Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is Power

By
Kerstin Rodgers
Contains
27 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978 184949 503 5

A vegan diet is easier than you think. Basically, you can eat anything that is derived from plants, and it’s amazing when you discover what flavours can be achieved without meat. This chapter will shed some light on the hoards of amazing ingredients and foodstuffs you can stock up on or make yourself. Armed with this knowledge, you can be bold in the kitchen. And you’ll never run out of ideas for how to pep up your dinner.

Umami Flavour Bombs The Vegan Toolkit

Here is a toolbox of ‘flavour bombs’ that will instantly pep up your food.

Umami Boosters

Anything preserved or fermented increases the umami (savouriness) factor in food. Some of these ingredients you will know, others may be new to you. The money you save on cutting out animal products can be put towards some of these interesting ingredients.

Mushrooms are very umami: apart from the standard ones such as button or brown, splash out from time to time on shiitake, chanterelles or morels (the latter are very expensive even in season, but they are gorgeous little cylindrical sponges of flavour). Dried mushrooms such as porcini can, when rehydrated, boost savouriness very effectively.

Huitlacoche is a Mexican fungus that grows on corn. Buy it tinned from Mexican online stockists and use a mere smear to add intense flavour.

Truffles are the most luxurious fungus you can buy. A few shavings of this in pasta or in a creamy cashew cheese gratin can transform the dish. Who says veganism isn’t high class?

Marmite is a favourite ingredient of mine. Use it to flavour stews, soups and pasta, or on toast.

The best quality soy sauce tends to be Japanese and rather more expensive than Chinese. Shoyu is the Japanese name for soy sauce. Within Chinese cooking there are light and dark soy sauces; dark soy sauce contains caramel and is used for cooking, to deepen colour, while light soy is added to cooked food for enhancing flavour, almost like salt. Tamari (Japanese for ‘puddle’) is gluten-free: unlike soy sauce, it doesn’t use wheat; rather, it is the liquid content of soya-bean miso. Alternative soy-like sauces include Maggi Liquid Seasoning (which contains the herb lovage) and Braggs Liquid Aminos. Both are delicious.

Nutritional yeast flakes are used by everyone in the vegan world and are the secret ingredient of many recipes – a good replacement for cheesy flavour. It’s amazing how a few yeast flakes can transform the flavour of a dish.

–Miso is a fermented grain paste and one of the oldest foods in Japan. It comes in light and dark forms, is red, white or brown and can be made from barley, rice, buckwheat, rye or millet. You can buy it from Japanese shops or online. Stir it into soups, spread it over grilled vegetables, whisk it into salad dressings or use as a dip.

You may be surprised to know that chocolate is fermented. Do like the Mexicans and use it in savoury as well as sweet foods – for instance the mole.

–Tomato purée is an intense umami ingredient, good for soups and pasta sauce and as a base sauce for pizza. You can make your own – a good idea if you come by a large amount of cheap tomatoes in season. Peel and deseed them, add 1 tsp salt for every 6 tomatoes and cook them on a low simmer in a heavy pot in the oven for several hours. Tomatoes are one of the few foods that have more minerals and vitamins after cooking than raw.

–Liquid smoke is a cheaty way to get a smoky flavour in your food. It’s particularly gorgeous with beans or tofu and it’s available in many supermarkets.

Citrus

There is so much more to the world of citrus than oranges and lemons, although I do like to use the zest of these well known fruits as a last-minute reviver on many of my dishes. Zested lemon is reported to be good for its antiseptic qualities and to deter fatigue. By the way, it’s the white pith that is bitter, not the yellow skin.

My latest citrus crush is Bengali lime, a large knobbly green fruit with floral notes which I discovered in a local Bangladeshi grocery shop. Do check ethnic shops if you live in a city. I’ve also made preserved lemons from tiny Indian yellow limes, found hanging mysteriously in a brightly coloured plastic net at the shop around the corner from me.

Japanese yuzu has come to the fore in the last few years. Although it’s impossible at present to get fresh yuzu in the UK, you can buy the juice, the paste and ponzu, a yuzu/soy sauce. In the States they have access to Meyer lemons, also very floral. If you ever come across a kaffir lime, or indeed the plant, buy it. Not only will you have fresh kaffir lime for your Thai curries but also use of the leaves.

