For many of us, the most important decisions over the past few weeks have concerned food: who’s bringing what to the family celebration, what time are we eating at, and, most importantly, how to fit all those leftovers into the fridge.
For many of us, what we prepared for our Christmas celebrations has been set in stone for years. What would Christmas be without Mom’s shortbread, Sister’s stuffing, or your own specialty? Instead, New Year’s Day seems to be the holiday for food exploration: I know many a folk who go for Asian flavours on January 1, or try out a new dish simply because there are no other obligations on your time.
If you’re looking to try something new, food trends for the coming year may serve as inspiration, provided you think of the environment at large. Many of the American-based National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) top trends aren’t rooted in flavours or ingredients, but ethics: consumers value meat and seafood that’s sustainably and responsibly raised. Even non-sentient produce is part of the trend: rather than ship organic produce around the world, the best restaurants will source as locally as their own rooftop gardens.
According to some forecasters, such as the Toronto Star’s food editor, these rooftop gardens are indicative of another trend: vegetables stealing the show from their animal counterparts. And the vegetable that’s apparently going to do it isn’t kale, which has been the powerhouse produce for the past few years but can be martyrdom to eat.
Rather, the humble yet hardy cauliflower will wear the culinary crown. According to the Star and the University of Southern California, the white (or purple, green or orange!) florets will be finding their way in soups and main dishes. The cruciferous vegetable is a nutritional workhorse and relatively bland tasting, so it’s versatile. But it’s not just about using the florets; that adage of “waste not, want not” will return in 2014 with “root to stalk” cooking, whether that means beet leaves in your salad or broccoli stems in your soup.
Still on the health bent, the NRA also says gluten-free will continue its ascent to the top of the health-related trend pile come 2014. While there are some who are truly allergic to gluten (a protein found in wheat and similar grains), others have noticed health benefits from eliminating it from their diets. Not only will we continue to see “gluten free” stamped on everything possible and improbable (like yogurt), we’ll see more alternatives like quinoa pasta.
But no matter the components on your dinner plate, if it doesn’t taste good, it’s not worth the time. There are some unusual flavours worth exploring this year, thanks to inventive cooks fusing elements of such diverse cuisines as Korean and Mexican (skip to the recipe now if you’re curious). Forbes magazine also says that “mashups” like dessert pizzas or hamburgers served on ramen noodle buns, will also be big over the next 365 days.
Other flavours to look forward to include anything smoked, as well as pungent pickled and fermented veggies. Fermentation is usually associated with beer; carbohydrates are converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide (those bubbles) using yeast and bacteria in conditions where they thrive. When veggies are fermented, probiotics — which can improve the condition of your digestive system — are created. If it sounds a little scary to try at home, just buy some sauerkraut to get in on the trend instead.
So, out with the old, in with the new (flavours) for the new year! Trying something new to eat is a more fun resolution than the usual diet/exercise/eliminating bad habits route, and you might find a new favourite in the process.
One nominee is Korean food, which has been called the “comfort food” of the East, with its intriguing mix of sweet, savoury and spicy flavours. This recipe is even more comforting because all the ingredients are available in town, and it’s dead simple to prepare… which might be a good thing if you stayed up a little too late ringing in 2014!
Slow Cooker Shredded Korean Beef Tacos
3-4 lbs. beef roast
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 head garlic (peeled, cloves intact)
1/2 onion, diced
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
2 tbsp. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 whole jalapeno, diced
Place all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low for eight to 10 hours or until meat has fully shredded. Serve in soft corn or flour tortillas with shredded cabbage salad (see below) and white or brown rice.
Shredded Cabbage Salad
1 bag shredded coleslaw (or one cabbage, shredded)
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Toss together and serve immediately with tacos.
Serves six to eight.