How to eat for the summer season
As the seasons turn and we emerge from spring’s embrace, we are once again warmed to the core by our Southern Hemisphere’s hot sun. Eating food for nourishment is not as great a priority as in the colder months — it’s more an adjunct to the pleasure of celebrating and relating. At this time of year, we want smaller morsels of tasty victuals that delight; yummy things interspersed with cold draughts of refreshing drinks. So what’s happening physiologically within us to determine these seasonal cravings?
When we perspire, we lose sodium and our bodies need to replace this salt to balance the ship, so to speak. Where do we find this necessary ballast to keep our bodily systems doing what they do best? In our diet, of course.
This is where our love of snack foods is rightly in its element, signalling our changing desire for different foods is appropriate and in accordance with the season. In summer, we’re often more physically active and therefore sweating and burning more calories and expunging mineral salts from our bodies. Now is the time to enjoy salty snack foods in moderation.
Can we afford to listen to our body’s desires? Well, yes, with understanding and an overview of what our bodies need at various times and seasons. Of course, we also need to slay the dragon of our psychological dependence on comfort foods that can prevent us from really listening to the nutritional needs of our bodies.
What does this mean? It means recognising habitual appetite for foods from childhood that are not serving you well nutritionally. Learning alternative techniques such as meditation, yoga, self-awareness and the like will help you move beyond these oral fixations. Once you have garnered some space from these cravings, you can return to listening to your body’s desires for optimal nutritional direction.
Another factor interacting with our ability to truly listen to our bodies’ needs is that of ritual. How will you cope this Christmas? Is the coming-together of family and friends a time of wonder and peace for you? What’s on the menu this year? Traditional fare from generations past, or a break with yore to rediscover you?
In our neck of the woods, the summer months fall during the high season of celebration, with Christmas and New Year and, of course, my birthday. These heavily proscribed events are times when what to eat, when to eat and for how long are virtually written in stone. The mishmash of festival rules that have filtered down through the ages to us are an eclectic lot involving turkeys, eggnog, presents, Christmas trees, crackers or bonbons, mistletoe, sparkling shiraz, midnight fireworks, kissing strangers and smiling a lot. All this often makes it mighty difficult to listen to your body’s needs.
Summer can mean hot times in the kitchen, often with the added strain of several seldom-seen relatives sitting in the living room staring uncomfortably into space. My advice is don’t overdo it. Keep it simple. Most people are there for the company and good cheer, not for elaborate fine dining.
Our warm weather suggests small amounts of food that zing on the palate. Things like dips and exotic chips, marinated olives, grilled seafood, crudités and finger foods of all kinds are guaranteed to please, especially when accompanied by a superior liquid refreshment. May your mantra be “relax, enjoy and allow it to happen organically”, meaning don’t impose too many uptight rules of engagement and give life a chance to unfold unpredictably. It’s the secret to actually having fun.
Carbohydrates are usually considered foods to be avoided of late, with many diets focusing on the omission of them in favour of proteins to assist with weight loss. However polysaccharides are providing a new avenue of research that’s showing some very interesting nutritional results. What are polysaccharides? Basically, complex carbohydrates, which are proving to be vitally important in providing essential cell nutrition.
This indicates there’s still so much we don’t know about nutritional science and it’s why we seem to be receiving a great deal of conflicting information. Many of the recent studies into so-called superfoods are putting these combinations of sugars (complex carbohydrates) or polysaccharides under the microscope to see what they do when absorbed into our cellular structures.
It seems that certain combinations are more effective than others in feeding and repairing particular vital cell functions in our bodies. Research into polysaccharides is continuing at Southern Cross University in NSW.
Here are a few recipes for some tangy nibbles that could enliven the palates of your guests this Christmas.
Shallow-fried wakame with wasabi dipping sauce
- 1 packet dried wakame, rehydrated
- 500ml canola oil for frying
- 1 cup tahini
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 1 tbsp tamari
- 1 tbsp wasabi
v30ml sesame oil for frying
Mix together tahini, lemon juice, tamari and wasabi to form the dipping sauce. In a frypan suitable for shallow frying, heat the oils and, when ready, add chopped wakame pieces for a couple of minutes until crunchy, then drain on absorbent paper. Serve sauce in a ramekin and arrange wakame on a plate around the ramekin.
Cassava, or manioc root, is an interesting source of carbohydrate eaten all over the world. It’s native to South America but also widely cultivated in Africa and numerous islands around the globe. It cannot be eaten raw, as it contains glucosides than can be converted to cyanide, but in the case of smaller cassava roots, cooking is enough to remove all toxicity. The soft-boiled root has a lovely, delicate flavour and is great in stews and soups.
