"Life, which is hard, is about small pleasures; it's about what Victorian writers such as George Gissing and John Ruskin used to call with such relish - morsels and dainties." Rachel Cooke - The Guardian
This was going to be one of those oddment posts, but I feel I can't really let that first phrase go by without minor comment. Then perhaps I can proceed to the morsels and dainties.
"Life which is hard". Well life in general, in world terms certainly is, and although my life has had its bad moments, very bad moments indeed, on the whole it has been extremely good to me. As it has to the majority of my generation in the Western world. We have lived through the good times being just young enough to have actually no memory of World War 2 - just it's aftermath. And although that aftermath was grim - all those bomb sites, and the rationing, nevertheless, even for those who struggled - and I suspect my parents did - it must have been such a relief that the war was over. So much so that the bad paled into the daily joys of small children, love and yes - food - well the gathering around a table together without the threat of bombs falling overhead, eating simple, cheap, limited but good food. But I was lucky in my parents, my grandmother and all the aunts and uncles and cousins - not to mention the schoolfriends.
And then my generation went on to enjoy wealth, abundance, amazing advances in technology. Of course there were dreadful things going on elsewhere, but for my peers and I it was an amazing time. Alas we had no thought of tomorrow and have basically ruined the world for our children and our grandchildren. Enough of that.
"Life .. is about small pleasures ... morsels and dainties" So very true - if you look - sometimes you have to look very hard - there is always a small pleasure hiding in the despair of a bad day. You only have to look to the sky, to the trees, to the flowers to children and dogs. Even in the most dismal of urban landscapes you will find weeds - flowers - pushing their way through the concrete into the light. And, for me anyway, there is always food. Well not on the days of fasting I guess. But otherwise - yes there is food and it's connection to virtually everything that goes on in the world. Food indeed is life.
Of course all of that possibly sentimental rubbish above has absolutely no bearing on the majority of the world's population for whom life is indeed hard, with very few morsels and dainties or perhaps the morsels are all they get. And the future does indeed look bleak for future generations - in the short term anyway. So let's turn to morsels and dainties in the form of little things about food that I have seen here and there - and - apologies - Ottolenghi features again.
Black chickpeas - this is the side of Ottolenghi that is marginally annoying - his love of new ingredients. Well I don't know that this is a new ingredient for him, as he seems to think they are available in tins. But this is certainly new for me, and I'm not entirely sure whether you can get them in Australia. I'm not sure because some people seem to think that Chana dal are black chickpeas when they are not. True they aren't what we generally know as chickpeas, but they aren't black chickpeas either. Chana dal is a different kind of chickpea - kabuli are the ones we all know - and desi to which belongs the chana dal which is the source of chana dal (yellow split peas) and chickpea flour).
Black chickpeas, are more closely related to our 'ordinary' chickpeas, but they are a bit smaller, are black and tougher. And most interestingly, they are Italian. Well they only seem to be grown in Italy where they are known as ceci neri - in the south and mostly in Puglia. They seem to be mostly used in soup. Ottolenghi, of course does something rather more glamorous with them - Garlicky greens with fried black chickpeas and tahini soy dressing. They are denser than our known chick pea and take longer to cook - but as I said Ottolenghi used a tin. I think here in Australia you will have to look online - I found some which will set you back $18.50 a kilo. Are they better than ordinary chickpeas? How do they differ?
"The nutritional characteristics of the black chickpea are similar to those of the white chickpea but it is more aromatic, creamy, delicate, tasty. Rich in iron and fibre (three times as much as the common chickpea)."
Irritating, but interesting.
I found these in an article in The Guardian by Rhik Samadder in which he challenged himself to cook from TikTok for a week. Do give it a read as it's quite enlightening - the good the bad and the in between. How the young live and what they eat and all that. Here is a taster from the article - I checked them out elsewhere as well. The article has many more.
Garlic three ways - spicy pickled, pickled or confit
Only on Tiktok! It's a weird foodie world out there. I don't mean that this is only available on TikTok. What I mean is that only on TikTok could this sort of thing happen. The lady above - lalaleluu is her TikTok name eats a jar of this 'dainty' every day. It genuinely seems to be her invention. It consists of a drained jar of pickled garlic, into which she squeezes sriracha, dried thyme and some chilli flakes. Shake and consume. The Taste of Home website explains it all and includes the original TikTok video - very short so have a look. I guess if you like this sort of thing you could vary the spicy bit according to your own taste. I think I'd be using it to spice up other things or maybe crunch it up and sprinkle over things - on top of an Ottolenghi yoghurt base for example. It might be quite good with the hot charred cherry tomato thing.
