At the moment there seems to be a big food trend sweeping the country. Unfortunately for me the trend has moved on from one of the best things in the whole entire world– salted caramel – to something that completely repulses me : clean eating. You couldn’t get two trends more unlike each other could you? I’d like to be clear that what repulses me about this trend isn’t the emphasis on eating your greens, lessening the amount of meat you eat or making sure that your sugar intake isn’t stratospheric – these things I can get on board with. What I cannot get on board with is the superiority which ‘clean eaters’ regard themselves with, and the pretentiousness associated with it. There’s a great example of this going round the internet which I recommend you seek out called Pete Evans ‘ My Life on a Plate’. Reading his typical daily food diary makes me want to dive headfirst into a cheeseboard. Cultured vegetables? What on earth are they? Is someone taking carrots to the Tate Modern and then selling them off to people for whom a regular carrot just isn’t nutritious enough? Pete also lists sprouted millet, sorghum, cocoa nibs, emu meatballs, alkalised water and most mysteriously, activated almonds, as part of his daily diet. Kill me now. Water, fruit, vegetables etc are good for you; they don’t need to be ‘alkalised’, cultured’ or ‘activated’. Life is too short to have sprouted millet for breakfast. Eat sensibly and treat yourself once in a while, otherwise what’s the point in clean eating and living until you’re 150 if you turn up to parties but can’t eat anything because the peanuts doing the rounds haven’t been activated and are covered in that delicious but deadly salt. Stop boring everyone and live a little.
Saying all that, I can’t deny that I’ve been pulled in somewhat by the idea of clean eating. Hypocrite? Maybe. Unable to stand by my principles? Perhaps. Woman approaching thirty who’s not yet managed to shift the baby weight nearly a year after giving birth? Most definitely. Normally I find the idea of ‘shifting the baby weight’ morally repugnant due to the pressure put on new mums to miraculously look like Kate Middleton when they’ve just made another human being but I also know when I’m happy myself with my weight and when I’m not comfortable. And right now I’m not comfortable, media pressure or no media pressure. Working full time, looking after a baby, with a fiance who travels away regularly for work means the gym isn’t really an option, so focusing on what I’m eating is the way forward right now.
Diana Henry’s most recent book ‘A Bird in the Hand’ isn’t a clean eating recipe book (it’s actually filled with chicken recipes, and really drool-worthy recipes at that) but the recipe I chose would definitely win big points with the clean eating crew – Mexican chicken with pumpkin and pepita pesto. Pepita pesto, which are two words that just sound beautiful next to each other, is a pesto made with sunflower seeds instead of the usual pine nuts and replaces the basil with coriander, making it a much more viable pairing with Mexican flavours than traditional pesto would ever be. The pesto is simple to make and just involves toasting the seeds in a dry pan, then throwing them and all the other ingredients into a mini processor and whizzing to a paste. The chicken thighs are marinated in citrus juices, spices and herbs for a few hours then baked in the oven in the same tray as the pumpkin (I couldn’t find pumpkin in the shop so substituted with butternut squash). Then once all cooked just throw on a plate, drizzle the pesto over the chicken then scatter with feta cheese, avocado and coriander. Feta is of course a Greek cheese but is very similar to a cheese that Mexicans use regularly (queso fresco) that isn’t easy to find on these shores, which I’m assuming must be the reason for its inclusion here. The chicken skin is crisp (I told you I wasn’t going ‘the full clean eating’) and zingy from the citrus juices while the squash is soft and tender. The pesto had a really unexpected taste to it which I wasn’t quite prepared for but was not unpleasant. I couldn’t tell you what it tasted like because it was over a week ago that I ate it, but even if it had been yesterday I don’t think I’d be able to describe the taste. There were so many flavours going on on my plate that the whole dish together worked really well but I couldn’t pick out any one element of the dish on its own. The dish itself seems very well balanced – I’m no nutritionist but there are two portions of vegetables, some chicken, spices, herbs, cheese and then a pesto sauce containing sunflower seeds and coriander. I think this dish encapsulates the best of both worlds when it comes to what we should be putting in our mouths – it’s full of goodness but you’ve still got a bit of cheese and some cheeky crispy chicken skin in there, and it tastes delicious. It’s full of flavour, something new to try, simple to produce at home, looks gorgeous and colourful on the plate and is a million miles away from the ‘cultured vegetable’/’activated almonds’ drivel.
I’d not come across Diana Henry before but after seeing Nigella’s glowing words on the cover and realising I always have chicken in the freezer but can never think of anything interesting to do with it, this felt like a book I needed. I’ve tried a couple of recipes from it so far and they’ve both turned out very well so I think this book could be a future favourite of mine. For delicious chicken recipes mind, not for any of that clean eating crap.