The world’s gone mad. Everyone wants a piece of you, and you have little left to give. You feel like you’re holding everything, but that if you let go no one will be bothered enough to catch anything. Some days you wish you won an Oscar for the amazing acting job you’re doing, every minute of every waking day. You’re permanently exhausted; the kind of deep down tired that nothing can shift.
We all need nourishment. As the old joke has it, we’re basically plants with emotions.
Food is my ‘go-to’, and I don’t mean that in the sense of ‘comfort eating’ or any kind of bulimic tendency.
Somewhere in my family line, the statement “good food is everything” came to be adopted as something of a motto; even a rallying cry at times of stress or a call to arms.
Watered by the rivers of the Punjab, my family’s lands were (and remain) fertile to an extraordinary degree. Mild winters and warm summers add to the magic, against a backdrop of the Himalaya range. Just as the rivers cut through the landscape, so did many conquerors from Central Asia, Turkey, Persia, Europe, Nepal and Tibet, frequently repulsed by whichever power ruled the land at the time.
This quality of being both fought over, coveted, desired and valued, yet also having to fight for our own distinct identity shaped something of our independent family character. And food was a large part of that.
Food is a palimpsest; it carries the imprint of all that happened before, what is happening now, and foretelling that which is to come.
Food is a mirror; a reminder of where we come from, a reflection or even a rebuke.
Food is a teller of stories; where flavour and technique seduces, transports, informs and delights more than words ever can and gives you a sense of a person beyond everyday comprehension.
Food allows us to stop; in our age of mass distraction, where people seem happy to take your time, it’s an act of rebellion, a time for you, and for me.
Take the blood orange.
Popularised in the 18th century as the craze for all things Southern European seized the bored rich kids on ‘grand tours’ of Italy and the Mediterranean, the blood orange was a cultivar established by the Moors in the so-called ‘dark ages’, part of their extraordinary Eastward facing trading network which reached to India’s Himalaya mountain range bordering Tibet and China, from where oranges originated and where the world’s dominant economic powers thrived as Europe slept a post-Roman sleep.
That the ‘enlightenment’ owed such a debt of thanks to the Moors and their brilliance in the ‘dark ages’ in transmitting and adapting food, culture, science, mathematics and philosophy, takes the story of a humble ‘orange’ into places we rarely go. It tells us that the arc of history is wide, and that food carries history’s imprint.
Histories may be written by the winners, but it’s those who lost who ultimately make the story richer, subtler, more nuanced, less binary, better. People may go but their food stays on, it speaks to us still. Food flavours and nourishes us more than a manufactured history ever can.
I haven’t blogged about anything much in a long while. Now, more than ever, I want to share the story of food. I want us all to have that moment of reflection, of space, of understanding. Liberation even.
“good food is everything”
Fennel and Blood Orange Salad
This little beauty came to me in a random moment of inspiration. I’m not saying the recipe hasn’t been made before. The idea was certainly new to me, but it worked. The ingredients are at their best in early Spring.
- 2 blood oranges
- Half a large fresh fennel bulb
- Some basil, mint, olive oil and Black Pepper
- I peeled and sliced the oranges and half the fennel and combined them
- I then squeezed as much juice as possible from the orange skin, taking some shavings of the outer skin, and releasing the citrus oils into the salad
- Finally, I roughly chopped some basil and mint, crushed some black pepper and drizzled a little olive oil before combining the whole again
Set aside for 20 minutes, turn again, and eat. It’s fab with a sideplate of salumi like Prosciutto, Bresaola or Finocchiona (Peppery Fennel Salami). If you’d prefer a completely vegetarian/vegan meal, you could have it after something simple like a pasta with purple sprouting broccoli – also rich in anthocyanins, a flavonoid with antioxidant properties also present in blood orange . Steam the broccoli till soft, and then dress with garlic and chilli flakes cooked off in olive oil, and dress with some lemon rind and the juice of half a lemon with some sea salt.