“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia” – Charles M. Schulz
I have fallen off the wagon this past week. It was largely down to my own complacency – I started to let myself think that I had this healthy eating thing down and that, without any actual planning, shopping or thought I would just be able to whip up some wonderfully tasty plant-based creations out of nowhere. Unsurprisingly, it transpires that when you are busy/tired/sick/whatever it is much easier to fall back on what you’ve been cooking for yourself for the last 15 years, rather than what you’ve learned in the past 5 months. And thus I reverted to an existence of toast, Pret croissants, red wine and takeaway noodles while pondering precisely how many of the vegetables I had bought (in a flurry of early week good intentions) – and now quietly decaying in the salad drawer – could be palmed off on the child in the guise of a frittata and whether I’d ever become the sort of person who would enjoy a vegetable soup made up of random fridge offerings (conclusion: seems unlikely).
Now, I can’t pretend that I feel particularly bad or guilty about this. Pret croissants are pretty tasty and the absence of cooking allowed us to have a marathon catch up of Orange Is The New Black. And anybody who has ever tried to do anything in the history of mankind knows that setbacks are an important part of any progression. Plus, when it comes to food, I think that guilt is a pretty weird and unhealthy thing that unfortunately we are increasingly conditioned to feel. Re-creating Kevin Bacon’s barn dancing scene from Footloose in your bedroom is a ‘Guilty Pleasure’, not the occasional profiterole. But I definitely didn’t feel particularly terrific, physically speaking, and after a week I actually wanted to ditch the pastries and get back on track and eat some vegetables. A suggestion I definitely would have laughed scornfully at a year ago.
What this has taught me though is that the only way I can pull this healthy eating thing off is through some fairly military style planning. I would love (LOVE) to be one of those cooks who can pick up a leek on the way home and transform it into something glorious using only My Store Cupboard Ingredients. But alas I am not. I am not a particularly creative cook – mainly as I don’t like eating things that aren’t nice and therefore try and avoid kitchen failure as I end up having to eat the results. I have a store cupboard that rivals Fortnum & Mason but this does not, despite what Gordon or Jamie or Nigel assure me, allow me to whip up endless kitchen delights day in day out. Yes, by cooking more and more I am slowly getting to the stage where I now have a vague idea what I might do with a leek and what else I need to buy to do so, but I still need some direction and structure. Otherwise the leek will go in the fridge and I’ll make a chilli con carne.
And so it came to pass that I am spending much of this rainy Bank Holiday Monday menu planning, list writing and cookbook perusing for inspiration. It might sound a bit boring but there are definitely worse ways to spend a rainy Bank Holiday Monday. You could be at a children’s indoor soft play centre in a warehouse on an industrial estate outside Circencester, for example.
I made this pork and salsa concoction on Saturday, as part of a transition back to eating better and principally as a vehicle to use up some of the vegetables that I had been neglecting but it turned out to be so simple and delicious that I felt it worthy of a write-up, especially as the salsa is pretty versatile and would work with chicken or fish as well. I particularly liked it as it uses cashews, which definitely seem to get relegated way below peanuts for savoury recipes but which are a really good source of healthy fats and minerals. (And you can use any (unroasted) leftovers to make Vanilla Cinnamon Cashew Milk).
It is a recipe from Bill Granger, the Australian cook and restaurateur who has written roughly 287 cookbooks. If you read his books enough you begin to believe that Australians spend 3 hours a day having breakfast, eat vast amounts of snapper or barramundi at any opportunity and all have awesome tree houses in their back gardens. Nonetheless, I have 7 of his books and they are very good indeed and are a marvellous source of simple, light, healthy recipes as well as some splendidly good cakes. More importantly, though, I recently had breakfast with a friend at one of Bill’s two London restaurants – Granger & Co – and was seated near a National Treasure and Very Famous Person, who I shan’t name because, you know, privacy. (Cryptic Clue: Bavid Deckham). This was obviously all terribly exciting at 9am on a Friday over a flat white and so I thought I would repay Bill by ripping off one of his recipes here for you.
PORK LOIN WITH CASHEW NUT SALSA
(adapted from Feed Me Now by Bill Granger)
Crazy Ingredient Rating: Low (Thai fish sauce – available pretty much everywhere these days)
This salsa would work well with grilled or barbecued chicken or fish as well – just make sure you apply some real heat to your chosen protein so that it gets a bit browned and caramelised.
Bill goes totally Atkins here and suggests serving this solely with some blanched asparagus and a chunk of iceberg lettuce. I did not have the latter, as I not a believer in eating pointless water based food items, so I served this with some steamed asparagus and tenderstem broccoli, and padded it out a little further with some brown rice, which soaked up the dressing from the salsa very nicely indeed.
The original recipe does not include mango – that was my (inspired, if I do say so myself) addition because we had half a mango that needed using up. Do feel free just to go with the cucumber but the mango is delicious with the chilli salty sauce. The original also calls for coriander root – something that is pretty tricky to find in the UK so I just used a coriander stem chopped up and it was fine.
If you can, make the salsa around 20-30 minutes before you want to eat, so that the flavours have a chance to meld together but without the cucumber and mango going too soggy. If you are in a hurry just make sure you make the salsa first so that it can sit while you cook the pork.
For 2 you will need:
- 2 x pork loin steaks/chops (roughly 175-200g each but really as thin or fat as you like, just adjust cooking time accordingly)
- olive oil, to brush the chops
- salt and pepper
For the salsa:
- 1/2 large cucumber, peeled halved deseeded and cut into fine dice
- 1/2 mango, peeled and cut into approx 1.5cm dice
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 coriander stem, finely chopped
- 30g roasted unsalted cashews, roughly chopped
- 1.5 tbsp coriander leaves, roughly chopped (or to taste)
- 1/2 to 1 red chilli, finely chopped (to taste)
- Make your salsa by combining all of the ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust the fish sauce and lime juice to taste. Set aside for up to 30 minutes while you cook the pork.
- Heat a griddle pan or frying pan over a high heat. (Now is a good time to put on your veg, if that is what you are having with it as the pork cooks very quickly).
- Brush the pork with olive oil and season well on both sides. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, until cooked through. (This will depend greatly on how thick your steaks are. We used 4 thin steaks round 1cm thick and they took less than 2 minutes per side).
- Let the pork rest for 3-4 minutes (while you finish your veg etc).
- Serve and eat. I would recommend a lovely dry Riesling with this, if wine is your thing.
Kitchen Song of the Day: Bubble Toes – Jack Johnson (Brushfire Fairytales)