Cassava flour or tapioca flour is likely something you have tasted or heard about, widely used as a thickening agent in sweet dishes due to its neutral flavour. Cassava flour is also gluten-free, making it an ideal alternative to wheat flour in many cases. Cassava is now the main ingredient in several lines of yummy commercial vegie chips you can find in your supermarket.
Cassava & fetta fritters
- 500g fresh peeled cassava
- 200g fetta cheese, crumbled
- 4 F/R eggs, beaten
- 1 tbsp chopped flat parsley
- 1 tbsp chopped spring onion
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- canola oil for deepfrying
Boil the peeled cassava for 20 minutes, then drain and let rest for 5 minutes in a colander to make sure it’s thoroughly dry. Mash the cassava with a potato masher. Add cheese, eggs, herbs and onion and mix well. Heat the frying oil in a pan. Shape the dough into dumplings. Drop the dumplings into the hot oil and fry for at least 5 minutes. Serve with a spicy roasted red capsicum sauce.
Pickled lemons are all about transformation, with salt being the catalyst for drawing out the sourness from the lemon and leaving behind the wonderful piquancy that is the essence of lemon. It’s a bit like good psychotherapy — we don’t lose the unique character, just the chip on the shoulder. Pickled lemons are a fantastic condiment to have handy to add to your cooking or to a finished dish. The complexity of flavour a little pickled lemon creates really intensifies the enjoyment your guests will derive from your food. Now, this is the ultimate in slow food as it may take up to three months for these lemons to get really pickled. You’ll need a very big jar with a seal-tight closure to hold as many lemons as you can fit, because if you have to wait that long, you’ll want to do a lot.
- 12 med-sized lemons
- 2kg rock or sea salt
- 1 bunch fresh rosemary
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp whole black pepper
- 1 tbsp whole cloves
- 1 tbsp star anise
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
Take each lemon and make two incisions as if to quarter the lemon lengthwise but leaving a couple of centimetres so the lemon remains whole. Then mix the spices and herbs through the salt before packing the mixture around the lemons inside the jar. Make sure the lemons are completely covered by the salt before sealing the jar and storing in a dark place for its lengthy sojourn. You’ll notice after a few days that the salt leaches out the moisture from the lemons and the jar fills with a brine solution, taking the sourness with it. At the conclusion of the pickling time, use the peel rather than the flesh, as the flesh is very salty. The pickled peel is piquant and wonderful.
Black olives, be they Kalamata or another yummy variety, are so much better when warmed in an infused extra virgin olive oil.
Warmed olives in chilli & lime-infused oil
- 3 cups black olives
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 piece ginger
- 2 red chillies, chopped
- 1 tbsp coriander root, chopped
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a frypan, add all ingredients and warm over a low heat for a few minutes. Leave to cool a bit before serving on a platter to great acclaim.
Cherry tomatoes or small romas will be best for this. If you have a sunny environment, such as the roof of some part of your home, and can find some muslin or the like to protect the tomatoes from insects and birds, go natural. Otherwise, your oven will be in use for a long time and, for the sake of energy efficiency, it’s advisable to do a really big batch. These are so tasty and smell so good while drying that you’ll want to do lots, anyway.
Oven-dried or sun-dried tomatoes
- 2kg tomatoes, sliced into fine segments
- Corn of garlic, roughly chopped
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano
- Salt & pepper to sprinkle
Set your oven really low (around 80ºC). Spread tomatoes on baking trays and sprinkle with finely sliced garlic, chopped herbs and salt and pepper and bake or dry for around 8 hours. I think semi-dried tomatoes are the best, but go for what you want. Try them on fresh crusty Italian bread with the finest extra virgin olive oil and your favourite cheese. Buon appetito.
Sardine & fetta pastries
- 1 packet filo pastry
- 2 cups fetta cheese, crumbled
- ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 250g tinned sardines in spring water
- 1 cup Spanish onion, diced
- 1 tbsp garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp capers
- 1 tbsp fresh dill
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp butter, melted
- ½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted & sliced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp sea salt
- black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 180ºC. In a saucepan, over a medium heat, add oil, garlic, Spanish onion, capers, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Mix in sardines, fetta, parmesan, fresh herbs and olives. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in fridge before wrapping in filo. Lay out 2 sheets of filo and brush with melted butter, spoon a desired portion of filling, fold into desired shape and brush outside with melted butter. Repeat until all filling is used, place on tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with tomato chutney or a tangy salad. Serves 4.