If New Year's resolutions feel like chokeweed inching over your psyche, this column is for you. Every week, we'll recruit kickass healthy ingredients to rock your kitchen in 2021. No penance. Just pleasure.
A healthy diet is not about restriction - it's about inclusion. Anyone notice that dieting doesn't seem to be a terribly effective route to losing excess weight? An industry does not grow into a €60bn bonanza by permanently solving the problem it is designed to address. If you're going to count something, count nutrients, not calories.
When you start including loads of new flavours and wholegrains into your kitchen, your health will begin to look after itself without the fight of a prohibitive diet. My only demand is that you have fun, and baptise your kitchen with unadulterated giddiness.
This time next year, you will have mastered 52 Wholefoodie recipes. That's some serious ammo for the healthy New You, without your pocket or your personality expiring.
Cooking for yourself goes beyond physical nourishment. Like any hobby, it offers emotional nourishment too. Cooking is how I show love and appreciation to the people around me. It is a form of self-respect and empowerment because eating well is not just about upgrading your food choices. It's about upgrading your life. Yep. The stuff we eat and drink turns into us. Think about that.
Every mineral, every fat, every fibre that we get from our meals is used by our bodies in some way to build or repair. Putting good stuff in means we increase our chances of living longer, fuller lives with rosier cheeks and tinglier toes.
Wholefood is not, as my husband likes to chant, food that fires out your derrière. (Although he's subtly correct in that wholefoods are packed with fibre to sort your pipes out. Let's return to that later, shall we?) Wholefoods are plant-based, uncorrupted ingredients such as vegetables, fruits, protein-rich pulses, wholegrains and wholegrain flours. Like Jennifer Aniston, they don't need much interference to tap into their magnificence, or to bewitch everything in their orbit.
The wholefood movement celebrates ingredients in their most authentic form, in contrast to the commerce of conveyor belts and chemicals. The rise of wholefood cooking ain't no trend. Feeling amazing is here to stay. When your body hums louder on a bowl of creamy lentils than it does on a highly processed sambo and plastic cheese, you won't want to accept feeling under par any more.
It's a simple comparison of living versus existing. We all know the foods that make our bodies sing. So be good to your body. You're the one who has to live in it.
Junk-food factories and convenience brands will always privilege profit and shareholders over our health. There's nothing tasty about that. I'm with Bill Murray on this one: "Whoever snuck the 's' into fast food is a clever little bastard."
The commercial food industry will have you believe that wholefoods are expensive and that healthy eating is for the privileged. What a load of shiitake mushrooms. Wholefood doesn't need to be expensive.
You know what is expensive? Medical bills. Missing work. The cost of ill health. As William Shakespeare almost once said, "Dude who spends little time on health, will one day spend much time on illness."
Fermentation is an empowering example of reducing food waste, and at the same time improving digestive health and saving money. You can take a simple cabbage and transform it into a kickass kraut with a little salt and time. Or pickle any surplus vegetables knocking around your fridge, such as cucumbers and carrots, to service the months ahead.
Batch-cooking sauces and freezing them for later dates will not only taste better than the store-bought equivalent, but will work out cheaper and healthier. Making the transition from processed factory food to wholefoods or plant-based foods is as revelatory as the transition from horse and carriage to airplanes. It is mind blowing.
I want to awaken your inner Gwynnie (minus her wallet. And her yoni buckets). This month's focus is on really cheap, accessible superfoods such as ginger, lemon, garlic, turmeric, and wholesome stock. January's line-up is enough to incite an aria in Tony Holohan; a creamy tarka dal to help quench inflammation; ginger and garlic noodle broth to rev your motor; turmeric and lemon hot drink to kick-start your liver after the festive frolics; and spiced lemon curd to kick that smouldering cold in the crotch.
Now, we turn to chest-thumping, life-affirming stock. We'll use this recipe throughout the year (and later this month to make tarka dal and noodle broth). Good stock has the ability to carjack your taste buds and turn everything into a richer version of itself. Without a good stock, soup can taste dispirited and lentils are lonely.
In theory, this stock shouldn't cost you anything if you giddily collect the kitchen scraps destined for your compost bin. I have a special freezer bag that I beatifically fill with all sorts of scraps and trimmings from my kitchen prep; mushroom stems, wilted herbs, carrot peels, turnip tops, shrivelled ginger, forgotten turmeric, celery leaves, disappointing tomatoes, fennel butts, apple skins, and even Parmesan rinds, which is a stealthy trick I learned from Sheridan's Cheesemongers. Add whatever you have! (Easy on the cabbage, kale and cauli, however. These chaps don't do so well in stock).
You can even freeze oxtail bones and chicken bones if you're not ready to make a stock straight away. The glucosamine and chondroitin in bones can infuse the stock and help reduce inflammation, repair damaged joints and stimulate the growth of new collagen. Cowabunga!
Below is a simple guideline, but no two broths will ever taste the same. It's not essential to use chicken or beef bones to make an excellent broth - a vegetarian stock with Parmesan rinds and discarded mushroom stems tastes surprisingly meaty. And for our vegan pals, Irish seaweed will give the pot umami semi-quavers in the absence of meat or Parmesan.
Same time next week?
You will need:
2 litres filtered water
Freezer bag of kitchen trimmings (see introduction for guidance on what to include)
Good lump of ginger, halved
2 onions, quartered
4 carrots, quartered
Chicken bones or beef bones (or a Parmesan rind)
1 teaspoon Irish flaky salt
1 tablespoon Irish apple cider vinegar
1 Bring all the ingredients to a gurgle for 5 minutes. Reduce the temperature to low and cook the stock for anywhere between 1-12 hours. If I'm using Parmesan rinds, I go for 3 hours. Chicken bones get 12 hours.
2 Once it tastes rich, deep and satisfying, drain the solids and allow the stock to cool down before storing it in the fridge or freezer. Good bone broth will often cool into a wonderfully wobbly jelly. Spoon it into a small saucepan when you're ready to reheat, and bring to a simmer rather than a boil. Pour into a mug and add a few grinds of the black pepper mill. l