Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Slash your food miles: go local

Rhubarb, one of the earliest crops of the year
Scottish kimchi veg mix
A big part of being self-reliant means relying on home-grown and locally grown produce rather than buying imported food stuffs. Apart from cutting out unnecessary food miles and the pollution they bring, this also has the benefit of reconnecting us to the seasons, learning what is around at what time of year, what can be foraged and what is grown commercially around us. By sticking to what’s in season locally (or at least in your country), you only eat what’s freshest and therefore tastiest and most nutritious.

Until you start growing yourself, it can be hard to know what is in season. We found it very encouraging just how much we can grow throughout the year in our maritime climate, and this can even be extended further with a polytunnel, greenhouse, conservatory, cloches or a simple home-made cold frame.

We particularly like the way seasonal eating divides up the year. There is always something different to look forward to in every season: rhubarb, globe artichokes, broad beans, strawberries, new potatoes, raspberries, apples, Brussels sprouts. It’s a shift from ‘what do I feel like eating’ to ‘what is there to eat’, but once it’s made it comes very naturally. And, once you’re used to the intense flavours of your home-grown produce, exotic supermarket fruit and veg tend to taste bland – no wonder when they’ve been picked before they’re ripe. We’d rather have our chemical-free frozen berries in the winter than buy any ‘fresh’ supermarket berries from the southern hemisphere!

However, eating local and seasonal food doesn’t mean that you can’t experience the joys of world cuisine – you just have to be a bit flexible with the ingredients. We recently started making what we call ‘Scotchi’, kimchi made using only Scottish ingredients. You’d be hard pressed to guess that it didn’t have any ginger in it since the tang from the locally foraged hogweed seeds is very similar. Since we like Asian cooking we have even gone so far as to make our fish sauce from own-caught pollock, garlic and herbs from the garden. However, if you don’t want to go to these lengths you could substitute fish sauce for something with a similar umami flavour, like lovage, which is also a great replacement for MSG.

Scottish kimchi

  • Mix of homegrown veggies, some crunchy (such as swede, Jerusalem artichoke, mooli radish, celeriac, turnip, oca, beetroot, carrot), some leafy (such as Oriental greens, spinach, kale, any kind of cabbage)
  • British sea salt
  • Alliums for the sauce: spring onions, chives, onion, plenty of garlic (quantities will depend on your amount of veg, we usually use one onion, one bulb of garlic, about 10 spring onions and a bunch of chives for making about 4L of kimchi)
  • Spices for the sauce: 1 tsp home-made chilli and pepper powder (use none or less if you don’t like it spicy – this will make a ‘white’ kimchi), 1 tsp hogweed seeds, 1 tsp homemade fish sauce (or ½ tsp lovage seeds for vegetarians)
  • ¼ cup Scottish oat flour (milled oatmeal)
  • 1 Tbsp juice from a previous batch (optional)

1. Chop, grate, shred your veggies.
2. Make a salt solution of 1 tbsp sea salt per 250ml and submerge your veg in this brine for 24 hours. Weigh it down with a small chopping board or similar to keep the vegetables covered. After 24 hours, drain well but don’t rinse.
3. The next day, make a porridge from the oat flour and leave to cool.
4. In the meantime, blend your mix of alliums and spices in a mini chopper, food processor or similar. Mix the spice blend into the cooled porridge and add a little juice from a previous ferment if available.

The recipe is very flexible, and you’ll soon get a feel for how much sauce you need. It is a wonderful way to use up vegetables throughout the year and you’ll have ready-made salad in the fridge at any time. We love the energy buzz from fermented foods such as kimchi and usually have a little kimchi snack every day.

Local substitutes

Don’t get hung up about exotic ingredients in your recipes. Most of them can be easily substituted for local ones. All you need to think about is what the ingredient does to the dish. Here’s some substitutes we use:

Lemon:    Japanese quince, lemon basil, juice from seabuckthorn berries, a strong infusion of lemon balm or lemon verbena. Lemon balm is available almost all year round here and grows very vigorously.
Ginger:     Hogweed seeds, which can be easily foraged and dried.
Aniseed:     Wild fennel seeds
Rice flour, corn flour:    Oat flour
Guacamole, hummus:    Broad bean hummus
Rice:    Pearl barley, cracked wheat
Black pepper:     Chopped up Vietnamese coriander
Stock cubes, MSG:     Lovage, leaves or seeds
Exotic beans, soya beans and other dried pulses:    Homegrown bean varieties that work in our climate, the dried or frozen podded beans keep very well – good way to use up a runner bean glut
Cucumber in the winter and spring:     Salad burnet, borage flowers and young leaves
Courgettes in the off season:    Winter squash
Garlic after it’s run out in late spring:     Garlic chives, wild garlic
Vanilla, pandan leaf:     Sweet woodruff, meadowsweet
Saffron:    Dried calendula (though you could grow the saffron crocus here)
Liquorice:    Liquorice mint – in fact, you can replace a lot of things with specialty mint varieties
Exotic nuts:    Hazel and cob nuts
Breakfast cereals:    Porridge – the original and still the best
Sweet potatoes:     Heritage potatoes, sweet and starchy squash varieties
Vegetable oil (contains palm oil), olive oil:    Cold-pressed Scottish rapeseed oil
Wine vinegar:    Cider vinegar, homebrew vinegar
Balsamic vinegar:    Elderberry balsamic

Seabuckthorn berries
Another part of discovering what’s around locally is to go foraging. This could be for mushrooms, wild garlic, elderflowers, hogweed seeds, berries such as brambles, elderberries, bilberries, wild raspberries or seabuckthorn berries, seaweeds such as dulse or various greens, like sea beet or rock samphire. Foraging is a good excuse to go for a walk, if nothing else!

Eating seasonal food can mean less choice, except during the height of summer, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Too much choice can be overwhelming and stressful. We tend to have a lot of soups and casseroles in the winter and lots of mixed salads in the summer, but the ingredients vary depending on the month. And a nice leafy garden salad, courtesy of the polytunnel and some hardy outdoor salad plants such as lamb’s lettuce, claytonia and salad burnet, is especially appreciated in the winter months. Go on, cut down those food miles!

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