With an almost audible exhale worldwide, we find ourselves as survivors of 2020. For what it was, we had a year where we examined our ideas of what were our priorities, what are our insecurities when times are tough, and where do we go back to find comfort. In all three areas, food was at the topmost of our list. Food emerged as an integral a topic as much as health was. Yes it was sustenance, but also it was an issue of availability, of supporting local communities and saving small businesses, of sanity-preserving rituals (hello, quarantine bakers!) and of our deep emotional need for the familiar.
We changed. Not in the way that there was a new “flavour of the month,” but there were significant, global changes that reflected larger factors at play and—more importantly—our sudden consciousness of the impact of what and how we eat.
Enter 2021. Where last year we were largely reacting to an unforeseen force that challenged us all, the trends of this year signal our shift to a more proactive role in making the act of “eating” work for everyone, not just for our own table.
The Green Wave grows and flourishes in new ways
Calls for going plant-based have only grown stronger from the past year. This comes from a growing awareness of intensive animal farming’s capacity to harbour diseases that can mutate and affect humans, such as strains of influenza and salmonella. Groups also point out that human encroachment on forests for agriculture has also factored in pushing wildlife (and sometimes its consumption) into our cities, and therefore acting as vectors for epidemics.
In this light, opting for a plant-based diet can be done in support of more responsible practices for agriculture. Coincidentally, many brands have taken up the cause as well, coming up with more accessible and diverse plant-based offerings for the conscious consumer. One such sign: the entry of meatless burgers and sausages in supermarkets and big fast food chains, evidence of an ever-increasing demand for non-animal alternatives in the mainstream.
But far more creatively, post-pandemic kitchens will not whipping up the next McMeatless—instead, they will increasingly turn to pantry-friendly legumes and pulses to “beef up” meals, starting with the versatile chickpea. Once just stocked up for the occasional hummus, chickpea experimentation dominated culinary social media sites in late 2020, using not just the canned peas, but also in its other forms: raw, roasted, transformed to flour, and even making the canned “chickpea” water as replacement for egg whites. With chickpeas as the starting point and in full encouragement of the exploration of local legumes, the culinary-curious have a lot to play with this year.
Those new to cooking vegan and/or legumes may find Sohla El-Waylly’s “no-recipe recipe” for a hearty vegetable and bean stews as enlightening. Relying on pantry staples like pasta and beans means you can make a filling dinner any time, just remember to pre-soak the pasta and add any greens that you like to make it healthy.
Vegan Bean and Pasta Stew
1 cup Hot water
6 pcs. Dried shiitake mushrooms
5 oz. Short pasta (like Borges Farfalle, Fusilli or Macaroni)
3 cups Vegetable stock
3 Tbsp. Borges Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tsp. Soy sauce
3 Garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and chopped
6 cups roughly chopped herbs and/or greens (such as dill, parsley, basil, arugula, radish tops, beet tops, etc), plus a handful to serve
1 (15.5-oz.) can beans, drained and rinsed, like chickpeas or white beans
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup Borges Natura Walnut Drink
Lemon juice, to taste
- Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water and let it steep for 20 minutes.
- In a small bowl, put 1 ½ cups of the stock and pasta together and soak, stirring occasionally to prevent pasta from clumping.
- Heat pot for soup, add olive oil and sauté the garlic until slightly golden.
- Place in the pot the remaining stock water, the mushrooms and soaking liquid, soy sauce, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and add beans, simmering until chickpeas are tender and liquid is reduced to about 1 cup (10-15 mins). Season again.
- Add pasta with its soaking liquid and let simmer until pasta is cooked. Add the Borges Walnut Drink and remove from heat. Add lemon juice and adjust seasoning, if needed. Serve hot.
The functional plate
A stark move away from Instagram’s #foodporn excesses of cheese-smothered everything and mugs overflowing with sugar, functional food highlights our awareness of how food can work for us. Portions are moderate, ingredients are on the spotlight. An overwhelming concern? Naturally, bolstering immunity, with six out of ten consumers seeking out such foods and products with Vitamins A,C,D, E and Zinc. And according to a US market research, other food objectives include weight management, energy, digestion, and heart health. With the rise of economic concerns for some families, it’s no wonder that people are turning to more multi-tasking foods.