I’ve also used kumquats, small oval orange fruit with a sweet skin.

Grapefruit farmers are growing new, sweeter cultivars, but it’s also true that bitter foods are good for you.

Pomelo is an Asian fruit, not unlike grapefruit, which I’ve used in the oriental-influenced salad.

Useful spices

I mention these spices, as you may not be aware of just how fab they are. Do regularly inspect and chuck spices – out-of-date ones are worse than useless, tasting like old moths. Keep them in a cool, dark place.

–Achiote is like the Mexican version of saffron and hard to describe! Apart from adding a deep rusty colour, it also imparts a kind of savoury muddy clay flavour. It’s good, I promise.

–Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world, made from crocus stamens. A mere pinch adds new depth to any dish. I make saffron and tomato spaghetti sauce, lifting this classic, well known dish above the ordinary.

–Ras el hanout is Arabic for something approximating ‘the best of the shop’. Every family has its own version, but it’s a ground mixture of spice and rose petals. It can be bought at most supermarkets nowadays, so add it to dips and North African/Arabic dishes.

–Sumac is a citrussy berry, very popular in Middle Eastern cookery. Nowadays it is widely available. Sprinkle ground sumac over roast vegetables, pumpkin and squash, and dips.

–Chinese five-spice contains Sichuan pepper, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds and star anise, and is good in stir-fries and on tofu.

–Japanese seven-spice or shichimi is a blend of chilli, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, hemp seeds, ground ginger, nori and sansho.

–Black limes are dried limes often used in Persian cooking. Crumble them into bean dishes or rice to add a sour flavour.

–Sweet smoked paprika, especially the Spanish kind called pimentón de la Vera, instantly gives depth to any dish – some say it even tastes a bit like bacon. Hungarian paprika, however, retains its red colour during cooking.

Pickled & Preserved Flavour Intensifiers

I love sweet and salty together, and most pickles require acidity too, to create an ‘agrodolce’ zing to your food. Olives, capers, pickled peppercorns and preserved plums can be bought in jars to augment and counterpoint. Chutneys and atchars perform the same function, adding a flavour focus to Indian food. Pickling can be done in vinegar or in brine. Traditional brining gives pickles probiotic qualities and are good for your health.

–A salsa is made of finely chopped vegetables and fruit, dressed with lemon or lime and seasoned. It is fine enough to serve as a sauce. A classic salsa contains tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, lime and coriander. Mexican pico de gallo is very similar to salsa, with almost identical ingredients, but it is less liquid and chunkier. Make an unusual salsa by dicing and mixing mango, spring onion and fresh ginger together and seasoning with salt.

–A kachumber is a finely diced piquant salad found in Indian cookery. It is very similar to Mexican salsa but with the addition of spices such as cumin, coriander, paprika and chaat masala.

–Chimichurri is an Argentinian relish made from parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano, white wine vinegar and salt, all minced together.

–Sambal is a southern Indian version of a kachumber, but it is sometimes a paste; a coconut, lime and chilli recipe.

Oils

I like to use different oils, not just the standard olive oil for dressings, and vegetable or sunflower oil for frying.

–Olive oil has a distinct flavour and the best quality should be used on food, as heating it will destroy some of its quality. Extra virgin olive oil is new oil – that is what is meant by ‘virgin’. It shouldn’t have any mustiness or mould in the scent; it should taste and smell grassy, peppery, vital.

–Sunflower oil in the UK is regarded as a bog-standard cooking oil, but when I visited Georgia, it was dark kelp in colour, with an intense flavour. You could just dip your bread in it, like we do with olive oil.

–Austria has a rich pumpkin seed oil that is worth trying.

–Sometimes you want a neutral oil for a dish: Asian cooking uses groundnut oil for this purpose, with sesame oil as a finishing touch.

–I also use walnut, hazelnut, avocado, macadamia, coconut, mustard or hay-smoked rapeseed oil.

Do experiment with oils and vinegars, adding herbs, chilli and citrus, to introduce yet another element to plant-based cookery. Store oil in a cool, dark place; I once mistakenly kept a 5-litre can of good olive oil next to my Aga for a couple of days and the next time I used it I ruined a whole recipe, as it was disgustingly rancid.

