The good old meat and three veg combo is still the best way to ensure a balanced diet. It’s how it is presented on that plate that brings the excitement.
“Meat and three veg” was the standard meal combination of traditional (read inherited from the English here) New Zealand cuisine. It was a simple idea that meant that meat was the big excitement on the plate (perhaps too big, but hey, New Zealand had plenty of it), but it was a combination that at least leaned towards a balanced diet.
It was also an easy combo to remember. All you had to do to accompany the meat was serve sides of a carbohydrate (love them), a green vegetable and any other vegetable you liked. Even though I do eat much of the food I was brought up with, I eat a lot of other things as well. Even when not eating old fashioned meat and three veg, my conditioning makes me keep that basic combination in the back of my mind.
Simplified, this translates to protein, carbohydrate and greens, the things I make sure are contained in the meals I make.
The food you eat is generally determined by the food of the culture you were brought up in. It would still be highly unusual to find a bottle of Thai fish sauce in a pantry in Spain - old cultures like their own food. In New Zealand people generally stick to what they were used to before the huge variety of ethnic food became available and before food was given human qualities and became “good” or “evil”.
I get asked questions like “what do I think of coconut oil? (one of the “good” foods of the moment), in tones that make me think I am being given some kind of culinary exam. My answer is usually something like “not very much”. If the recipe using it comes from a culture that traditionally uses coconut oil, then I would use it. I love the flavour of it in Thai food, for example, which is one of the cuisines in which it belongs.
But I’m not going to use it with Mediterranean flavours as there are not a lot of coconut palms on the shores of that sea. If you do use ingredients simply for orthorexic reasons (i.e. obsessive pursuit of a so called healthy diet) you risk creating one of those “fusion” travesties that I was glad to leave behind in the 80s. You also risk taking the fun and enjoyment out of food. I just can’t get worked up about a kale and bone broth smoothie, no matter how good it is for me.
Oh, and if you are worried about your weight, eat unprocessed food but don’t eat so much — and preferably cook it yourself, Simple!
My easy protein, carb and greens template, with the bonus of another vegetable, is where I am going with the following.
Ray's 11 easy meat and three veg combo ideas
A stir-fry is an obvious way to combine protein, carbs, greens and another vegetable. Marinate thinly sliced pork steaks in a little Japanese soy sauce, finely chopped garlic, ginger juice (made by finely grating ginger and squeezing out the juice), chilli flakes and a little vegetable oil. Stir-fry in a very hot wok then add broccoli florets, sliced spring onions, bite-sized pieces of fresh pineapple and stir-fry until the broccoli is cooked but crisp. Add mung bean sprouts, cooked rice noodles and a splash of oyster sauce. Stir-fry until hot and serve sprinkled with bought fried shallots. Tip: Watch Ray's video on how to use a knife.
Make something with a sauce that unifies. For example, thinly slice chicken breast on the diagonal and lightly beat out until each slice is about 1cm thick. Dust the slices with flour and pan-fry until browned on both sides, remove from the pan and keep warm. Put the pan over high heat, add plenty of dry white wine, capers, lemon zest and juice and chopped parsley. Boil to reduce until slightly thickened, add some butter, mix well, taste and season. Serve with colcannon — mashed potatoes mixed with blanched cabbage, spring onions and cream. The chicken and colcannon are excellent with the sauce.
Pan-fry diced pancetta, garlic, very finely chopped rosemary, finely diced carrots, celery and onion in a little extra virgin olive oil until the onion is soft. Add white wine, pitted green olives and lots of baby spinach leaves and cook until the spinach is wilted. Stir in halved cherry tomatoes and toss with hot spaghetti. Serve with plenty of parmesan. Tip: Watch Ray's video on how to dice a carrot.
Boil plenty of waxy baby potatoes in well-salted water until tender, drain, place in a large salad bowl and crush the potatoes slightly. Add largish pieces of crisp hot bacon, hot boiled peas, a clove of garlic finely chopped, finely diced preserved lemon peel, blanched asparagus spears, chopped parsley, dill and chives. Make a dressing using the bacon fat by putting the pan back on moderate heat, adding plenty of red wine vinegar and using this to deglaze the pan by scraping with a wooden spoon. Pour this over what is now a one-dish warm potato salad meal, drizzle with a little more extra virgin olive oil and serve.
Slow-fry a chopped red onion, boiled sliced silverbeet, sweet stem broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces, spinach leaves, garlic and some chilli flakes in extra virgin olive oil until the onion is soft and everything hot. Roast a piece of belly pork on a mix of diced peeled apples and pears, chicken stock, white wine, cracked black pepper and garlic (make sure the crackling is out of the liquid) at 190C for about 1½ hours or until the pork is tender and the crackling crisp. Remove from the oven, rest the pork and boil the cooking liquid until slightly thickened. Serve the sliced pork on the greens, with the apple mix over everything and steamed rice on the side. Tip: Watch Ray's video on how to cut an onion.
Make an omelette that has sliced raw peeled prawns, chopped garlic, chilli and coriander in with the eggs. Remove from the pan, slice and serve over fried rice made by frying finely chopped garlic, chopped ham, sliced spring onions and finely diced carrot in vegetable oil. Add left over steamed rice, cooked peas, a splash of soy sauce, and stir-fry until everything is hot. Stir in thinly sliced iceberg lettuce and serve with Thai sweet chilli sauce. Tip: Watch Ray's video on how to cook perfect steamed rice.
Rub lamb racks with garlic, ground cumin, cinnamon and extra virgin olive oil and barbecue or roast until done the way you like them. Serve sliced with grilled or barbecued cos lettuce and/or raddichio brushed with extra virgin olive oil, roasted baby beetroot and couscous that has chopped coriander and parsley, fried chopped almonds and finely diced preserved lemon peel stirred through it.
Boil some bought potato gnocchi, drain well and fry in extra virgin olive oil with chopped hazelnuts, butter, sage leaves, the teased out leaves of well boiled cavolo nero (the Italians boil it until soft and black, about 40 minutes, which is why it has that "nero" word in its title, which means black. Cook it less than that and it's like trying to eat paper), and sliced button mushrooms and serve tossed with ricotta and plenty of parmesan.
Buy some steam buns (I like the So Real brand, great name), steam them and serve split open and filled with sliced barbecued boneless free-range chicken thighs that have been marinated in soy sauce, a little brown sugar, chopped garlic, a big pinch of Chinese five-spice mix and vegetable oil, baby cos leaves, blanched green beans, sliced cucumber, blanched mung bean sprouts and sweet chilli sauce.
Pan-fry well-seasoned kingfish steaks and serve on rice with blanched asparagus spears and baby leeks and a vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, diced semi-dried tomatoes, capers, pickled jalapenos, chopped coriander and diced avocado.
Roast peeled diced purple-skinned kumara until tender and toss with al dente Israeli couscous, lemon zest, black olives, sliced green beans, lots of watercress sprigs and sliced fried lamb sausages. Serve drizzled with a mix of yoghurt, a little tahini, garlic and mint blitzed in the food processor.