Aglio Rosso di Nubia

A bunch of Nubian garlic in “Nonna’s kitchen”

Aside from keeping vampires at bay garlic is perhaps one of the most important ingredients to keep in ones kitchen.

Red Nubian garlic in a wooden bowl

The nutritional and health benefits of garlic have been known for thousands of years. In sicily, certainly in and around the town of Trapani, the Aglio Rosso di Nubia is a common sight. It is grown in the countryside centred on the village of Nubia, just outside Trapani in the direction of Marsala.

While a single clove of garlic is not going to have a significant impact, health-wise, a 100 gms (rather a lot even spread throughout the day) offers significant qualtities of vitamins B6 and C, and the dietary minerals manganese and phosphorus (approx 20% of daily need).

I once ate a whole garlic bulb that had been roasted. Delicious at the time but I suspect those near me weren’t so pleased with the garlic smell that stayed with me till next day!

Source: US Department of Agriculture

Garlic has been used medicinally as a cold remedy, though it seems there is no evidence to prove it works. It does have anti-bacterial properties and may be beneficial in reducing hypertension and some forms of cancer.

Personally I enjoy garlic with soups, sauces and salads and will take it with honey if I have a cold.

Where it is from:

Figs

A few small figs

I always think of bright Mediterranean sunshine when I eat figs, forgetting that my mother had planted a fig tree in our garden in Staffordshire (England) when I was in my teens. That tree yielded masses of delicious figs within a couple of years.

In the garden where my mother now lives in Erice, Sicily, there is a fig tree that has provided us with a few figs in the last couple of weeks. We have eaten perhaps half a dozen but a neighbour harvested about 25 figs to take to his brother on another island. These were all large, soft green fruit and, in general, sweet.

July is expected to see the tree in full production, though a lot of the figs on the tree now are small, are turning black and have a tendency to fall off easily before reaching maturity.

Figs (Ficus carica) is related to the mulberry, about which I wrote just recently, and has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years.

Nutrition

Figs are high in soluble fibre and natural sugars. They are also rich in minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper and are a good source of antioxidant vitamins A and K. As they are a low calorie food they are an ideal addition to a weight-loss or weight-maintenance diet.

Fresh figs are nice at anytime of day. I like them at breakfast, after meals and between meals as a snack.

Sicilian fig biscuits

Dried figs are nice too though a bit on the seedy side. The seeds are softer in fresh figs, to the point of being unnoticeable. And the flavour is quite a lot different too – much stronger in dried figs.

I hope the tree produces a few decent fruit soon as, despite the countryside and gardens being edged by fig trees, the fruit in supermarkets are pretty expensive. Time will tell.

A Sicilian Caper!

Caper bush (Capperis spinosa), also known as Flinders Rose

Capers are well known as a pickled condiment. It is the flower buds that are harvested and pickled though, after flowering, the fruit or berries can also be harvested for pickling.

The bush, with its long stems, is a perennial plant that is found throughout the Mediterranean region and in my mother’s garden in Erice.

Flower buds and leaves on the Caper Bush

In addition to the culinary use of the buds and berries the leaves can also be pickled and used in salads.

The delicate flowers of the Caper Bush

The plant is said to have several medicinal benefits including remedies for diabetes, fungal infections, chest congestion, intestinal worms , and skin disease caused by a form of leishmaniasis.

Slender, young seed pods

Capers are used in many Sicilian dishes and salads, while the leaves are more often seen in Cypriot food.

Nutrition

While rich in some nutritional aspects pickled capers have a high sodium content.

Macro-nutrients

Micro-nutrients

Sources: US Dept of Agriculture via Wikipedia

Burik

Burik served in the form of a tube, served with radicchio and olive salad.

Burik (the “u” is short, barely pronounced so the word sounds like bric) is a form of food found in Libya and Tunisia that is normally made in a triangular shape. It looks a bit like a samosa, perhaps having similar ingredients, but the pastry is different.

The ones we bought from Dar El Medina restaurant in Trapani (where I had couscous a couple of years ago) were made in the form of a large rolled tube, like a crepe. The filling was not the tastiest that I had eaten and, to be honest, I had to guess what it was made from: possibly fish, potato and parsley. I would have preferred some middle-eastern spice in the mix but the restaurant seems to try to over-localise their dishes.