Nuts, seeds & herbs

You will be using nuts and seeds as a protein substitute for animal products. A few lightly toasted nuts and seeds are a tasty, textural garnish on salads and soups; I sling them in everything.

–Nut milks are useful and quick to make. In fact, once you’ve made your own, you’ll wonder why cows’ milk is still the standard.

–Dukkah is an Egyptian nut and herb mix: try it as a snack with bread and oil, or sprinkle it over dishes.

–Gomashio is a dry Japanese condiment. Make your own by roasting 50 g black sesame seeds and then grinding with 1 teaspoon sea salt.

–An Italian herby condiment, gremolata is great on asparagus, pasta and beans. Simply blitz together the grated zest of 2 lemons, a garlic clove and a handful of flat-leaf parsley.

–A North African marinade, chermoula works well on grilled vegetables, couscous and freekeh. Blitz a large bunch of fresh coriander leaves, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 4 peeled garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon paprika, the juice of 1 lemon and sea salt to taste in a food processor until you get a paste.

–Sourdough breadcrumbs can be sprinkled on your food to give texture, as well as flavour. Use them in soups and burgers, and on gratins.

Soya

One thing you are likely to start eating more of as a vegan is the humble soya bean. From it you can make milk, tofu, yoghurt, flour and you can of course eat the bean itself.

Tofu is derided by Westerners as being flavourless. It does have a subtle flavour, but its real asset is its texture and the nutrition within: lots of protein and little fat. Texturally, tofu ranges from extra firm, to medium, to silken. Extra firm to medium can be used in stir-fries, whereas silken is good for desserts or soups. Japanese silken tofu is a whole other texture, like delicate cream. I don’t freeze tofu, as I don’t like the texture – it goes chewy – but some people like that.

Making your own is less difficult than you might think and certainly a cheaper option.

Coconut

Coconut is another of those all-purpose foodstuffs like the soya bean. Each element of the coconut tree can be used: the leaves, the husk for coir matting, the young buds, which are hearts of palm, the shell as a receptacle, the flesh as fresh ‘meat’ or to extract flour, oil, butter, sugar, milk or cream, and lastly the water as a refreshing drink. The water has on occasion been used in drips as a replacement for blood, plus it has oestrogen qualities, so it’s good for the menopause. It’s magical stuff and forms part of the creation myths of several cultures. If you want to avoid Alzheimer’s, eating coconut can help.

How to Open a Fresh Coconut

When you buy a coconut, shake it to make sure there is still water sloshing inside. The coconut will have three ‘eyes’, one or two of which will be softer. Pierce two of its eyes with a corkscrew or screwdriver and upend the coconut into a glass to collect the water. Then, to crack it open, you can smash it against a concrete floor; with the back of a machete, cleaver or heavy knife, VERY CAREFULLY tap around the ‘equator’ line that runs around the coconut and it should just split open (this does work – I’ve tried it); or find a safe area without breakables, place the coconut in a plastic bag and whack it with a hammer (mind your hands).

You can buy frozen coconut flesh from Asian supermarkets, and dried, sweetened or unsweetened, desiccated coconut. When you buy coconut milk in tins, check that it is a good brand without too many thickeners.

Vinegars & Sourness

Introducing acidity into food is another way of augmenting flavour. My favourites are lemon and lime juice, but there is a whole world of vinegars to be discovered. I have dozens: red and white wine, sherry, cider, Chinese black vinegar, fruit vinegars such as raspberry or pineapple or grain vinegars like malt or rice vinegar. Each one is matched to a certain kind of dish or a different cuisine. I also use subtler acidulents such as verjus or orange juice, or souring agents such as pomegranate molasses or the very sour citric acid (available from Asian shops).

Chillies

The Mexicans know that every chilli has a distinct flavour. You want more than just heat; you want fruit, spice, sweetness, smokiness and differing degrees of heat. If it is difficult to get hold of interesting fresh chillies, you should still have access to dried ones, or tinned chillies in the form of pickled or smoked chipotles, or in adobo sauce (really flavoursome). I like to use dried anchos or guajillos, which are mild, and dried chipotles, which are smoked dried jalapeños. The Peruvian yellow chilli aji amarillo is also good and can be bought in the UK as a paste or dried.

