Walk into a supermarket pretty much anywhere these days and you have the world’s pantry at your fingertips. On any busy weeknight you can grab a nice piece of fresh fish or chicken or meat, some seasonal veges and decide when you get home how you’re going to eat it. You might feel like eating Japanese-style, adding seasonings such as ginger, soy sauce, sesame seeds and some wasabi, serving it all up with udon or soba noodles. Or maybe give your meal an Italian flavour with pesto, olive oil and pine nuts. Or perhaps you’re in the mood for a Moroccan twist with cumin, smoked paprika, garlic, lemons, coriander and yoghurt served up with couscous. And so on. It’s so freeing to be able to just think about the freshness of what you are buying and decide the flavours later on. By focusing on understanding the produce you work with and not having to go to lots of trouble to make it taste good – all you need is a slather of teriyaki sauce here, or a sprinkle of dukkah there – you quickly become a better cook.
My recipe for Chocolate Bark is a fabulous example. Take an ingredient like chocolate and then think about its Mexican origins with the sweet smoked flavour of chipotle chillies, add a little fragrant spice and voila you have something transformational but in fact so easy to make. You can watch me make it on my YouTube channel.
As stimulating as it is to go forwards, it’s also good sometimes to look back to those traditions that have nourished mankind for millennia, such as the marvel of the Three Sisters Garden, an ancient gardening tradition that delivered not just good nutrition but good soil health for early MexiAmerican culture. The concept of this ancient gardening tradition is based around the three sisters, or the three main agricultural crops for that area – corn, squash (or zucchinis or pumpkins) and beans. Corn is the oldest sister, and stands tall in the centre, squash is the middle sister and grows all around the base and through the middle. The youngest sister, beans, climbs through the squash and then up the corn towards the sun. The beans fix nitrogen into the soil, which is used by the corn to help it grow. The squash grows over the whole plot, protecting her sisters from weeds and shading the soil from the sun.
The three are harvested all around the same time and provide the complete protein (legume and grain) that is required in a vegetarian diet. My Delicious Gardens Mexican Feast Seed Mix contains corn, beans and zucchinis, as well as tomatoes, which are a stalwart of Mexican cooking.
In this episode I show how to plant them in spring, then I harvest them at the peak of summer to use in a Corn and Quinoa Bowl – a useful side dish with Chipotle Grilled Chicken. I also whip up a starter of fat-free fresh tomato salsa with homemade Corn Tortilla Chips, and a creamy Smoked Chilli Caesar Dressing to use on my Tex-Mex interpretation of a caesar salad, complete with avocados, parmesan shavings and toasted pumpkin seeds. For dessert I use the blueberries I've picked at an organic blueberry farm in exquisite individual servings of Blueberry Honey Mille-Feuille – so incredibly impressive to serve up, yet surprisingly simple to assemble.
I'll see you next week. Until then happy gardening and cooking!
find out more
Want to find out more about this episode? Check out the TV pages of my website for videos, bonus recipes and behind-the-scenes photos.
Find out more about Season One of The Free Range Cook
Find out more about Season Two of The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures
special thanks to
Robert and Shannon from OOB Organic