Because of this, probiotic-rich fermented foods like sourdough bread, kimchi and yogurt are increasingly considered as household staples. The concept lends itself well for the remote workforce who finds cooking as an effective de-stressor and creative outlet. How about a delicious and immune-boosting breakfast made from a loving DIY fermentation project? It might have sounded strange a few years back, but it certainly is here and now, in the present.
Kimchi Cheddar Omelette
1 Tbsp. Borges Grapeseed Oil
1 Tbsp. Butter
3 eggs, large
¼ cup shredded and squeezed kimchi (homemade or storebought)
2 Tbsp. grated cheddar cheese
Salt and Pepper
- In a bowl, beat the three eggs until uniform in colour, and add a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Heat a non-stick pan with grapeseed oil and butter until it is moderately warm, and pour in the eggs. Swirl the pan to distribute the eggs evenly over the surface.
- Sprinkle the cheddar cheese and kimchi over the still wet eggs, then wait until the surface is moderately set and no longer runny.
- Flip half of the omelette over the other, forming a half-moon shape and carefully slide onto a plate for serving.
Dining in at home
Takeaway was the lazy cook’s best friend. It still is, but it can also mean your whole-hearted support for local food businesses. When calls for people to stay at home hit humble eating spots the hardest, the culinary scene evolved overnight. From hip bars, Michelin awardees, and established hawker stall names, adapting quickly meant shifting their presence towards food delivery platforms like Deliveroo, FoodPanda and GrabFood, and our job—nay, responsibility—was to continue our patronage and order from these culinary treasures. By some quirk in the universe, it seems like we are eating even better than before.
This trend of ghost kitchens, deliveries, and takeaways will only continue from this point, though some semblance of eating out has been restored. Still, people are being cautious for health’s sake, and surely small businesses are still reeling from months of low sales. By all means, it’s something we should continue doing.
One drawback from regular deliveries and takeaways is how little control we have over the oil and salt used in the food plunked down on our doorsteps. Delicious, yes, but hidden dangers are there. Not to mention that less than healthy choices outnumber those with longevity in mind.
Keeping in theme with the restaurant-at-home, feel free to order from your favourite hawker but do yourself a favour and cook yourself a substantially green side dish, such as heaping plate of steamed greens. Or, take a leaf out of the Keto diet’s recipe book and skip ordering the rice, because cauliflower “rice” may be just the thing to keep things in balance.
Basic Cauliflower Rice
Using one head of cauliflower, grate or process the florets into rice-sized kernels. Gently press a few paper towels over the grated “rice” to extract moisture before heating up the pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and adding the cauliflower once it is heated. Saute briefly and cover with a lid for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally to soften evenly. Season with salt and pepper, or even a squeeze of lime, if desired.
The comeback of carbohydrates
Fads come and go but when the going gets tough, we all flock back to the warm comforting embrace of carbs. Partly the fault of our biological bodies craving sugar when stressed, partly it’s the nostalgia of having all of these wonderful starchy dishes to dry our tears when we were kids and knew nothing about healthy lifestyles. What we knew though was what made us happy and it was carbs.
Home baking is still at full steam and a new interest (courtesy again of the remote workforce) in grand breakfasts is just kicking off. But again, excess is not the name of the game but craftsmanship. By way of perfecting technique, using appropriate flours, and implementing exact ratios, we are paying attention to the quality of the food that we simply mindlessly chowed down on. Was sous vide steak hard? Try getting your crumb structure just right. This is a different kind of indulgence, one that helps us be emotionally stable and yet achieve a sense of accomplishment given our present limitations. The years of going gluten-free? Forgotten at the first whiff of freshly baked banana bread.
One last happy forecast portends the comeback of handmade pasta. Perfect for a tomato sauce simmered for hours, on a weekend morning spent rolling dough and a long lazy lunch just eating with the whole family. Then everything is right with the world again.
Here’s to a promising new year!
P.S. We actually won’t tell if you actually skip the handmade stuff and go for good quality dried pasta like Borges Durum Wheat Spaghetti. For all it’s worth, carbs are carbs, and carbs are love. And we all know that and understand that in a deep primal level.