Rarer still are genuine Scotch bonnets – mostly they are habaneros. You can tell by smell: proper Scotch bonnets have a fruity smell, whereas habaneros are just heat. I love the Italian pepperoncini: flavoursome and not too hot fresh, they also make great chilli flakes on pizza and pasta when dried.

How to Prepare Dried Chillies

To get the maximum flavour from a dried chilli, first split it open, shake out the seeds and toast it in a dry frying pan until it softens – this happens very quickly, so don’t walk away. Now soak the chilli in enough hot water to cover it. Reserve the liquid and scoop out the chillies, then chop them finely. Try adding soaked chipotle flakes to the Vegan Mayonnaise recipe.

Harissa is a North African chilli sauce, which is lovely with the tagine, or on toast!

Pepper

Pepper is not just black and white – there is a whole range of flavours to explore.

–Sichuan is a Chinese peppercorn that has a unique taste and makes your mouth tingle. In Japanese cooking, this is called sansho pepper. Use one of these instead of chilli in Asian cooking.

–White pepper fell out of fashion to the big black pepper grinder for years, but for paler dishes, I love it.

–Green peppercorns are young black peppercorns. I love them pickled or fresh; the latter you can buy in Asian supermarkets.

–Pink pepper is not technically pepper but a berry. It has a lovely flavour and contrasting colour to dress dishes.

–Long pepper looks as its name suggests and is often used in Indian cookery.

Salt

I’m a big fan of salt – good sea salt, that is, with all the minerals, metals and nutrients, not ordinary table salt. I salt in the cooking to avoid salting at the table. This way I use less salt. There is good scientific data showing that salt does not increase blood pressure except for the 8% of people who have a salt sensitivity.

I use rock salt or sel gris for cooking, and Maldon sea salt for finishing and for sauces.

Another salt you may not know about is tempero, a herby, large-grained salt from Brazil. I use it for my Canary Island-Style Tempero Salt-Baked Mini Potatoes.

You can make your own flavoured salts or buy them. I’ve smoked salt and added lemon zest, rose petals and herbs. Nowadays you can buy specialised salts: black Indian, pink Himalayan, rusty orange, green bamboo, red volcanic Hawaiian.

Seaweed

The fifth taste, umami, in a sense originates from a seaweed called kombu. It’s the seaweed that is used to flavour dashi, the Japanese soup stock whence umami derives. Seaweed is high in flavour and minerals such as iodine. If you buy the dried stuff for your pantry, it never goes off.

–Nori are the purple/black sheets of seaweed, which can be eaten raw but are better toasted, that you use to wrap sushi. Korean shops sell this in snack packs and I could scoff it by the sheet. Kids like it too. If you buy the sheets for sushi, sometimes it’s necessary to re-toast it. Just pass it over a flame or dry-roast it in a pan very quickly – it will shrivel slightly and crisp up.

–Wakame is used in miso and has a soft, minerally taste. A small pinch becomes huge. It’s used in salads and soup.

–Kombu, a type of kelp used to flavour dashi the simple stock in Japanese cuisine, is not eaten, as the texture is very tough – it’s just a flavouring. Use a segment 5–10 cm big to flavour broth.

–Hijaki needs hydrating and cooking. It can be used in stir-fries or in tofu balls.

–Carrageen or Irish moss, a red seaweed, has thickening qualities that make it a good replacement for gelatine when setting mousses, panna cotta and jellies.

–Dulse is a purple seaweed that you can crumble on rice, or use in bread making or in soups. It can also be used as chewing gum!

–Sea lettuce, also known as glasswort, is good for baking parchment to cook things ‘en papillote’; it can also be fried.

–A rather chic ingredient, samphire is often served with fish. But in the vegan diet it is good as a salty texture in quinoa salads or steamed and topped with pumpkin seeds.

–Sea kale can be steamed and used like asparagus, but it’s very pungent and can be hard to get hold of.

–Kelp can be used as an alternative to salt.

Flowers

I use quite a few flowers in my cookery and grow them in my garden for culinary use. Also look out for herb flowers, for instance pretty purple chive flowers, as they are like decorative versions of the herb and they taste similar. Do not eat flowers of the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers), sweet pea flowers, hydrangeas or foxgloves.

