Every year I’m astounded by how much I don’t know about food and the ingredients and foodie delights out there in the world. At the end of each year I love sharing these posts telling you all about what I’ve discovered for the first time and I always wonder what the next year will bring. The year 2019 was a huge one for foodie discoveries and I even had to leave some out and choose my ten favourites! I can’t wait to learn even more in 2020!
A key ingredient in Vietnamese pho broth and an absolute delight on the senses, this larger, smokier, deeper version of the more familiar green cardamom was a revelation to me during mine and Mark’s Vietnamese cooking class in Hanoi. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t come across it before and immediately found some to cook with at home. I haven’t actually used any yet (being away for the last 3 months hasn’t helped me there), but I can’t wait to experiment with such a complex and interesting flavour.
This was another discovery made during our trip to Vietnam. A kind of cross between an apple and a pear, this super crunchy, not-overly-sweet fruit was a refreshing accompaniment with our breakfasts. Plus, how shiny are their skins??
These thin, sweet, pickled, fairly mild chillies were my favourite pintxos bite during my birthday weekend in San Sebastian this year. Usually skewered on a cocktail stick with olives and salty anchovies, these were a real treat and I made sure to buy a jar to bring home!
Wild Chamomile/Pineapple Weed
This year we got an allotment after waiting just under a year on a waiting list (I know – we were lucky!) and I was overjoyed to find pineapple weed growing along some of the paths. These hardy little daisy-like weeds manage to thrive in some of the toughest conditions and love rocky, dry paths. They also make a smashing cup of tea and have a beautiful fruity, chamomile flavour.
Off Menu Podcast
This is a sneaky one as it’s obviously not a food, but a foodie discovery nonetheless. This hilarious weekly podcast with comedians James Acaster and Ed Gamble features a special guest each week who chooses their favourite ever starter, main, side, dessert and drink. This podcast manages to make me laugh out loud more times than is always practical and also never fails to make me hungry with the guests’ descriptions of their favourite foods. Definitely one to give a listen and I can’t wait for a new series to start! Find out more on the website: https://www.offmenupodcast.co.uk/
A lot of the time we only experience spices however they arrive in jars, and until recently I hadn’t given much thought to what they actually look like when they are growing, or which part of the plant they are even from! Nutmeg spice comes from the dried seed/stone of the nutmeg fruit, and the flesh of the fruit itself is actually put to good use in Malaysia where historically a lot of nutmeg was grown for the global spice trade. I tried both nutmeg juice and dried nutmeg fruit in Penang, the latter of which I particularly enjoyed.
OK – I know these have actually been around forever, so technically perhaps it’s not a discovery for me since I have known about their existence all along. HOWEVER, I never tried one until this year because I don’t like smoothies, and I wasn’t sure why everyone was so exited about it if it was just the same thing in a bowl with some toppings. Well, I tried one and it changed my mind in an instant. I still don’t like smoothies – I don’t like drinking something of that texture and thickness – but if the fruit is slightly frozen before blending and I can eat it with a spoon then it’s basically like eating ice cream except way healthier. I haven’t looked back I’ll say that much.
So I think I had come across aromatic ginger before, but for some reason it filed under “galangal” in my brain, but it’s actually something completely different! I did a cooking class with two friends in Bali (more content on my travels to come I promise!) and learned about how they use aromatic ginger in combination with both galangal and regular ginger as a base for a lot of their cooking.
Native Australian ingredients
Mark and I are huge fans of Masterchef Australia, and we were planning for the last few years to make a trip to visit family and friends and to basically eat our way around Melbourne and Sydney! In October we finally made it out there and I was so excited to try native Australian ingredients that I had heard about on the show like saltbush, finger lime and lemon myrtle. I can’t wait to write about our trip – I’m storing up a fair bit of content from my travels – but I will say that Charcoal Lane restaurant in Fitzroy in Melbourne, and Vue du Monde in Melbourne’s CBD both really celebrated native Australian ingredients and also served lip-smackingly delicious food.
Another ingredient that I knew about, but had never tried, is verjuice. It’ is celebrated by Australia’s national treasure Maggie Beer whose farm shop we visited in the Barossa Valley where I tried verjuice for the first time. It’s a beautifully fresh source of subtle acidity without the harshness of lemon juice or the sweetness of pomegranate molasses, so I’m excited to use it in my cooking.
I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to discover so many interesting, flavoursome, tongue-challenging ingredients and also to be able to bring some home to experiment with myself. I’m excited to be back home to spend a bit of time in my kitchen playing around!
Did anyone discover anything exciting this year that they hadn’t come across or used before? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!