Culinary Challenges

Fresh baked bread

If there is one constant in my adult life (other than food) it is shopping at markets, opportunity shops and antiquarian warehouses.  I love the enterprise of it all, the banter, the imprecision, the unpredictable, yet predicably varied breadth of it all.  I love ferreting about for treasure, hunting down a particular prey and filling a niche that hitherto did not exist.  Most of all I love finding old cooking books – all the better if they have hand written notes, recipes and dedications inside. 

Old cooking books always have a sense of risk about them; the recipes could be a gold mine or they could be a  combination of lard, gizzards, salt and starch.  I haven't cooked every recipe in every book I have, that would be too onerous, what I have done though is set myself little tasks over the years to cook new and maybe even risky things.

Old cookery books fail in many respects though for our modern table.  Though they bring forth a veritable harvest of chutneys and preserves, breads and puddings, they fail to offer edible alternatives for vegetarians, those with food allergies and intolerances, they are incidentally pretty diabolical on the calorie front.

We have a number of culinary challenges in our family – allergies to raw apples, chillies and capsicum, lactose intolerance, wheat intolerance, onion and fructose intolerances.  All of these present particular challenges which I have rather enjoyed overcoming.  Wheat, though tricky, is probably the easiest with the abundance of gluten-free products on the market now.  Fructose and onions though, good grief that can be a tricky one.  Try cooking a casserole without onions or a tart without apples or pears.  Thankfully almonds and berries come to the rescue (thankfully no nut allergies) however how does one cope with a chilli allergy?

Chillies are evil!!I am allergic to chillies.  This means whole food cultures are dangerous and fraught with risk - many Asian restaurants and tapas bars run on the clean clear flavours of sweet, spicy and raw.  I do not particularly mourn the ability to eat a jalapeño, however I do wish I could sit down to a tasting plate of Spanish sausage, pickled veg, char-grilled seafood and scented oil with pane di casa without discounting each for their spicy passenger.

And what of those folk who simple dislike food (entirely foreign concept to me) yet they do exist.  'Food as fuel' seems to be the catch-cry for the culinarily uninformed, though I have to concede not every meal needs to garner groans of delight and cheers of praise.  Creating a meal which has neither too much flavour nor too little, familiar and plain, unadventurous yet satisfying... it is as Ned Flanders would say a diddly of a pickle.

Vegetarians pose a particular kind of challenge.  Yet discounting all forms of beast, sea and soil, does not necessarily constrain the cook to a world of lentils and beans.  There is much to be enjoyed in a vegetarian menu, allowing for eggs and cheese, there is a vast variety of food available that is both delicious a interesting.

Grasping these challenges as best you can, finding a way to enliven a problematic meal  can be very rewarding – be it through a more adventurous dessert, a marinade or sauce, a festive salad or simply by serving purple potatoes with the roast where ordinary ones would have done just as well.  There is no need to despair, there will be other meals!  Rise to the challenge of these culinary curiosities and find flavour where there was none, bring pleasure to those who may otherwise be accustomed to eating bland and repetitive meals and best of all find new and satisfying things to eat.