I’ve used the flowers of various beans, which again taste like the vegetable they come from, and also courgette flowers. Always inspect inside flowers for creepy crawlies and worse. Other pointers: use unsprayed organic flowers. If the stamen is prominent, remove it.

–Nasturtiums are peppery, good in salads and the buds can be pickled.

–Cornflowers are more of a garnish.

–Cowslip petals are honey-like, good for drinks and syrups.

–Hibiscus is acidic and bright red in colour.

–With hollyhocks, eat just the petals.

–With perfumed, pungent roses, remove the white heel.

–Lavender is perfumed and you can add it to sugar.

–Pinks petals can be used as a garnish.

–Primroses are small, yellow and slightly sweet.

–Tulips can be steamed and stuffed, but remove the stamens.

–Violets, ideally parma violets, can be crystallised.

–Borage has small, purple flowers, ideal in tea or for garnish; remove the green calyx (the small green ‘leaves’ that surround the flower).

–I’ve used both flower and leaves of wild geraniums in salads and pasta.

–You can use the scented leaves from lemon or rose pelargonium plants in baking.

–Elderflowers can be used for drinks and for flavouring, plus they make great fritters.

–I sprinkle marigolds on top of salads and bread.

Cooking with Leaves

Vine, pandan, geranium (rose and lemon), fig.

Herbs

Fresh herbs add scent as well as flavour to a dish. Sweet leafy herbs include coriander, dill, fennel, mint, basil, chervil and tarragon. These are good for sauces, and adding later in the dish, plus for garnishing. Base-note herbs tend to be woody: bay (I love this; use it in tomato and creamy sauces), rosemary, oregano, marjoram and thyme. These can be used at the beginning of a sauce and are not diminished by long cooking. When dried, some herbs change flavour: mint and oregano, for instance.

Sugar

Used both in sweet and savoury dishes, every sugar has a specific quality and flavour and should be matched to the dish. Bakers tend to prefer cane sugar to beet sugar.

Types include: cane sugar, palm sugar, fructose, coconut sugar, agave nectar, date syrup, mulberry molasses, maple syrup, carob molasses and brown rice syrup. Liquorice is one of the sweetest substances on earth and can be used in various forms, in tea or a candied sugar version can be ground over desserts. I like to candy nuts, fruit and vegetables as a contrasting flavour and texture.

Storecupboard Vegan Stuff You Never Knew Existed

Eggs are so useful and have amazing properties: they bind, they stretch, they colour, they glue, they thicken. Traditional sweet baking is fundamentally about using the qualities of eggs. It is tough to replace all of these qualities, but there are some alternatives. Some of them are familiar, but others will be new to you. You can buy ‘egg replacers’, which work well in making meringues or ‘egg’ pasta. Ground linseed is referred to in certain vegan circles as ‘FLAX EGGS’: 1 tablespoon ground linseeds soaked in 2½ tablespoons water has similar binding properties to egg. The same effect works with chia seeds in place of the linseed. Arrowroot makes things glossy. Cornflour needs to be cooked out or the flavour stays. Lotus root flour is good. Tapioca flour is very textural, with a nice gloss and is often used in vegan cheese recipes. Potato flour is good for gluten-free people, but do not let the liquid boil. Sago starch is good for puddings. Sahlag is made from orchid roots, with a floral flavour and smell, and is used in Middle Eastern cooking. Water chestnut flour gives fried foods a crisp, nutty coating and is used in Asian cooking.

Dark chocolate is ostensibly vegan, but check the packet, as some dark chocolate brands add powdered milk.

Vegan, plant-based alternatives to jelly and gelatine are available but do not have the mouthfeel of jelly, which melts at body temperature. Carageen or Irish Moss is derived from seaweed. Agar agar is used in Asia and sets quite hard, so use sparingly.

Techniques The Vegan Way

Vegans need to do a great deal of preparation. Arm yourself with the right equipment to make life easier: a sharp vegetable knife, a decent peeler, a julienne peeler, canner, pressure cooker, mandolin and 2 microplanes (fine and coarse). More expensive but essential is a good, powerful blender such as a Vitamix. Other less essential equipment would be a dehydrator, a stovetop smoker and a spiraliser for making vegetable ‘ribbons’.

