Breaking away from big brands


BASE RECIPES  Homemade lentil and veg soup, delicious with wholewheat bread, can be adapted and changed according to what’s in the cupboard.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

I got more feedback on my last column covering the local grain economy in Ireland than on any recent topic I’ve covered, so I’m very pleased to hear that there is interest in what is being grown for people to eat here, and people are willing to try to make a shift to supporting the farmers who can feed us close to home.
What is clear, though, is that many people don’t know where to start. The plain truth is that unfortunately our buying, cooking and eating habits have been massively shaped by the large food corporations whose brands dominate the shelves of most supermarkets.
The way to break away from that influence is to be willing to experiment and learn new techniques. I’ve found that having some guiding principles helps.
To the extent possible, I cook with seasonal ingredients that are grown locally as a priority.
So, instead of starting with a recipe and going out to buy those specific ingredients, I start with what’s in the weekly veg box (or sometimes the discount veg section) and then figure out what to make. I also try very hard to eat at least 30 different types of plant foods a week, which is said to promote diverse gut bacteria for digestive and immune health – this is across all veg, grains, legumes, fruit and herbs and spices so we really have tons of choice.
Luckily in Ireland we have staples that grow and store well, so we always have potatoes, garlic and onions, and often leeks, carrots and more, which are a good start to any dish. I did not grow up eating parsnips, celeriac or gooseberries, but we can all now search for recipes starring any ingredient.
I have a rotation of base recipes that can be easily adapted. Grains are great for this, so you can top polenta with any oven roasted or sauteed veg, and risotto can handle any number of mix-ins. Fried rice or noodles suit any kind of toppings – peppers, greens, carrots, broccoli or cauliflower, whatever – and topped with some soya sauce and toasted nuts. Lentil soups are delicious with any root veg and chopped greens, and beans all have a different flavour profiles to give endless variety.
I take a flexible approach to baking as well, which is surprisingly easy once you experiment a bit. All types of sugars can be substituted easily, and nearly always can be reduced substantially. The same for flours – as I mentioned last week, I use wholegrain flours or ground oats exclusively now, with no one noticing in cakes, cookies or brownies. Smashed ripe bananas, applesauce, ground flaxseeds mixed with water and even sourdough starter can replace oil or eggs.
Even bread baking is open to adaptation, if you have the patience to test. I use a recipe that was developed for half-white and half-wholewheat flour, and I use wholewheat and ancient grain flour instead with minor adjustments to the amount of water added and fermentation time.

McKinley Neal is the owner of PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal-care items and gifts.