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The Pantry

Ah January. A month synonymous with abstinence, thrift and the reigning in of both appetites and budgets after the indulgence of the festive season. This is a time for healthy eating, for turning over a new leaf (while simultaneously consuming plenty of salad leaves) and yet who wants to start the new year in parsimonious fashion? Instead why not kick off 2018’s eating as you mean to go on: with delicious, wholesome food that tastes fantastic and does you good too.

If that appeals – and why wouldn’t it – let us introduce you to one of our hero ingredients of the month: the Napa cabbage or Chinese cabbage as it’s sometimes known. Light, crisp and clean tasting, this particular vegetable (a member of the brassica family) is something of a heavyweight in the nutrition department and is high in fibre, folic acid and vitamins C, K and B, as low in calories. Perfect January fodder indeed.

To avoid disappointment when selecting your cabbage look out for those that feel on the heavy side for their size and have thick, bright white ribs and healthy-looking green blades – tired, limp leaves do not a tasty cabbage make.

From salads to slaws, barbecued dishes to slow braises, there’s a whole lot you can do with this leafy vegetable. Top of that list though should be putting it to good use and making punchy, pungent kimchi. This fermented cabbage concoction is the condiment on everyone’s lips, not least because gut or digestive health is big news at the moment and fermented food is being touted key to helping with all that.

Now before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear: we’re not claiming the kimchi recipe that follows is entirely authentic, nor does it go all the way down the lacto-fermented route. Real kimchi, the funky stuff that bubbles slightly when you open the jar is days, sometimes even weeks, in the making. This version is quick to prepare, full of crunch and it has a pleasing fire to it that’s just the right side of eye watering. Serve it as a side dish, use it to take a toasted cheese sandwich to the next level, employ as a marinade for meat or fish or fold a tablespoon or two through stir-fried rice.

The debate is still ongoing as to whether Goldilocks would approve, but there’s no denying it: savoury porridge is officially a thing. If the thought of drizzling anything but honey or syrup over your morning bowl of oats is cause for consternation, do give the idea a whirl before retreating to the safety offered by sweetness.

Real Scottish traditionalists will of course maintain that porridge should be made from just oats, water and salt, giving it a savoury (and rather austere) edge by default. Let’s be honest though, that’s not the kind of breakfast to ease the pain of getting up early. This new ilk of savoury porridges, though? Well they might just do that and more.

Once you realise that the cooked oats are simply a healthy, thrifty, filling base just begging to be customised with all manner of toppings, this is an easy idea to get on board with. As well as our recipe for jammy eggs and Asian greens, try sautéed mushrooms, wilted spinach and a dusting of parmesan, honeyed pears with gorgonzola or roasted aubergine with tahini dressing and a spoonful of yogurt.

The great thing about all this is that if you begin your day with a bowl of porridge you really have started it the right way for your body. Oats are a good source of magnesium, which is known to help with heart health, and evidence also suggests that consuming magnesium-rich food reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes. The soluble fibre in oats gives digestive systems a much-needed boost, can lower cholesterol levels and also slows the absorption of carbohydrates into the blood stream thus preventing spikes in blood sugar levels. Not only that, they’re high in protein, contain zinc, potassium and iron and will keep you feeling full for far longer than sugary cereal will.

Whether sweet or savoury, the texture of your porridge is of the utmost importance: you want the end result to be creamy and rich rather than tacky or gluey and the oats should retain a little bite. Success lies in achieving the correct ratio of liquid to oats and stirring the mixture frequently as it cooks. 

Of course, oats have culinary uses far beyond porridge. Use them to coat meat or fish instead of breadcrumbs, add a handful to a smoothie for bulk, sprinkle them over gratins or crumbles before baking, make your own granola bars or try our really rather moreish nut and seed-packed homemade rosemary oat cakes.


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