Cooking has been a lifelong passion for me, a passion that has found its way into my psyche via my mother, who has an innate and perfect understanding of how to combine ingredients, spices and quantities and have a fabulously perfect synergistic outcome.
My mother has never used recipes, but instead has memorised virtually every meal she cooks. From the age of ten, she and her siblings had to prepare meals together after their mother, my grandmother, sadly died days after giving birth to her sixth child, who also died a month later. My mother learned the art of cooking early, initially from the family cook and then from various aunts and family friends, but it was something she was naturally drawn to, and good at. She learned through trial and error and was soon cooking entire meals for her immediate family single handedly.
She is such a selfless and giving person, so I like to think it was her way of trying to comfort and nourish her siblings with the maternal love that was so tragically denied to them once their own beloved mother had gone.
My mother needs to know we, her family, approve of her lovingly cooked meals. She wants us to feel nourished, full, satisfied, loved. And we always do, because she cooks so well. Her energy oozes into every meal, and she likes nothing better than to spend days preparing pulses, vegetables and grains, and deciding menus for forthcoming family events. Although she is into her early eighties, this outpouring of energy somehow never depletes her stores, for she is quickly re-energised by our grateful comments and our praise of her veritable feasts.
My mother has been a strict vegetarian all of her life, and as a consequence of this, my siblings and I were raised on a predominanly vegetarian diet, with the odd carnivorous school meal thrown in.
I have never been fully comfortable eating meat, both from the point of view that we don’t have to kill other animals in order to eat well, but also from a health perspective.
Ayurveda sees nutrition as a key aspect of its philosophy. Food is medicine and medicine is food.
If we know our constitution type, and we know how to eat accordingly, we show love, kindness and compassion to ourselves. Cooking at home is a vital aspect of family life, one that helps us to bond and forces us to spend time being with each other. It is important to be in the right mood in order to bring positive energy and love into the meal. If we are angry, feeling resentful or irritated, we should neither cook nor eat. Meals cooked with anger will never taste so good, meals eaten when angry will affect our digestion.
Eating should not be mechanical, but a conscious act; we should be aware of every mouthful, chew our food carefully, take a few sips of water during the meal to help digestion, and we should always eat sitting down, comfortably, never in a hurry. Food should not be seen as a means to an end, or a way to try and fill emotional gaps in our lives. We should be thankful, for food is a blessing that sadly not all of us in the world are honoured with, and it should be treated as such.
I love to cook instintively, like my mother, and for this reason, I too very rarely use recipes. If i do, I tend to add my own twist to them, using ingredients I have in the fridge or cupboard, and sometimes substituting ingredients too. I always see my cooking as an expression of who I am, my creativity, and also my love for my wonderful family and friends.
Seasonal cooking is what we should all be aiming for. Eating seasonal food means it is cheaper due to increased availability. Food that has been picked too early and shipped from somewhere across the other side of the world, will not have had time to develop its full complement of nutrients, and will have lost some flavour due to chilling or long term storage. Eating seasonally also allows us to experience the old-fashioned art of patience, and expectation. Isn’t it nice to look forward to strawberries being available when they are naturally available, rather than eating a tasteless bowlful that were shipped from abroad just because we are too impatient to wait?
I made nettle soup this week. I lost myself in the whole process of picking the nettles, and washing them gently whilst protecting my hands from their nasty stings with a pair of gardening gloves. I removed the stalks and placed the delicate leaves in the pan, their vivid green beauty promising a filling, healthy and earth- scented meal.
So, if you can pick some now, when they are at their best, you will benefit from a super cheap, seasonally right, earthy soup that nourishes you, both nutritionally and emotionally. It is surprisingly filling and the quantities in my recipe are enough to feed four as a main meal accompanied by some crusty grained bread.
Revel in the process, be in the moment, experiment with ingredients, garnish with something pretty, and enjoy every slow, conscious mouthful.
- four or five large handfuls of fresh stinging nettles
- rapeseed oil
- a chopped onion
- 1-2 chopped garlic cloves
- a large chopped potato
- a litre or so of vegetable stock
- salt and pepper
- a pinch of nutmeg
- a swirl of cream
Wearing gardening or rubber gloves, pick four or five large handfuls of nettles. The first five or six newer leaves from the top of the plant are the ones to go for.
Wash them a few times in the sink and cut the leaves off the stalk.
Soften the onion in oil in a large deep casserole pan, making sure you don’t brown it. Add the garlic and potato and mix well. Saute the ingredients for around 10 minutes.
Add about a litre of vegetable stock (I use the reduced salt Marigiold Swiss vegetable bouillon powder) and let everything gently heat through before adding the prepared nettles. Cook for around half an hour, until the potato is soft. You can add more stock if the mixture looks too thick. Add salt and pepper to taste, allow to cool before blitzing in a food processor.
If, like me, you need to be aesthetically pleased, serve your soup in pretty antique bowls and eat with silver plated soup spoons- it will simply taste better!