Casa’s Maria Broadbent discusses Covid era behaviour changes, fusion diets and climatarianism. . . and gives us some fusion-inspired tasty recipes to enjoy
the process or result of joining two or more things together to form a single entity.
The word fusion has been in many people’s vocabulary for some time now, especially in relation to food. It does, however, lend itself to usage in many other areas of life – certainly in the post Covid times.
What fused in lockdown?
Well, for one, people who had never had takeaways in their lives ordered takeaways. Equally, those who had never cooked turned their hands to preparing meals from scratch. Families sat together to eat around a table, kids got involved with the cooking process and many learned to run their own bar (the adults not the kids!) I would say, overall, people engaged more with food, which must be a good thing I believe. Financially, cooking from scratch using plant-based ingredients for a few days will counteract a splurge on a takeaway or a meal out, for example.
People have also started fusion diets, sometimes called flexitarianism. Those who practise part-time veganism are often ridiculed – is this unfair though? If more people ate meat a little less often, the impact on the environment would be tangible.
In this country, the vast majority of us have grown-up omnivorous and therefore a 100 per cent shift to plant-based can be a challenge.
An innovative word for me I came across this week is ‘climatarianism’. This is a way of shopping and eating that puts carbon footprint at the top of the list. So not just the considerations of plant v animal, but also air miles, deforestation (eg palm oil), irrigation demands, soil erosion from intensive farming and energy required to produce the food/drink.
Fusion food itself has been around for a very long time, even before the phrase was coined. Any country that has immigrants will automatically see a level of combining familiar styles and spices with readily available produce. As time passes, the more diverse products make their way into our shops and people start to experiment. I recall moving to Birmingham in the 1980s and being wowed by all the Caribbean and Asian corner shops and the array of exotic vegetables and spices.
Around this time Madhur Jaffrey launched her Indian Cookery series on the BBC and armed with a copy of her book I went on a culinary adventure. Hindu friends invited me around for a home cookery lesson and I was taught how to make biryani, amongst other things. At dinner time I was even wound into a sari for true authenticity.
This experience carries through into what I cook today. The Moroccan through to the Persian food which we make at CASA (alongside the Spanish and Greek) echoes many of the spice combinations of my early forays into Indian cookery. The Moroccan potatoes are reminiscent of a samosa filling and tzatziki is not dissimilar to a cucumber raita.
It is easy to see how food fusion happens organically, I did though want to be a bit creative for at least one of the recipes here today. I love a tagine, especially a lamb tagine. A tagine is a hearty warming stew usually made with dried fruit and slow cooked in a paste rather than a stock. Traditionally, it would be cooked in a pointy-lidded pot – itself called a tagine. This lid captures the evaporating liquid, condenses it and sends it back into the dish. Thus intensifying the flavour and keeping the sauce thick and unctuous. If you do not have a tagine, use a casserole dish with a tightly-fitting lid and put a layer of foil under the lid to plug any gaps. You can use a slow cooker for the tagine, too, but it needs to be in the oven for the dumplings.
For my fusion dish, I am adding a little more stock and dumplings. Well, couscous is not to everyone’s taste and January demands a bit of rib-sticking comfort food, doesn’t it?!
MARIA’S FUSION TAGINE & DUMPLINGS
Serves 4 (but you can double up the tagine element as this freezes well, and if you are slow cooking in the oven, it is a better use of energy as well as your time!)
For the tagine
2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
500g diced lamb (as your local butcher to prepare this for you)
1 large white onion, chopped
Handful each of fresh parsley and coriander or mint (use whichever you are using for the dumplings)
2 large carrots, only peel if needed and cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ras-el-hanout (Moroccan spice mix available in all supermarkets)
1 tablespoon harissa (rose harissa paste is my favourite – but you can use any harissa)
2cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (you can use lazy ginger)
400g tin chopped tomatoes
400g tin chickpeas, rinsed and drained (if you are trying vegan food, hang onto the liquid from the chickpeas as this is called aquafarba and you can make meringues with it)
200g dried apricots
600ml lamb stock (I prefer Knorr stock pots to the dried cubes – but use what you have and if you don’t have lamb, you can use chicken stock)
For the dumplings
150g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon turmeric
75g shredded suet (vegetarian available if using in a veg tagine)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or coriander (your preference)
Large pinch salt and a good grinding of black pepper
Zest of 1 orange (optional)
Mix the ras-el-hanout and harissa with the oil and rub all over the lamb. If you plan ahead, try to do this the day before and keep in the fridge.
