Vegetables are coming into fashion in a big way, giving you more reason than ever to eat those greens, finds Matt Blackwell
Gone are the days when vegetables formed merely the boring boiled additions to a meal. Recent trends in global gastronomy have seen them elevated to new heights, as they become the stars of the dish. Indians constitute about 70 per cent of the world’s vegetarians and with a large expat population in Oman, it’s not hard to find restaurants that offer an extensive vegetarian selection to cater for this market in larger cities such as Muscat.
“The demand for quality vegetables is growing worldwide,” says Neil Sequeira, executive chef at Golden Tulip Seeb Hotel. “Vegetables are being used as a face lift for signature dishes to make them more enticing. The proper use of different kinds of vegetables adds beauty to the plate. Traditionally, vegetables have been cooked in various combinations with meat, fish, seafood and poultry, but nowadays many chefs use vegetables in their freshest form using very little heat time in order to retain their freshness as the modern foodie is used to eating with the eye.”
Vegetables are being used in increasingly inventive ways, including all manner of savoury dessert dishes such as avocado mousse. Meat eaters will often deride vegetarian dishes as tedious and less satisfying, but with creative options such as beetroot and carrot hummus, buffalo cauliflower, spinach “burgers” and courgette “pizzas” beginning to sprout up, perhaps this is no longer the case.
The heightened focus on produce from the earth is not just a fleeting fad; increasing our vegetable intake can also offer numerous health benefits.
The advantages of superfoods and supergrains such as kale and quinoa have been well documented over recent years, but lentils are also beginning to find fame. Already a staple of Middle Eastern diets, these pulses are easily found on supermarket shelves and can form the basis of a cheap and quick meal. They are packed with both fibre and iron, and three quarters of cup provides double the amount of protein of an egg.
According to a recent report published in the journal Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy, researchers found that, “Vegetarian [including vegan] diets have benefits for cardiovascular health, hypertension, body weight and plasma lipids, and also provide nutritional advantages compared with omnivorous diets.” The same report found that switching to a vegetarian diet could be an effective way to reverse diabetes, a growing health concern in the region and in Oman particularly. Scientists claim that removing animal fats can improve insulin sensitivity and that a diet change could form an alternative method of treatment for type 2 diabetes.
Speaking to a British newspaper, Dr Neal Barnard, of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said: “We now know that type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance. Getting the animal fat – and fats in general – out of the diet helps repair insulin’s ability to function.
“We tell patients they can eat as much as they want – and as much whole wheat pasta, whole grains and brown rice as they want – as long as they’re not eating animal products or lots of added oils.”
When you consider the United Nations report stating that the world’s cattle herds do more damage to the environment than all our cars and planes combined, maybe it is time to go green and let vegetables enjoy their time in the limelight.
Buffalo Cauliflower and Blue CheeseYoghurt Dipping Sauce
§ 1 head cauliflower
§ 3/4 cup buttermilk
§ 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
§ 1/2 tsp garlic powder
§ 1/2 tsp coarse salt
§ 3/4 cup buffalo sauce
§ 1 tbsp butter, melted
§ 1 container plain yogurt
§ 1/2 cup blue cheese
● Preheat oven to 230°C/Gas mark 8.
● Break the cauliflower into florets.
● In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, buttermilk, garlic powder and salt until mostly smooth. Gently add the cauliflower florets to the bowl and toss to combine.
● Transfer to a baking dish and bake for 18 minutes. Check at the 15-minute mark.
● In a different bowl, whisk together the melted butter and buffalo sauce. Once the cauliflower is baked, pour the buffalo sauce over the cauliflower and lightly toss to coat. Place back in the oven for five to eight minutes.
● In the meantime, in a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and blue cheese. Add a tablespoon of water to thin out, if needed. Season with a small pinch of salt and pepper.