The “pastry” itself is a thin layer of batter similar to the crepe, but thinner and lighter. The fillings can be made with whatever there is to hand: eggs, potato, left-overs, meat etc. Literally any filling that takes your fancy.

The filling, a spoonful or two, is placed in the centre of the batter. It is then folded to create a closed triangular shape before being fried.

Burik can be served hot or cold. They can be treated as appetisers, snacks, street-food, served with soup, or served at special occasions.

Dar El Medina is a couscous restaurant and pizzeria with in the heart of Trapani, Sicily. The owners are Sicilian of Tunisian descent and prefer to offer Sicilianised versions of Tunisian food. The restaurant would, in my view, benefit from providing a Tunisian ambience rather than the more neutral, even clinical, one that it has.

How to make burik at home

The quick and easy way to make burik at home, for casual dinners, barbecues, picnics or snacks etc, is to use filo pastry. The authentic batter actually differs by country and ethnic group (there are Arab and Jewish versions) so it isn’t cheating

Prepare the filo pastry by rolling it out and cutting into squares.

Prepare the fillings by placing whatever ingredients you choose in a bowl. Add herbs or spices eg paprika, salt and pepper to taste and mix loosely.

Place one or two spoonfuls of the filling into a square of pastry.

Fold the pastry into a triangular or square shape (alternatively roll into a tube form).

Fry until golden brown then place on kitchen roll to remove excess oil.

Can be served immediately or later when cold.

Nutritional notes

Vegan when using traditional filo/phyllo (vegetable oil-based) pastry.

Gluten-free pastry is available in supermarkets.

Nutritional content will depend on filling used.

Sicilian Food – Panelle

Panelle

Reminding me of polenta in appearance only, panelle are fritters that are typically, though not always, eaten in a bun (U’ pane chi panelle in Sicilian).

It is very much a Sicilian speciality, perhaps more so in the capital of Palermo where it is regarded as street food in Palermo, sprinkled with lemon juice.

Panelle is often made at home to be eaten as a snack or an accompaniment to a meal.

My first impression, years ago when I tried the panelle sandwich for the first time, was that it seems as counter-intuitive to treat this snack as appetising as a traditional British “chip butty” but after the first bite I was won over. I also like chip butties!

The panelle recipe is detailed at the end of this article.

Nutrition

Firstly, panelle itself can be used in vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diets. Chickpeas are a type of legume so, unlike cereals, contain no gluten.

When making panelle sandwiches, however, care needs to be taken to use vegan and/or gluten-free bread. But that’s obvious!

Chickpeas are a rich source of protein, low in fat.

Chickpeas, mature seeds, cooked no salt.

Nutritional value per 100 g

Energy 686 kJ (164 kcal)

Carbohydrate. 27.42 g

Sugars 4.8 g

Dietary fibre 7.6 g

Fat2.59 g

Saturated 0.27 g

Monounsaturated 0.58 g

Polyunsaturated 1.16 g

Protein8.86 g

Vitamins – A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B13, C, E and K

Minerals. – calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium (trace only) and zinc.

Recipe

  • 500gm chickpea flour
  • water (1.5 l)
  • 10 gm finely chopped parsley
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

The principal ingredient of panelle is chickpea flour. The flour is mixed with water, salt and pepper until it becomes lump-free. The mixture is then placed on a low heat, finely chopped parsley added and stirred continuously to avoid it sticking to the pan. When it has the consistency of thick runny cream it is poured onto a plate or tray (coffee saucers are often used since the size of the panelle will be ideal for placing in a bread roll). The mix should be about 3mm (1/10 inch) thick.

Allow to cool and refrigerate till ready to cook.

The panelle may be cut into shapes (squares, triangles etc) about 2 cm x 4 cm, or left round if left to set on a small saucer, and deep fried in vegetable oil till golden brown.

Remove excess oil from the panelle with paper towels, place 3 or 4 in a bread roll, squeeze lemon juice over the panelle and eat while hot.

Enjoy!

I could go vegan! At least for a day!

