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Combinations that make and break

Thursday, May 03, 2018

The time-honoured staple of meat, potatoes and veg may be classic, but boring. Deepika Mital suggests ways to make your meal different

Meat, potatoes and veg is the time-honoured staple of pubs and inns all over Europe. The label and moniker come from Britain. The archetype of the
balanced European meal, it encompasses all the food groups that should be part of one’s daily intake. Traditionally speaking, that is. But it also has another, less inspiring connotation—that of being boring. There is no greater death knell to any plate of food than being labelled boring. What is there to get excited about a basic meat and potatoes combination which has some vegetables thrown in to alleviate the boredom (or exacerbate it)?

So what do you do when you want to make this basic food interesting? You innovate and try getting together a different set of combinations that would appeal to diners around your table. I must say I am partial to the stardom of roast pork with roasted potatoes and a lemony fresh salad that will cut the heaviness of the meat and starchiness of the potatoes. Sautéed brussel sprouts, glazed carrots and boiled broccoli all work well in supporting roles. But let’s look at details here, with some combinations and additions from your trusty masala box!

Pork tenderloin is the best meat to work with when wanting to impress, when lacking the possibility of beef. Any and every marinade works for pork, but you want to remember that pork works best with a sweet, sticky sauce—try it with a sweet soya sauce or even raspberry jam—yummy! If you go with a peppery flavour then
balance it with some sweet vegetables like honey-glazed carrots or baked beetroot. I always use a masala box staple of red chilli powder and dry ginger powder in whatever marinade I use; it just adds that extra depth of flavour to the meat. Pork chops are also a possibility, but remember to render the rind of fat for a crispy touch.

The potatoes you want to have either crusty, silky or floury. Either way is fine for pork, but a personal favourite will always be a silky mash with a dollop of parsnip or horseradish in it. This also ensures there is a lubricating factor between the different ingredients on the plate if you don’t want to spend the time making a sauce. But of course, if you do, then the meal would be perfect with some old-style hasselback potatoes—crisp on the outside with the added goodness of a chewy skin. These always make a splash with people who haven’t seen them earlier, so a good choice if that is the aim of the meal.

If potatoes are too rich for you, then turn to sweet potatoes to give the same starch content without the guilt. Either as fries or as a mash—they work equally well. You could also try leaving some of the skin on for some fries; the chewy texture just accentuates the crunch of the fries.

Baby carrots, rainbow carrots or just ordinary carrots taste heavenly sautéed in a lush mixture of butter, garlic, salt and then finished off with a hint of honey. Or the slightly more controversial choice of brussel sprouts—but choose to sauté them in coconut oil instead of just boiling them! Yep, you read that right—coconut oil… I have recently started baking broccoli rather than boiling it. This adds some body that is sorely missing from the plain, boiled version of the vegetable. If you marinate it beforehand, there will be flavour as well as texture to celebrate.

Mushrooms chopped fine, sautéed in olive oil and then dunked in cream are perfect as a low maintenance sauce, but again not very different or daring. How about going for a red onion jam instead? A delicious concoction of caramelised onions, red wine vinegar and honey, it again works very well with pork, thanks to its sweet overtones.

A salad that is simple and adds freshness is easily achieved with some diced paprikas drizzled with a vinaigrette of lemon and olive oil. Or a salsa of tomatoes, mint and green chillies. You could also replace the tomatoes with mangoes, if in season.

Hope reading this will inspire some newer combinations on your dining table and infuse life into some old ones.

Deepika Mital is an Indian cook in Europe, a writer, no-nonsense martinet at home and avid traveller.

Recipes included are my versions of onion jam and sweet potato fries.
Onion jam


  • 2 medium red onions chopped finely
  • 2 tbsp red wine or red wine vinegar
  • Sugar or honey; pepper, salt - to taste

Saute the chopped onions in a little olive oil. Once they are almost caramelised, add the wine. Let them stew for a few minutes.
Add the honey, salt and pepper. Keep on heat till it reaches a jam-like consistency. Enjoy warm or cold with bread or meat.

Sweet potato fries

  • 3 medium-sized sweet potatoes cut into fingers
  • 1 tbsp rice flour, flour, rava
  • Salt and chilli powder to taste
  • Oil for frying (I tend to sauté them in a generous amount of oil, but they are obviously better if deep-fried!)

Soak the cut sweet potato fingers in well salted cold water for at least one hour in the refrigerator. After draining well, toss them in the remaining ingredients. Fry in batches in a large frying pan such that they have enough space to brown well. Serve hot.

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