Stock

Basic vegetable stock is necessary in particular for soups. If you don’t have time to make your own stock, do by all means use a good-quality powdered stock such as Marigold. But from time to time, make the effort to prepare fresh vegetable stock, as it tastes so much more alive than powdered stock.

How to Cook Vegetables Well

We British have a poor reputation when it comes to cooking vegetables; we boil them to death so that they end up limp, flaccid and devoid of flavour. But I think we have learnt a thing or two over the years. Cut vegetables into even sizes and they will all cook at the same rate.

To blanch, plunge a fruit or vegetable into boiling water for a minute; this will make the skin easier to remove. If you want vegetables to retain their vivid green colour, ‘refresh’ them in ice-cold water immediately after boiling briefly in salted water. This is known as ‘blanch and shock’. Use this technique if you want to cook ahead, or if the vegetable is denser and takes too long to sauté.

To boil, bring a pan of water to the boil on the hob before adding the vegetables. Salting the water will make it boil quicker. Try to have your vegetables in the water for as little time as possible: as soon as they are ‘al dente’, whip them out. For green vegetables, use a large quantity of water.

To steam means to cook vegetables over boiling water using a steamer or colander and a lid to keep the steam in. This method ensures the vegetables don’t become waterlogged. A tagine is a steaming method: the condensation from the water in the vegetables rises up the cone and comes down again to sit in the bottom.

Braising is very useful when cooking delicate vegetables such as asparagus; using little water means that the food does not lose its flavour or become soggy. Use a wide frying pan with a little oil and lightly fry the asparagus, then add a couple of centimetres of boiling, salted water or stock, to finish it off. To stew vegetables means to cook them for a long time in a casserole – useful for root vegetables or potatoes.

Roasting in the oven is one of my favourite methods of cooking. There is less preparation time needed: just clean the vegetables, toss them in oil and herbs in a baking tin and let them roast in the oven on a high heat. Roasting caramelises the vegetables and is particularly effective with root vegetables and of course potatoes.

Sautéeing and frying are normally done over a high heat on a hob, meaning that the vegetables cook quickly. Heat the pan first, then add the oil; once the oil begins to shimmer, add the vegetables. The oil should not be smoking. If it is, remove it carefully from the heat until it stops smoking and cools down. For sautéeing, fry vegetables in a shallow frying pan, moving and turning with tongs or a fish slice to stop them burning. You can also deep-fry; in which case, the fat you use should generally be at 180–190˚C and make sure you submerge the vegetables in the oil. Deep-frying at the correct heat shouldn’t result in greasy vegetables; in fact, the heat seals the outside, preventing the oil from entering the vegetable. This is fabulous for tempura-style vegetables: add a light batter and deep-fry. With both frying and sautéeing, do not overcrowd the pan.

Stir-frying is the Asian version of sautéeing, authentically done at such a high heat that you need a water tap to cool down the outside of the wok. Ingredients should be already prepped, cooked quickly in order of length of cooking, so tougher vegetables go in first.

Grilling and barbecuing cause vegetables to cook on the outside first, giving a smoky, blackened, charcoal flavour. Brush oil on the outside, along with minced garlic and herbs, and grill mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines.

Substitutes Vegan DIY

You’ve got two choices when it comes to vegan foods: try to imitate the carnivore diet with substitutes, or develop an entirely different way of eating, less dependent on straight-up protein. Still, most vegans have been raised on a ‘normal’ diet and from time to time crave the comforting foods they know and recognise. The following section explains the alternatives and substitutes. Some are easier than others.

The Colour Wheel of Food

Part of the balanced diet is thinking not just in terms of flavour but of colour, both contrasting and complementary. ‘Eat your greens’ is not just a phrase meted out by concerned parents; it’s based on fact: green food, particularly dark green leafy vegetables, is good for you. In Chinese medicine, there are links between the organs, taste and colour.

Consumers buy food based on their colour: it is no coincidence that supermarkets use pink light on meat to make it look healthier and brighter. When eating, try to develop what some people call ‘rainbow’ eating, i.e. working your way through a variety of colours during the course of the day to ensure you are eating a varied mix of nutrients.

We are acutely sensitive to the colour of our food, so this is a little exploration of the colour wheel from a health and vitamin point of view.