Full vegan breakfast at Brunch & Supper, Edinburgh (vegan haggis, vegan sausage, baked beans, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, tofu, mushroom, potato bread and couscous)

I have to admit that quite a few years ago I regarded vegans as folk that were a bit off the rails. My first experience of a vegetarian (not vegan) was a lady who was on an eight-day trek with me near Machu Picchu in Peru. The cook, who seemingly forgot her dietary preferences, had prepared a rabbit stew – as far as I was concerned a very welcome and warming lunch at the end of the morning’s trek in the rain. To cut a short story shorter she had started to eat the stew before it was confirmed to be a non-veg meal. She sobbed – it was the first time in her (50+ years) life that she had strayed from her meat-free lifestyle. I had to sympathise, mistakes can happen, but was not really able to empathise.

My own life has been a meat-full one. I have been used to meat-and-two-veg meals for lunch and dinner since I was young. My mother liked to experiment in the kitchen so we had a variety of international and traditionally British meals at home with various animal parts as the core component of the meal.

I have lived for many years in Brazil where meat is a staple. The Brazilian barbecue restaurants are world famous through the health benefits of mounds of beef coated in crystals of salt are definitely negative.

The family of one of my daughters is vegan so I am now able to understand this lifestyle choice. With age comes wisdom. In recent years I have tried to limit my intake of meat. I spent a few years in India where a high percentage of the population is vegetarian, so I managed to adapt to and enjoy, local meat-less dishes interspersed with delicious, spicy non-veg meals.

More recently I have tried to eat more vegan dishes. On the most recent occasion, I tried a vegan brunch at Brunch & Supper (a restaurant in Old Town, Edinburgh).

I enjoy a Full Breakfast be it Full English, Full Scottish, Full Cornish or Full Veggie so, while lunching with my daughter and a friend of hers I opted for a Full Vegan breakfast in order to compare the food to other full breakfast meals. Such a comparison is a bit subjective as, unlike in a wine tasting, for example, I was comparing the dish to memories of previous dishes.

The plate came, nicely arranged with a pair of asparagus spears pointing out from the centre of the plate. I found the meal satisfyingly filling and tasty though I have to say, in respect of all of the Scottish breakfast that I have tried, regardless of the restaurant, that the haggis has always been disappointing. I guess I was spoilt by having haggis for the first time (and a couple of other occasions) served at top restaurants ie real deal haggis. Still, I enjoyed the meal and enjoyed the vegan experience

I honestly doubt if I will ever become a vegan, nor even wholly vegetarian, but I can say with certainty that I am reducing the amount of meat in my diet. I don’t have issues with vegan meals, good food us good food, but I would certainly recommend to any restaurant that they include vegetarian and vegan options on their menu – even non-vegetarians like to vary their diet occasionally. And I recommend Brunch & Supper as a place to eat if you happen to be visiting Edinburgh. Need to book as the place is small and popular!

Brunch & Supper

37-39 George IV Bridge,

Edinburgh,

EH1 1EL

Phone: +44 131 225 6690

Url: brunchandsupper.co.uk

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NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition and has provided opinions in this post it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriately registered practitioners. The opinions provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete or out of date.

V and V+

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Want to become vegetarian (V)? Or even vegan (V+)? Much easier to do so at home where ingredients are under control. More difficult if the entire household sticks to being omnivorous! Like most people I like to eat out occasionally and, while vegetarian food can be found in many restaurants it is rare to find vegan-friendly establishments.

The search for vegan food can become frustrating.

If restaurants in the area don’t offer vegan food on their menu how do you get them to start doing so? Firstly, perhaps, by planting the idea. When calling to make a reservation, ask if they have both vegetarian and vegan options. If they do, great.

If they don’t, suggest that they consider doing so. One reservation perhaps lost, but possibly a new option in future if they take the message seriously.

Secondly, make meal suggestions if the V+ menu is thin. The benefit here is that vegan dishes are by default vegetarian while vegetarian dishes are not all acceptable to vegans. Many pasta dishes are vegan by nature (using an egg-less pasta recipe!).

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Third, pass the message to others if you find a good vegan restaurant.

Restaurants may not change overnight, and some may not change their menus too often but when they do they can add V+!

By suggesting amendments to the menu and V can become V+. Educate.

Note: I am neither vegetarian nor vegan but I am reducing the non-veg content of my meals by moving to healthier options.

(V) and (V+) are the annotations that I have adopted for my reviews of vegan food and restaurant. V = vegetarian and V+ is vegan ie more than vegetarian

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Insects – Food for thought

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Green and vegan salad

“Veganism is both the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. A follower of either the diet or the philosophy is known as a vegan”.

