding experience.
vegan Vietnamese-style fried rice
250 g Jasmine rice
10 g dried shiitake mushrooms, broken into small pieces
150 g soy sauce
1 onion, finely sliced
225 g smoked tofu, cut into 1cm cubes
1 large organic carrot, about 100 g, peeled and finely diced
80 g fresh peas (use thawed frozen peas if fresh are not available)
4 spring onions, white and green parts, sliced diagonally
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped (keep the seeds in for extra heat)
5 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
4 stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh Thai basil leaves, finely chopped (use ordinary basil if unavailable)
1 tbsp crispy shallots
juice and grated zest of 1 lime
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1. Rinse the rice and place in a saucepan with 500 ml fresh water. Bring to the boil, stir, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 30 minutes or until the water has almost gone. Remove from the heat, cover the pan with a lid and set aside to cool completely.
2. Grind the dried shiitake mushrooms to a powder, using a pestle and mortar or food processor.
3. Pour the soy sauce into a saucepan, along with 50 ml of fresh water. Stir in the ground dried shiitake mushrooms and place the pan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring every so often, then remove from the heat and leave to cool and infuse.
4. Place a large wok over a high heat. Once it is hot, carefully add the groundnut and sesame oils. Add the sliced onion and the diced carrot and stir-fry for 3 minutes, until they have softened and begun to catch. Add the spring onion, garlic, chilli, ginger, lemongrass, lime zest and peas. Stir fry vigorously for 2 minutes then add the smoked tofu cubes. Continue to stir fry for a further 3 minutes before adding the rice. After three more minutes, pour in the soy and shiitake mixture. Quickly stir to incorporate, then remove the wok from the heat.
4. Stir in the chopped mint, coriander and Thai basil, the lime juice and the crispy shallots. Divide the fried rice between bowls. Serve hot, accompanied by lime wedges.