Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Contentment of Simple Gastronomic Luxuries

Otherwise known as, 'Be thankful for what you can eat.'

My recent trip to Europe has confirmed one thing for me - it's much, much easier to eat gluten-free there, on relatively little cost. Given the exchange rate between Malaysian ringgit and Euros, I was immensely thankful. Two weeks' stay in Austria is no joke if one has to spend a lot on food! Just being able to -eat- without fear, now that's a gift. It's a luxury, small as it is, and who says small things can't be luxuries?

Like this:

It's pumpkin seed oil! This is a specialty of Graz where we were at. It's a dark, viscous, thick deep green oil, rather like well-cooked spinach, and the fragrance is out of this world. It makes even the simplest food (canned tuna with rice) taste like a gourmet meal. My mother loves the bottle I brought back so much she prefers it over her favourite sesame seed oil even.

It certain livened up even the most ordinary hamburger patties:

That was Jamie Oliver's Cracking Burger patties, and they are every bit as cracking as they make out to be. I used the remains of a pack of gluten-free crackers that I brought back from Europe, and they turned out absolutely marvellous. Juicy, flavourful and completely satisfying, even without buns (who needs buns when one has great burgers, really?)

Make 'em, you won't regret it. Go to the recipe, tweak it as you like to suit your taste, leave out the mustard if you don't like it and replace it with Worchestershire sauce, but make 'em. Your tastebuds and your stomach will thank you.

I also brought back three other treasures from Austria: sumac, z'aatar, and piri-piri peppers. Sumac comes from the ground-up red berries of the sumac shrub, species Rhus Coriaria. It's a tart, lemony spice that is used very often in Middle Eastern cookery. Z'aatar is a Middle Eastern mix of spices that very often include oregano, thyme and savoury, sometimes with sesame seeds and salt - it is also the generic name for a family of related Middle Eastern herbs from the genera Origanum (Oregano), Calamintha (Basil thyme), Thymus vulgaris (Thyme) and Satureja (Savory). Piri-piri peppers are used very commonly in Portuguese cookery (think Nando's). I've not been able to find any of these spices here, so finding them was an occasion worthy of jumping up and down in the Naschmarkt in Vienna, squealing with delight.

I wanted to do something with my newly acquired spices, and this recipe for Zaatar Sumac Lemon Roast Chicken, from the Ottolenghi cookbook, looked fascinating.

Of course, being me, I always forget or change something in a recipe - I forgot to put black pepper and paprika/cayenne pepper in, and I forgot to mix the chicken and spices together well -after- I'd added the water to it until oh, somewhere around 2am in the morning after I'd put it in the fridge to sit overnight and marinate. I also used chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken since I am a lazy person and don't want to dig bones out of my fowl (yes, yes, that makes me a horrible chef I know!)

That being said, the chicken came out beautifully. So tender and flavourful! And best of all, completely gluten-free and healthy. I didn't have fresh parsley (this is becoming a trend isn't it) so I used dried parsley instead and voila, fresh out of the oven:

I served it over a bed of rice with lots of marinade and chicken juices - luxury right there in a little bowl.

You will not regret trying this recipe. I can promise you that - it really is just that good, and so easy. If you don't have sumac, as per one of the comments, use more lemon juice. If you don't have z'aatar? Approximate it with this and just leave out the sumac, add lots of lemon.

That wasn't so hard now, once one is past the exotic names, right?

Really, I don't need a fancy restaurant to be contented - just the simple act of being able to eat safely? That's all I need, even if it's a slice of bread, a few crackers with cheese, or a very simple roast chicken like this one.

Sometimes it's good to go back to simple - we all started from there anyways. And when I think of the days when the very thought of eating used to depress me because I had no idea what to eat or how to eat just after my diagnosis, I breathe a quiet prayer of thanks for these precious, small, simple things that make life so meaningful.


  1. I love how you came back from Austria with Middle Eastern spices! Oh the world's becoming a smaller and smaller place, and all the more wonderful for it.

    The chicken looks super-yums by the way. :D

  2. I know! Of all the places to find Middle Eastern spices - Europe! The chicken is also extremely super-yums. I've had it for lunch and early dinner already!

  3. Hehe. Super-yums is a fab reason to cook this chicken again yes? *hint, hint*

  4. Re-reading this post and looking at the pics again, I'm falling in love with the dry parsley. Yes, the parsley. The colour just pops out, the contrast, some form of visual titillation, and it's due to the parsley. :)

  5. I love the parsley too! It just needed that green to set it all off, even flavour-wise. I'm glad photo-wise it worked too! Yes, we will cook this again, and it will be super-yums! (I will even marinate it properly this time according to recipe :P )

  6. Hurrah for gluten-free food! Just read this and it's scaring me... I wonder if there is a way I can make myself go gluten-free too, before it becomes a necessity!


  7. Kenny dear, I tend to take stuff that I read like that with a few grains of salt - mostly because there never is a definitive answer for things like that. I -do- know that wheat does very bad things to my body, so I stay off it. People can still be healthy when they eat wheat-based products, just...I guess moderation is the key? Lots of fruits and veggies, exercise, careful eating - I think that would be sufficient for a good, healthy diet. Not necessarily excluding wheat, though honestly, if it helps, then sure, by all means! Just like dairy - I can take small amounts of it, but too much and it becomes a problem. So...yeah. But, any time you need or want to eat gluten-free food, come on by. :) There's plenty at my house!

  8. "Lots of fruits and veggies, exercise, careful eating" - Hehe, that's exactly what I've not been having/doing of late. Gotta be a good boy! :P

    And yeah, I just read that temporary lactose-intolerance can be a side effect of celiac disease. But now that you are gluten-free, I'm happy to see you can take dairy, albeit in small quantities. (The best stuff in life are more than good enough in small quantities, anyway.)

  9. I'm starting to think I need your mailing address, so I can care-package you some things from Penzey's ( http://www.penzeys.com/ ) for Giftmas. :-> My brain is recoiling in horror from the idea of oregano being a rare and precious oddity.