(Quoted from Wikipedia)

Wherever I go I like to try out local foods, drawing the line at eating live animals or duck embryos but, in general, I think the world has plenty of decent traditionally acceptable foods to keep us happy and I am happy with my own food preferences.

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Cricket anyone?

Personally, having lived a meat-rich life, I would find it difficult to adapt at my age to a vegan lifestyle, though it would be far easier if my friends and family took the same path. I do, however, support the philosophy and have decided to seek out and review, wherever possible, vegan outlets (supermarkets, restaurants etc) in my travels.

A vegan world would be a better more sustainable one. The quantity of animals destined to be eaten outnumbers the human population in some countries. This has resulted in the destruction of vast amounts of primary rainforest and an adverse impact on co2 emissions.

In many places, the processing of meat for human consumption has led to cruel, inhumane practices. Do something about this and the cost of production will go up thereby making meat more expensive and thus reducing the amount consumed. Market forces are working in favour of vegetarianism.

Once the demand for meat starts to decline then farmers will move to alternative production – fruit and vegetables. But this takes time.

Restaurants are key players, as are chefs. Interest in vegan and vegetarian food is changing positively. I expect that this is not just a fad but more likely a change in tide – the consumption of meat is quite possibly at or near its peak.

 

A question: do insects fall within or without a vegan diet? They aren’t, strictly speaking, animals. In various countries, more than one may imagine, insects form part of the local diet. Food companies are now looking at making use of insects in food preparation and, at the moment, regulation tends to govern the maximum quantity of insect content in food – on the basis that it may not be possible to eradicate 100% of grubs in a batch of sweet corn that gets canned for human consumption. While some vegans may consider insects to be “animals” perhaps that thought should be revisited!

Cricket soup. Deep fried critters on sale in Phnom Penh. Deep fried spider

Horses for courses

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I recently read an Economist 1843 Magazine article by Tom Rachman about a restaurant in Parma that serves raw horse meat sandwiches.

One can argue the ethics and taboos of eating horse meat but, when you think about it, it is really no different than eating the flesh of any animal, be it beef, lamb, goat or even dog.

This takes us into the realm of the ethics of being a non-veggie. In India, which is predominantly Hindu and thus vegetarian, restaurants that serve meat need to have separate kitchens and utensils for non-veg meals if they serve meat. McDonald’s in India has a veggie and non-veg menu (the veggie burger is spicy and really quite nice!). The Hindu people have survived for centuries without the need meat in their diet and live long rich lives.

Many “enlightened” people in Europe, USA etc are moving away from meat-eating to either a vegetarian or vegan diet. This is a good thing for many reasons though vegans (not all by any means) have a bad reputation when a few of them advocate aggressively that the world must become vegan.

In a world brought up on a tradition of “meat and two veg,” it’s going to take time to break the habits of a lifetime. This needs to be done by education. We do not need meat in our diet, but most of us are used to it. It will take time to adjust to a healthy V diet. Social media seems to be passing on the message.

As far as eating horse meat is concerned, the arguments for are, in comparison to eating beef, greater than one might expect. Horse meat has more essential vitamins and minerals! Good for health, especially for older folk.

Access to horse meat, for anyone who wants it, varies by country. In Sicily, I was surprised at the number of equine butchers – in one road there were two within twenty metres of each other. In UK I expect it might be difficult to find one but no doubt they exist.

I admit to having tried horse meat and found it good. It isn’t tough nor gamey in flavour, quite the opposite – tender and subtle. However, after a life of being non-vegetarian, I am weaning myself away from meat in general and have much more veg content in my diet. Show me a good salami, though, and I can’t (yet) resist. Cheese, with nice bread and a glass of wine, irresistible. Some people can give up almost overnight.

I think the world needs to move away from meat eating but this needs both education and enticing options in both restaurants and supermarkets. If it looks and tastes good it doesn’t really need a veggie or vegan label (when I order spaghetti napolitana I don’t think “vegan”, I think “pasta”).

 

I’m looking for positive ways to entice folk to move away from meat diets. Hundreds of generations of meat-eating aren’t going to come to an abrupt halt overnight, but a significant reduction in meat consumption could take effect quite quickly.