‘Cuisine’ is something that I think about a lot. As a nutritionist, I study the foodways of different people, and how impacts by their environment, knowledge, identity, social class (and the list goes on…) can affect their food choices and health. Cuisine provides a way to understand people’s diets, but entails a way of refinement as the word ‘cuisine’ only came about in the last couple of decades when outsiders wanted to sample a taste of a place in restaurants.
As dietary patterns go, people’s ‘cuisines’ are heavily influenced by a place’s geography and political economy. Human beings have constantly moved (or been displaced) throughout history, bringing forth with them ideas about ‘good’ food and ‘traditional’ foodstuffs. For example, tomatoes which are native to South America, only arrived in the Old World through the Columban Exchange and from there spread across the rest of the world. Its novelty and exoticness is evident in its Chinese name: ‘番茄’ (foreign gourd). But as the Food and Agricultural Organization suggests, China is now the largest growing country of tomatoes, around 10 times over what Italy – the land of tomatoes – grows each year.
What do we try to achieve when creating dishes of different cuisines? An important reason is a way to connect with a place’s history, and to sample flavours which are different to their own. Having lived in London and for the last ten years, I find myself constantly navigating between making foods which are more familiar to the British audience and dishes with Chinese ingredients and condiments. Afterall, cooking is about using available ingredients and applying knowledge in creative ways to deliver desired flavours and textures.
In the globalised market space especially in cosmopolitan cities such as London, we can almost find every single ingredient to make a variety of dishes. I recently found some leftover cans of chickpeas in the cupboard and soft tofu blocks which have been sitting in my fridge for a long time, and decided to combine them to make a tomato-based stew which are great sources of protein, low in saturates as it’s meat-free. These are two ingredients which are easily seen as hardly compatible, but I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the dish, as Audrey had gobbled down the whole bowl, served with rice.
Chickpea and tofu stew
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 carrot, chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 block soft tofu
1 tbsp fish sauce (or soy sauce)
1 tsp sugar
Heat oil in pan. Add onion and carrot, cook for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, tofu and kale, stir for 10 minutes. Cover with enough water. Season with fish sauce (or soy sauce) and sugar.
Serve: 4 medium portions. with bread or rice.
Per 100g: Energy 294kJ 70kcal | Fat 2.4g of which saturates 0.2g | Carbohydrate 7g of which sugars 3.4g | Fibre 2g | Protein 3.5g | Salt 0.37g
Per portion (250g): Energy 743kJ 177kcal | Fat 6.1g of which saturates 0.6g | Carbohydrate 18g of which sugars 8.5g | Fibre 5g | Protein 8.9g | Salt 1.0g