Of the citrus fruits, oranges are probably one of the most popular. Although they are commonplace now, at one time they were considered exotic and precious. I recall from my own childhood, it was a tradition to add oranges to Christmas stockings. As children we were restricted to one piece of fruit a day because of the cost so a juicy and sweet orange was always a treat!
Oranges and their origin
According to Nuovo, botanists believe that citrus trees are native to the tropical regions of Southeast Asia and have been around for 20 million years. Arab traders first brought them from India and Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) to some of the wealthiest families of the Roman Empire. Groves then appeared in Italy, North Africa, Spain and Portugal until at the end of the thirteenth century, they were bought by a Spanish boat to the United Kingdom. Since then, oranges have evolved from the fruit of European royalty and aristocrats to a kitchen staple for the masses.
Tahini, the paste of crushed sesame seeds, is rich in nutrients, protein and healthy fats and it continues to be one of my most used and versatile ingredients. As well as adding protein and nutrients to a meal, the earthy flavour of tahini lends itself to both sweet and savory dishes making it an easy addition to sauces, dips, dressing or desserts.
Growing up in England, one of my strongest associations with feasting at Christmas includes mince pies! These days I make my own mincemeat and tend to experiment with different variations every year. Although the recipes generally include a mix of fruit, dried fruit and spices, one of the beauties of modern mincemeat is that it is extremely flexible and forgiving. Some years, I have been ambitious enough to make candied peel from scratch. Not this year, however! Still, regardless of how it evolves, mincemeat with its distinct taste and aroma will always be a holiday favourite of mine.
When it comes to eating vegetables, I am not a big fan of crunching them uncooked and generally prefer roasted, stir fried or even boiled. It is a similar story with fruit. Although I do enjoy more raw fruits over raw vegetables, the cooked version of many fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, berries and even bananas definitely has more appeal.
As we move towards the holiday season, it can be challenging trying to cook for a “mixed-eater household” or, if you are a vegetarian/vegan, visiting family and friends when “traditional” holiday meals are being served. In a household with a mix of meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans, the Farro, Kale and Roasted Sweet Potato Salad can make either a hearty lunch or a tasty and satisfying side dish that everyone can enjoy.
Who doesn’t love ice-cream? It seems that ice cream is probably one of the most popular desserts consumed today and, as a result of refrigeration, it can now be a household staple. Enjoyed globally, each country has its own version of the frozen treat such as gelato in Italy, kulfi In India, and mochi in Japan.
When I moved into my first house, in the garden there were a couple of vines bursting with green and red grapes. Wanting to make use of these abundant crops, I entered the world of jam and jelly making. One of my first creations was a grape and sherry jelly and I remember it as a wonderful way to preserve summer fruits and enjoy them through the year.
In plant-based cooking, I have come to believe that it is all about the sauce! Previously, the idea of preparing a meal with a sauce would not have been entertained. For one thing, I was haunted with flashbacks from school days and the intricacies involved in making items like a lump-free roux sauce! The whole idea of cooking a sauce from scratch seemed too time consuming and required more energy than I had. However, store bought sauces and dressings can be expensive and, more importantly, there is no control over the ingredients.
When making your own sauces, you decide exactly what goes into it and this was a big motivation when I moved to whole-foods, plant-based eating. Sauces have quickly become a big part of my food preparation and it turns out it does not have to be an ordeal. There are many quick and easy recipes that can be made ahead of time and I now keep a few batches on hand. A sauce can transform any dish from ordinary to extraordinary and with the great variety of seasonings available, the possibilities are endless for preparing new and different creations.
Since moving to plant-based cooking, Tahini has become one of my staple ingredients. Previously, my only experience of Tahini had been many years ago when I tried it as a spread on toast. At the time, I found the taste extremely unappealing and did not go near it again until recently. Little did I know back then, but it turns out that Tahini is highly nutritious and highly versatile in cooking adding a nutty flavour and creamy texture. Although I still don’t care for the taste as a spread, I now use it regularly for hummus, as a base for dressings and sauces and have even found it a tasty addition in granola.
Not only has Tahini proved extremely useful today, I was surprised to learn of its rich history and the fact that references can be found as far back as the 13th century regarding its uses as a food dish, medicine, and currency. Although it has been a staple in many cuisines, especially in North Africa, Turkey, Greece and the Middle East for thousand of years, it did not make its first appearance in the USA until around 1940 and then only in health food stores. Now it is widely available in most supermarkets.