You can of course pickle your own garlic. Tom Hunt of The Guardian tells you how:
"pour a 50:50 solution of hot water and vinegar, seasoned generously with salt and sugar, over the top of the peeled cloves and store in the fridge."
Or you can make it more trendy and exotic by making Korean pickled garlic . So then what? Well fundamentally use where you would use garlic - it will just be a bit more mellow and simultaneously sharp. or do the TikTok thing. Or just use it any way you would use any other pickle - even on a cheese board. Ditto for confit garlic - which is a processed by slowly cooking in oil.
"Separate and peel the garlic cloves, then put them in a small, thick-based saucepan and cover with oil. Turn on the heat to its lowest setting and bring the temperature up to just below a simmer, then leave to cook, still just below a simmer, for 30 minutes, or until soft. Take off the heat, leave the garlic and oil to cool, then decant both into a clean jar, seal and store in the fridge for up to two days or freeze for up to three months."
Mind you unless you grow your own garlic you are probably unlikely to have a surplus of garlic - it's not a cheap item is it? Dainty? Well small anyway. Morsel? Would you snack on a whole jar of spicy pickled garlic. Wouldn't you smell?
Now this one looks worth trying. - It comes from a lady called 'Ramena said Wow' on Tiktok. If you go to the appropriate Bon Appétit page you will find the original TikTok video there and if you are planning to make this do have a look because it's helpful. Fundamentally this is filo pastry, crunched up, put in a dish and cooked in three bursts - first sprinkled with butter, then with a syrup and then with a custard with a final topping of syrup. It's yet another Tiktok sensation and I have to say it looks enticing. And infinitely variable as the Bon Appétit article suggests.
Jello frozen grapes
This is very definitely a dainty and a morsel which sounds somewhat repulsive but which Rhik Samadder thought was a tasty surprise - a 'health trend' though?:
"I was ready to scoff at this health trend, in which frozen grapes are said to taste like juicy candy. But guess what – I dust, I freeze, I experience revelation. The sparkly globes that emerge are sharp and sweet and ice cold; addictive to eat, magical to behold. I scoff the lot; a grape success." Rhik Samadder
Ok - enough of TikTok. For now anyway.
The Guardian has an occasional series in which a chef or someone famous from the foodie world talks about their favourite ingredient. This time it was Richard Corrigan - a London chef of Irish origins - who swears by seaweed. Now obviously the seaweed they get over there is probably not the same as what we get over here, and it's not something I am into I have to say. Indeed I've probably only ever tasted it on the occasional sushi. However two of his suggestions were intriguing, and I do know that seaweed is a sort of wonder food so I won't scoff. The first is seaweed butter:
"We dry sea lettuce and dulse seaweed, then we grind them all down. I use a bit of chopped salted anchovy or anchovy puree, then fold it all into a really good country butter at the last moment. It is the most delicious, simple thing you could eat in the world." Richard Corrigan
And then there's tapenade:
"Take a tapenade recipe and remove any vinegar or acid content and add a good mix of finely chopped seaweed. There’s no exact recipe, just make sure the seaweed represents 50% of your mix" Richard Corrigan
Nicola Lando has a recipe for a seaweed tapenade - shown in the picture which it seems to me is not really like Richard Corrigan's version as it has lemons in it. Still you could give it a try. We do have seaweed in the supermarkets here - mostly because of the Japanese. The tapenade shown here doesn't look quite as dense as the standard tapenade does it? More of a loose mix than a paste. I think you could call a tapenade a morsel, but probably not a dainty. It's a bit too aggressive in taste for that I think.
A simple Ottolenghi twist
This is Baked ribollita - it was in the last Guardian newsletter. You may have made ribollita sometime - it's a rustic Italian soup made with bread, greens, tomatoes and beans. I have made it and would definitely recommend it. Here Ottolenghi makes it into a tray bake. Being super trendy the greens are kale. Everything is layered, put into a dish and baked in the oven. Yum - another brilliant vegetarian meal. Interestingly his Parmesan is in the layers, not just sprinkled on top. Rather too hearty to be either a dainty or a morsel, so it only meets the specification by being a morsel by being a short little reference.
Try it for your vegetarian meal this week.