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New basic and special ingredients

Robert Carrier wrote his New Great Dishes of the World back in 1997, and he began it with a section he called New Basics, which was a sort of starting point for yesterday's post, although not really as it turned out. Today I thought I would turn to it again for my inspiration, and again I think it will only be a partial inspiration, because what he has there is not really new ingredients, but new 'little' things many of us now make, like preserved lemons, oven-roasted tomatoes, chermoula, couscous and caramelised onions. They are new preparations rather than new ingredients bought from the shop.

In the original Great Dishes of the World which was written way back in 1963, he included a section with a long list of basic ingredients that was very forward looking for his time, seeing as how it included things like cumin and coriander. But he also had a section called The emergency shelf which was a list of things to have on hand in case unexpected guests dropped by. Well he was a party animal, but even if we are not we do need to have basic things in our various store places so that we are not out at the shops every day. Even more so at the moment. This list of his, unlike the basic ingredients list, is really rather outdated now. I mean would you include tinned ham and chicken, tinned soup, tinned milk, and tinned onions and peas on your emergency list?

Anyway it got me thinking into a whole other direction really about what we regularly buy in the supermarket, both for everyday and for emergencies and how that is so, so different from what my mother would have had in her pantry and fridge. Some things haven't changed of course - butter, milk, flour, rice - but she would not have had long-grain rice and she would not have had risotto rice - which actually was probably unobtainable anyway. In my last years at home she may well have had pasta but not in my early youth.

So what are the basics of today?

Well for starters if you look at what we consume as greens it's not at all what I would have eaten as a young child - Kale?, all those Asian greens, some of whose names I do not know? Rocket? Coriander? Even silver beet for me - but then I didn't grow up in Australia. We didn't even have spinach.

And speaking of coriander, what about all those other herbs that are commonplace today like basil and dill. Not forgetting the other basic spice things like garlic, and ginger and chillies.

Exotic fruits - even apples aren't the same as they were back then.

But it doesn't stop there. The picture at left is in some ways an archetypal modern food - being a wrap - you've got to have them in your fridge, with an avocado, coriander, lime and prawn filling. How much more mod and Australian can you get? And then there's couscous, polenta, quinoa, muesli, not to mention the now vast array of pasta shapes that you can buy.

To go with the pasta - well passata, pesto, Parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella, plus salami, pancetta, prosciutto, porcini, anchovies, chorizo, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. All largely unknown to my mother.

Then there are all the Asian and Middle-eastern flavourings - bottled curry pastes, spice mixes like chermoula, five-spice mixture and harissa and garam masala. The spices themselves - turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom, mustard and fennel seeds, paprika and chilli. Well chilli comes in numerous different forms from sauces, to jams to the actual vegetable. There's yoghurt and feta from the dairy section, soy sauce, black bean sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce and countless others nudging up against tomato, HP and Worcestershire sauce. Almost everything is available pickled and chutnied and on and on it goes.

It's a whole world out there, and hopefully on your shelves at home. I wonder what those shelves will have on them in the years to come. Because not only are we being treated to new ingredients that have existed elsewhere for centuries, but our farmers are actually inventing new foods too - broccolini, qukes, and those new feathery cauliflower things for starters.

What is your top must-have ingredient? And is it something from way back then or is it new?

My holy trinity is probably onions, garlic and olive oil. Plus lemons and tomatoes. A mix of old and new.


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