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Professional football players have a reputation for being paid huge wages and living lavish, hedonistic lifestyles.
One young man who has done a lot recently to dispel that image is Marcus Rashford, a young forward who plays for Manchester United and England. Before the Covid-19 pandemic began to impact he had set up a charity campaigning on homelessness. Since the pandemic he has established a food charity which has so far fed around 400,000 poor children, spearheaded a campaign to raise money for the NHS and, most prominently, campaigned for the UK government to provide free meals for poor children during the coming half-term and Christmas school holidays.
The Conservative government, underpinned by its large parliamentary majority has so far rejected Rashford’s call, despite well over a million people signing a petition in support of the campaign.
The devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have already promised to fund free school meals up to Easter, so why are English children being treated differently?
The cost of providing free meals to hungry children in England over the half term and Christmas holidays has been estimated to be around £20 million. This is less than the amount that the Cabinet Office (which includes 10 Downing Street) spent on travel, hospitality and subsistence last year.
And, remember, this is the same government which spent £522 million of tax payers money on its “Eat Out to Help Out” campaign (which, incidentally, was responsible for up to 17% of all new coronavirus clusters in August and September, according to a Warwick University report). Yet, the government now says it cannot find a tenth of that sum to stop children going hungry at home over the coming weeks.
The Prime Minister has argued that the government is already supporting families through the benefits system, but its own “food czar”, Henry Dimbleby, has said that providing food directly to struggling families would be more effective.
The government stance is also inconsistent with its previous actions. Just four months ago it performed a U-turn when it relented over funding free meals for poor children over the summer school holidays. There is absolutely no logic behind its refusal now to extend the same principle to half term and Christmas: children who were hungry in the summer will be just as hungry over Christmas.
The Covid-19 pandemic is awful, and scientists are warning us that it is likely to get much worse over the months ahead.
One thing the pandemic has done, however, is to remind us of our common humanity. In every street of every village, town and city, small acts of kindness and support have been taking place daily to help those who are isolated, ill or otherwise struggling because of the impact of the pandemic.
As we enter this second lockdown, what a shame our government does not mirror those same humanitarian values.
It’s a shame that it needed a sustained campaign to get the government finally to do the right thing, but at least those children will now get a decent meal each day during those crucial few weeks.
This recipe entails several steps, but it’s well worth taking the time to put it all together because the result is a delicious meal packed with wonderful flavours and textures.
Zhug is an exhilaratingly hot green sauce originating from the Yemen. In this recipe its heat has been dialled down a notch or two, but is still enough to lend a warm and spicy potency to the roasted vegetables.
zhug-roasted vegetables with halloumi
2 blocks halloumi
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
for the roast vegetables
2 aubergines, chopped into 2-3 cm cubes
2 courgettes, chopped into 2-3cm chunks
2 red onions, chopped into 2-3cm chunks
1 red pepper, chopped into 2-3cm chunks
1 green pepper, chopped into 2-3cm chunks2 red onions, chopped into 2-3cm chunks
16 cherry tomatoes
16 kalamata olives
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
for the zhug
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
seeds from 3 cardamom pods
4 green chillies, seeds in, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
20 g fresh coriander, freshly chopped
20 g fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp sea salt
60 ml extra virgin olive oil
for the butter bean hummus
400 g can organic butter beans, drained, rinsed and dried on kitchen paper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
75 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp tahini
juice of half a lemon
½ tsp sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4).
2. For the zhug, toast the cumin seeds, black peppercorns and cardamom seeds in a frying pan or skillet over a medium heat for a minute or two, until the cumin seeds begin to colour and give off an aroma. Remove the pan from the heat and tip the toasted seeds into a small dish or plate to cool for a few minutes. Place the cooled seeds, together with the chillies, garlic, coriander, parsley, lemon juice and sea salt in a pestle or food processor and pound or process into a paste, gradually adding the olive oil as you do. This wonderful spicy sauce will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.
3. Place the chopped vegetables in a couple of roasting dishes. Take three tablespoons of zhug and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Whisk together, then divide between the roasting dishes, pouring it over the vegetables. Toss to combine then place the dishes in the preheated oven. Cook for 20 minutes then add the tomatoes and olives. Stir to combine and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and beginning to colour. Remove from the oven and stir in another two spoonfuls of the zhug paste.
4. While the vegetables are roasting, make the butter bean hummus. Place the butter beans, olive oil, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and sea salt in a food processor and blend until smooth. Set to one side.
5. Towards the end of the roasting time for the vegetables, prepare the halloumi. Cut each block into eight slices. Dry the slices on kitchen paper. Place a griddle pan over a medium heat. Brush one side of the halloumi slices with olive oil and place the brushed side down in the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the halloumi is showing charred lines. Brush the top of each slice with olive oil before carefully turning over and cooking for a further 3-4 minutes.
6. To serve, divide the butterbean hummus between four plates. Place a serving of the zhug-roasted vegetables on top, followed by four pieces of char-grilled halloumi.