Look to Your Ancestral Roots to Discover Your Healthiest Cuisine:
The cuisine of our ancestors can give us insights to our healthier self since the gene pool changes very slowly from one generation to the next. As an example, most people of European descent have a lower incidence of alcoholism when compared to Aboriginal Australians, Native Americans, and some East Asian groups. This hasn’t changed much over the centuries and if you are East Asian, for example, you most likely will note that you are sensitive to the effects of alcoholic beverages, as were your ancestors. In other cultures, lactose intolerance is a predominant dietary feature and the list goes on and on.
Curious to learn “What is my optimum diet?”, I took a journey to Wales a few years ago to connect with my Celtic roots and understand my heritage on many levels. Landing in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, we were surrounded by fields of green dotted with sheep; 5.2 million sheep in Wales as a matter of fact, all held in with fences of hedges. It was quite an experience driving on the wrong side of the road, the wrong side of the car and shifting with your left hand! Luckily, we only went the wrong way a couple times and we learned that the Welsh people were patient and forgiving. By the way, I suggest that when asked if you want a navigation system in your rental car, you say no thank you. Had we had such a system, we would have not had ‘off-the-beaten-path’ opportunities to see England!
Hay on Wye, 2 hours from Cardiff, is a little village of about 1,400 people with 40+ bookstores; the most literary village in the world they say. I was completely in my element. That first morning after the customary stewed prunes and grapefruit (which my all-Welsh Dad loved!) breakfast was bacon ‘rashers’, which is really more like what we would think of as Canadian bacon, 1 free-range egg, a grilled tomato, mushrooms, baked beans, whole-grain toast and black pudding. This sounds like a lot, but the portions were small. The black pudding was a stretch for us, but we tried it. I’ll say this quickly…pig’s blood is what makes it black! Two bites each. Though coffee is available, tea is the drink of choice.
Artisan cheeses and freshly baked breads are featured in Welsh cuisine and are served with yet more fresh vegetables, making lunch a simple and healthy affair. Another dish that you see everywhere are pastys (sometimes spelled pasties), which are generally made from beef, potatoes and onions wrapped in pie dough, steak and kidney pie being the most common. People eat them like sandwiches. Lore is that miners would keep various pastys close to their bodies to help keep their bodies and the pasties warm. I ate plenty of vegetables and was not deprived at all in Wales. We asked the owner of a pub, where a big dog stretched across the wooden plank floor, to recommend a good local ale and she replied that the best choice was her son’s that he ‘brewed out back’ once a month. She prepared a wonderful meal of fresh fish with a little Welsh rarebit on top (a cheese sauce that I remember my Dad making) served with a nice variety of perfectly al dente vegetables.
When many think of English food, visions of overcooked vegetables in scant supply, boiled potatoes and mutton come to mind. You can find potatoes cooked in many ways, that’s true, but we weren’t served mushy vegetables, unless, of course, you order ‘mash’ which are supposed to be, well … mashed, and is different from mushy. You can also find Mutton, but spring lamb is more common. While driving through the country on Sunday looking at signs that read “Free-Range Eggs’ and ‘Free-Range Children’ (yes, really!) you can find farms with hand painted signs saying ‘Sunday Roast.’ As you can imagine, there is an easy way about these people and a real sense of caring for each other. Laughter comes easy and Welsh folk songs are heard – you know that Wales is The Land of Song, after all.
Laver bread is a Wales specialty made from seaweed (laver is actually a type of seaweed) and oats and doesn’t really have the consistency of bread at all. Seaweed is an extremely healthy food, packed with minerals and iodine, something more of us should eat regularly. To make laver bread, the seaweed is boiled for several hours and then minced or pureed. The paste that results is then sold as it is, or rolled in oatmeal, generally 4 parts laver to 1 part oats. To cook, it is fried in bacon grease. The first thing I did when I returned home was to make my own version of Laver bread. I apologize profusely to the Welsh people as a whole for my non-traditional recipe for laver bread. Since I don’t have laver, I used what I happened to have at home, which was Nori, the kind of seaweed you use to make sushi. I cut up 3 sheets, put them in the food processor and pulsed until smooth. I set that aside. Next I took a handful of oats, about 10 walnuts, 1 tablespoon of flax seeds and pulsed that in the food processor as well. Between the seaweed and the oat mixture I had almost a cup of pulsed dry meal. Next I added water to this mixture, probably about 1/3 cup or so. I mixed it well and let it sit for about 30 minutes before forming it into patties and sautéing them in a bit of olive oil. It made 3 patties. I served them for breakfast with poached eggs, and sautéed onions, garlic and greens. Again, I was inspired from the laver bread and concocted a dish perhaps more in line with the average person’s palette. You could add onions and garlic to the mixture if you like.
In Wales, desserts at this time of year are mostly made from rhubarb or perhaps a cheese plate with strawberries. Cheesecake was on almost every menu as was a wonderful Ginger-Rhubarb Crème Brule, that I am determined to duplicate. It was delicious!
My conclusion about my ‘roots diet’ compared to the one I have intuitively chosen based on my tastes and value for good health is that I am mostly on target with my love of fresh vegetables. I have chosen to minimize carbohydrates and meats in my diet, which gives me plenty of opportunity to expand and explore within what I know to be my optimum diet for well-being.