Given that I work with meat, I suppose it is hardly surprising that the subject of food comes up in my conversations a great deal. I’m often asked for advice about cuts, preparation and cooking and while some will just indulge and join me in a nice chat about things that taste great, the other common issue is diet and weight. What I probably find most amusing are the different schools of thought on the subject. You have the ‘lean meat, fat is evil’ brigade, the ‘no carb’ bunnies, the point counting sisters and brothers, the “how many calories?” worry warts, the vegetable only zealots; the list is endless. Basically everyone is headed for that same utopian slim dream, but there seem to be many routes to it.
There seems to be one thing that most of these diets and their self proclaimed healthy eating devotees have in common and that is the general rule that junk food was conjured in the bowels of hell in order to make us all fat. The spiritually enlightened wouldn’t dream of defiling their temple with anything but lean chicken, a stick of celery and a lettuce leaf! If the quality of the chicken, celery and lettuce is good I can appreciate that it is a nice snack combination, but the difficulty is I can’t live on just that. We naturally crave, or should I say ‘need’ variety. It’s what makes life and food the wonderful thing that it is. Sadly we have taken the junk food umbrella and crammed more and more foods under it. Chinese food often gets swept into the mix as high calorie junk food and the creamier dishes of Indian cuisine are also given the evil eye by the virtuous.
Because of these generalisations we tend to avoid whole cultures and we miss out on interesting tastes, new experiences and a chance to introduce new things to our own diet. Traditionally, food in both China and India is seen as health giving. In the household kitchens real people feeding their families try and create vibrant, fresh, light and tasty meals. This is especially true of China. While some western Chinese restaurants have chosen the route of too much, salt, MSG, sugar and trans fats, an authentic taste of China is good for you. The same can be said of Indian food. Obviously the creamy korma and tikka sauces are rich, but if we look to aromatic chicken or beef baked slowly in a clay oven we get a different picture. Even in restaurants the average Indian mixed grill is lean, protein rich and full of health giving spices.
When it comes to Asian food we have enough ingredients at our disposal these days to come pretty close to an authentic home cooked meal from these foreign lands. Chinese food should be fresh and fragrant. There are many layers of taste in Chinese food and we should be able to taste each note. Traditional Chinese food was never meant to be coated in batter, deep fried and concealed by a viscous, luminous sauce.
What I like best about Asian food is that it offers us alternatives for accompaniments. There is a great range of rice available from wild and long grain, brown rice to the more aromatic and soft Pilau or Thai Jasmine rice. Noodles can be thin light strands such as glass noodles or thick fat udon noodles and a myriad of types in between. (By the way glass noodles are naturally gluten free and so are perfect for coeliacs.) I also like the way real style Asian cooking makes use of nuts; from the cashew to the peanut the taste is great.
We always keep a variety of noodles and rice in the store cupboard as I think they are fantastic for making up dishes with leftovers. If we have some left over chicken, adding in some vegetables, herbs and chilies and serving cold on a bed of glass noodles really stretches the meat. The other great thing about noodles is that they bulk out a soup to make it really feel like a meal. I recently saw a beef noodle soup recipe on the television and I have put it on my list of ‘must makes’ over the summer.
To be fair it is hard for us to know what exactly healthy Chinese or Indian food actually is, as we haven’t grown up with it. However it is only a matter of learning the basics and adapting them to our own taste. The aim isn’t to open an authentic Asian restaurant to satisfy Asian people; the goal is to provide rich variety in the food we feed our own families. It is about what we like and being comfortable using the myriad of wonderful foods available to us. Indeed it seems crazy to cook the same few dishes over and over again when we have so many choices at our disposal. Not only do we have choices but we have an abundance of free knowledge; the library, the internet and the television are full of great food ideas that won’t cost us a penny to learn.
So back to my dieting friends and those on the eternal quest for the supermodel body, my message to you is that your journey towards your goal is a noble one and I wish you great success, but please stop with the deprivation and sweeping statements about real food groups and food cultures. Real food was given to us for fuel, but also for enjoyment. We can enjoy all good things and still lose and maintain weight if we can just get the balance right. I encourage you to explore all that Asia has to offer in natural and good spices, rice and noodles; we are blessed to have it at our fingertips. Combine that with your choice of local home grown vegetables and meat and, without a doubt, you’ll have them all screaming for more.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown and Avoca Rathcoole. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers
Tags: Asian cuisine, Asian food, beef noodle soup, brown rice, glass noodles, healthy eating, James Whelan Butchers, long grain rice, noodles, Pat Whelan, pilau rice, rice, thai jasmine rice, The Nationalist