Blitz in a food processor the ginger, garlic, onions, tomatoes, fresh herbs (not the ones for the dumplings) to make a paste.
When you are ready to start cooking, put the oven on to 180 degrees C.
Heat the oil in a casserole and brown the lamb. Add the paste and stir to combine all the flavours.
Add the stock, carrots, chickpeas and apricots. Bring to a simmer and then cover tightly, put in the oven for 1½ hours. After this time check the lamb is tender, depending on the cut of lamb it may take longer. (Ask your butcher for advice when buying, cheaper cuts generally take longer – but may well have more flavour.)
Whilst this is cooking, make your dumplings as follows.
Sift the flour, salt and turmeric into a bowl.
Add the chopped herbs and suet and gently mix – but do not rub in.
When the lamb is tender, mix the flour etc with enough cold water to to make a stiff, elastic dough. Form into 8 balls and place on the top of the lamb stew (remember the whole pot is hot!). For me, the perfect dumpling is fluffy, picking up the flavours of the cooking liquid and slightly crispy on top.
Put the pot back in the oven for around 20-25 minutes with the lid off.
A bit more fusion here – a traditional British meat dish made vegan. I made this last night, to be honest I was experimenting with different ingredients and was really happy with the result. So much so, I had it for lunch today, too! This made enough for about 5-6 people but the remaining three portions are now being turned into Spaghetti Bolognaise with the addition of sliced mushrooms, tinned tomatoes, more garlic and herbs and a good glug of red wine.
200g puy lentils
1 white onion
2 sticks celery
1 tablespoon tomato purée
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons vegan instant gravy
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 handful Porcini mushrooms (chopped really finely/almost crushed)
2 pinches mixed herbs or herbes Provence
Frozen peas (to add or serve separate)
Start off putting lentils into a pan of cold water – use double water to lentil ratio – and bring to the boil. In total they will need around 45 minutes, but I finished mine off in the main dish.
For the rest of the dish start by making a mirepoix (see below) with the celery, onion and carrot. Add to this the tomato purée, herbs and garlic.
Now the lentils are boiling, stir in the gravy granules and crushed porcini mushrooms. When the water has thickened, pour it all into the onion mix.
Add the soy sauce and white wine vinegar – mix thoroughly and continue to cook until the 45 minutes is up! Check the seasoning and consistency as you go, add more water if it is getting too solid.
You can make our own mash by peeling and boiling big potatoes, drain, then use either a masher or potato ricer to mash them. Alternatively, if you are ok with dairy, you can buy the frozen mash potato from the supermarket. It is a nice tasting, easily portion- controlled, time-saving purchase. You can pimp either options with any of the below:
* Oatley crème fraiche or regular crème fraiche
* Dairy free cream or regular cream
* Olive oil
* Spring onions
* Salt and black pepper
* Dijon mustard
* Vegan or regular cheese
* Nutritional yeast
* Fresh horseradish or horseradish sauce
Mirepoix (pronunciation: meer-PWAH)
This is the base for many, many dishes and has national variations. Classic is onions, celery and carrots in a 2:1:1 ratio. The vegetables are chopped very small and then cooked gently on a low heat in oil or butter to release all their flavours without browning. The creole version is onions, celery and peppers, the Italians and Spanish/Portuguese/Italians have one called Sofrito/Soffrito and the Germans also have a version called Suppengrün (leeks, carrots and celeriac).
RICE PUDDING WITH EASTERN PROMISE
50g short grain pudding rice
1 pint milk (I use almond for this, but you can use anything right up to creamy jersey milk!)
2 tablespoons Monin rose syrup or 50g caster sugar and 2 teaspoons rose water
Heat the oven to 140 degrees.
Stir the rice with one cup of water and the sugar/rose in a pan over a gentle heat.
Add the milk and combine. Transfer to a gratin dish and place in the oven for 3 hours.
For extra rosiness you could serve this with a spoonful of rose jam.
Fancy a Fusion breakfast?
Porridge oats and milk made up as per packet instructions. I use gluten free oats and oat milk. Add a handful of sultanas, some grated apple and a pinch of cinnamon.
To serve – you can indulge with a drizzle of maple syrup!
Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street,
Bury St Edmunds
Call 01284 701313