–Black: There are no truly black foods, except for grapes and olives perhaps; most ‘black’ foods tend to be dark purple.

Purple, violet or mauve is a royal colour, a biblical hue, a rare and expensive dye prior to synthetic dyes. Sumptuary laws prevented commoners from wearing it. Lately it has become associated with women’s suffrage and feminism. Dark foods contain anthocyanins, good for eye health, anti-ageing and protecting against cancer and high blood pressure.

Blackberries, sprouting broccoli, Peruvian potatoes, plums, blueberries, aubergines, purple sprouting broccoli, grapes, lavender, beetroot, purple yams, figs, grapes, red cabbage.

–Brown: Brown is the colour of the earth, often grown under the ground. Brown signifies natural, unbleached, unprocessed, real, rustic. I’ve included legumes here because they are dried vegetables.

Roots, turnips, swede, potatoes, mushrooms, pulses, nuts, wheat, lentils, chickpeas, mung beans, onions, yams.

–Green: Greens used to be the colour of sex rather than red but symbolises growth, renewal, youth, fertility, money, land, nature, spring. Mary Magdalene wears green in art, while the Virgin Mary wears blue, the colour of heaven. Green is now associated with conservation and ecology, morality. You could say this colour has had all the fun drained out of it. What a shame.

Good for the liver and detoxing; anti Alzheimer’s; the darker the better. Contains chlorophyll, apigenin, luteolin and isothiocyanates.

–Dark Green: Kale, cavolo nero, broccoli, spinach, watercress.

–Medium Green: Artichokes, green lentils, mangetout, limes, runner beans, bok choi, lamb’s lettuce, rocket, chives, spring onions, kiwi fruit, apples, limes, gooseberries, grapes, green tea, wasabi, capers.

–Light Green: Lettuce, peas, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, greengages, cristophenes, leeks, courgettes, endives, tomatillos, herbs, avocados, cucumber, mangetout, celery, cress, asparagus.

–Red: Red signifies ripeness, heat, energy, the ability to fight. Anti-cancer properties, cardiovascular conditions, contains resveratrol, an element of the ‘French Paradox’ (in which French people who drink red wine have lower incidences of heart disease), lycopene (anti-prostate cancer) and capsaican, which gives you a natural high.

Peppers, tomatoes, chillies, beetroot, red cabbage, strawberries, apples, watermelons, radishes, rhubarb, raspberries, red onions, pomegranates, cranberries, cherries, red wine.

–Orange to Yellow: Orange signifies sunshine, optimism, summer, gold.

Contains carotenoids, good for skin health and elasticity, healthy bones and stomach. Many fruits are in the yellow to red spectrum including vegetables that are botanically fruit such as tomatoes, peppers and pumpkins. Citrus contains limonoids, anti-cancer agent, so grate lemon zest onto everything.

Sweet potatoes, carrots (containing alpha carotene, which the body processes into vitamin A), corn (lutein and zeaxanthin benefit eyesight), pumpkins/squash and squash blossoms, turmeric root (contains curcumin, an antioxidant and antifat), persimmons, oranges, mandarins, tangerines, clementines, kumquats (contain beta-cryptoxanthin, good for eyesight and healthy bones), pineapple and papaya (contain bromelain, an anti-inflammatory), grapefruit, lemons, melon, mangoes, apricots, peaches, nectarines, parsnips, bananas, melon, swedes, passionfruit, cape gooseberry or physalis, jackfruit, quince.

–White: White is associated with wealth, purity and being rich enough not to work outdoors. Rich people ate white bread and white sugar in the past, and the poor tried to emulate them. Now rich people eat brown bread! White food is often bleached and therefore has fewer vitamins. Good for the immune system, and possesses diuretic properties.

Butter beans, cauliflower, celeriac, asparagus, mushrooms, potatoes, soya beans, garlic, daikon radishes, parsnips, salsify, coconuts.

Forced rhubarb and forced chicory are paler than their ‘unforced’ versions. The lack of light means they are ivory coloured and tender.

The missing colour is blue. One of the few true blue foods is blue corn. Hence in professional kitchens the plasters (and kitchen roll) are blue, because you can easily pick them out if they drop in the food.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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