The Novice Cook: Beetroot, Anchovies and Eggs
In Singapore, land is scarce. Despite being known as a Garden City (every road you go down is lined with trees), access to a plot of land to grow your own food can be difficult. Most of us live in high-rise buildings and any form of gardening is confined to the limited space the common corridor permits. Of course, urban gardening might be gaining momentum in many cities of the world, but in Singapore, it’s not unusual to grab a few chillies or tomatoes from just outside your door. Yes, we might be living away from the ground, but it doesn’t mean we can’t grow our own food.
The tiny ‘garden’ we have, our Dad’s pride of joy, is becoming a little ecosystem on its own. Okay, my Dad is weird. If ferns and unwanted plants make our garden their home, he would allow them the right to live. Yes, we have weeds and all, my Dad is surprisingly very zen with life and death. Bees, bugs and butterflies often visit to feed on nectar. A couple of hummingbirds have made a nest recently. (We have had plenty of animals visiting our home – monkeys, owls, bats, random birds, the list goes on. And we live on the third floor. Once we had frogs on the loose, but that’s a story for another day.)
We have to admit that we can’t grow any fruit trees, and definitely cannot raise livestock. How we wish to have a brood of chickens! Imagine this: fresh eggs in the morning and free-range organic chickens! (Oh, Dad used to keep chickens as pets when he was a kid. But eventually, he did eat them though.) Most of our meat are imported – an example, our pork is from Down Under, or our poultry from the neighbouring Malaysia. But we will never know how these animals were treated before they end up in clean little plastic-wrapped packages in the markets.
Just ask a person on the street, they would paint you a picture of an idyllic farm land with lush green fields where the cows happily graze. That is still quite possible but a rarity in this day and age. In fact, most of our food come from huge industrialised farms and the animals are seen as part of a business model. This means welfare of these animals is not of top priority. Money first, how these animals feel can be on the agenda if there is a complaint. So ask yourself, are you okay eating that piece of steak on your plate tonight if I told you that the cow suffered when alive?
Ever since I watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken Out and read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I’ve become more conscious about eating meat. I’m going to make my stand clear: I’m not turning vegetarian and it’s not about being a earth-loving plant-chewing hippie. I grew up eating meat and have always felt amiss if meat is not present during a meal. But as much as I love eating beef, lamb, pork or chicken, I cannot allow myself to consume an animal who has suffered. Yes, in a way, death is a form of suffering. But at least, if it has lived a contented life doing what it is born to do and slaughtered with respect, that would be okay by me. Many might say I am contradicting myself. However, this is where I stand.
And where does this lead me to? It means I would have to know how these animals have lived prior their visit to the abattoir. In Singapore, we do not have these sort of information. There is no way I can drive down to the farm and watch how the farmer tends to his or her animals. Well, I simply cut meat from my meals unless I know its source. Since last December, I’ve lived on a diet of vegetables, beancurd, eggs and rice. (Diary products are another problem, but EGGS. Let me slowly take another step to rid diary off my diet.) I do eat the occasional meat when dining out with my friends. Otherwise, I’ll order a seafood dish (overfishing is also a troubling matter, sigh).
Going meatless is not difficult when you have recipes that have punchy strong flavours. In this dish, the earthy sweetness of the beetroot just melds with the sharp musky anchovies. I’ve tried both types of anchovies – one pickled in olive oil and the other pickled in vinegar. The latter had a lighter sourness that didn’t assault your tastebuds. Topped with a spicy mustard sauce and freshly picked chives, just eating this dish was like a kick right in the mouth – a combustion of sweet, sour and spice. Try not to boil the eggs fully, so that they will retain a runny yolk – just be careful when peeling the shells off. Another good thing out of this was being able to use the leftovers (I’m a small eater) for lunch the next day. With rice, of course.
I might be one person against a conglomerate of corporate giants. Some may not agree, and some may think it’s a useless battle. Well, at least, I’m doing my part. And I don’t have to worry about that piece of meat in my next meal.
The recipe can be found here.