The Virtues Of Snacking

Virgil Evetts

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t go anywhere near the supermarket on an empty stomach. I’ve done it a few times and ended up stumbling around the isles in a starved stupor, eventually getting home to find I’d bought a trolley load of mismatched food – mostly pricey, instant gratification, caloric rubbish – that I didn’t really want. So I have learned to either shop on a full stomach, or leave the shopping to someone who can be trusted to stay within budget and reason. My best beloved is good in this regard, being largely immune to hunger-driven lapses of taste.

But hunger doesn’t just make me a weak-minded trolley pusher: it also leads me seriously astray in the kitchen. The whole decision of what to cook becomes an unbearable burden on an empty stomach, and I throw myself into perspective-challenged despair. I’m told it’s quite the spectacle.

So the bottom line is that, after feeding the cats and checking the chickens, the evening can’t possibly get going until I’ve refuelled with a light but tasty snack. Being a very fussy eater – and I mean VERY fussy – I have high standards for my snack foods. But (and here’s the rub) it has to be super easy to assemble (certainly no cooking involved), taste great and go well with wine.

Now let me just say that I do realise everyone has their own favourite snack foods – some prefer sweet, some prefer savoury, some like it wet, some like it dry – so I’m not trying to say that this is the definitive list, it’s just my definitive list. This is just the stuff the puts the wind back in my sails after a long day of toil, so I can get on with the more serious business of my nightly cook-fest.

Cheese

By far the easiest option when you walk in the door, and just about my favourite food full-stop.

The only downside to cheese is that it’s a bit on the fattening side. I blame my mid-20’s waist expansion on the double cream brie addiction I was trapped in at the time. Not that it stopped me.

Cheese is however the very best kind of snack food because it’s salty, fatty and high in protein, thus giving your worn out body a gentle kick in all the right places. I go through phases of preferred pre-dinner cheeses, but usually vacillate between brie, something blue and creamy, and good, crumbly cheddar.

Ideally all cheeses should be served at room temperature, but after work on an empty stomach, who has the time to wait?

I usually prefer my cheese served with water crackers – these add some much needed carbs, but don’t interfere with the cheese’s complex flavours. If I’m really lucky my best beloved will have treated me to some criminally good and fiendishly expensive Duchy Original oat cakes. Made from ingredients grown organically on the estates of dear old Prince Big Ears, these are a serious weakness of mine.

Brie is not a cheese that needs any further accompaniments – it’s too delicate for this sort of thing – but I do like a bit of chutney or relish with my cheddar. Sticky, sweet Indian green mango relish is particularly good. Unlike most cheeses, which are sold prêt a manger (ready to eat), brie requires a bit of planning. Because I like my brie very ripe – as in ammonia-scented and oozing – I always buy it several days before I intend to dig-in. Kept loosely wrapped in the pantry it quickly ripens to that perfect degree of solid/liquid bliss sticky bliss.

A nice ripe blue cheese is just fine on its own, but a little honey comb (If you can be bothered with all that wax) or quince paste is always most welcome.

Fromage fort –when I have it – certainly makes the grade for my 5:30 top-ups and goes exceptionally well on warm toasted ciabatta.

Nuts

As I covered nuts ad nauseum not so long ago on Foodlover’s , I won’t bore you with too much detail here.

A bowl of pistachio nuts is probably about the laziest sort of snack food, but it’s also among the most delicious. But, as I’ve already confessed, I have no self control whatsoever when faced with any quantity of pistachio nuts. I will keep eating until they are all gone, however ill it may make me feel. Don’t look at me, I’m disgusting.

Being in the thrall of the pistachio not only plays havoc with ones inner workings, it also does serious damage to the war-chest. They’re prohibitively pricey and therefore only a very rare indulgence these days.

Peanuts are a more affordable option and with a little effort can make a surprisingly snazzy snack. To make spiced peanuts, heat little oil in pan, toss in 2 cups of blanched, peeled peanuts. Stir the nuts until well browned. Add a teaspoon each of garam masala, ground cumin, salt and a generous pinch of ground allspice and stir until evenly coated and fragrant. Remove from heat and drain on kitchen paper. Serve completely cooled to get a decent crunch. These nut can be little messy to eat, but are a cheap and easy way of injecting the total yawn-fest that is the peanut with some much needed verve.

Crostini

These take a bit of initial effort but are welcome addition to the pantry when hunger busts the door down. Crostini are nothing more than thin slices of (usually stale) bread, drizzled with a little olive oil and baked in moderate oven until completely dry. They should be very brittle and crunchy. In an air tight container they will keep almost indefinitely – willpower permitting.

Crostini are great smeared with whatever you have in the fridge – pesto, taramasalata, aioli etc. My favourite topping for crostini is fresh chicken liver pate made in the Tuscan style with a few anchovies and capers blended in with the livers. Just about as fine as snacking gets and the kismet- perfect partner to glass of blood & guts red.

Bruschetta

First of all, I have to clear something up. It’s bruu-sketta, not brush-etta. I know, it doesn’t really matter, but what can I say – I’m a total pedant.

Anyway, bruschetta is really just garlic bread with an Italian flourish. Best made with Italian-style sour dough bread, such as ciabatta or pugliesse (fluffy, soft breads will burn too quickly), cut to the thickness of a couple of fingers and toasted until it to burns a little around the edges. The bread is then rubbed with a clove of raw garlic, drizzled with some very good extra virgin oil and finished with a sprinkle of flaky sea-salt. I’m not a big fan of the lingering taste of raw garlic, so usually blanch it for about 10 seconds in the microwave first. Not often you’ll hear me mention microwaves with any kind of positivity.

Bruschetta is traditionally grilled over charcoals. Yeah, whatever.

Corn Chips & Salsa Cruda

There is something about the smell of cheap corn chips that I just can’t abide. So strong is my aversion that I’ve banned their consumption in my presence at home. EMO –Boy (my brother in law) on the other hand would quite happily subsist on the noxious shrapnel, and is forever testing my boundaries. He got quite snippy the other night when I exiled him back to his fortress of solitude (his bedroom), after he briefly surfaced with a sack of said stinkables. What is it with gangly students and peculiar smells?

But being a card-carrying hypocrite I do make the odd self-serving exception to this ban. Blue corn chips can do no wrong. I’m such a fan of these, and not because they are organic or blue – they just taste, and smell, really good. Blue corn chips are made with a naturally blue variety of maize grown for centuries by the Native American Hopi people. They have a wonderfully toasty, mellow corn-flavour (the chips, not the Hopi), but with none of the sickly, sweaty odour I find so disagreeable elsewhere. Basically these are the corn chips for people who don’t like corn-chips.

To make an a perfect salsa cruda (raw sauce) to accompany these, or any other corn chips that tickle your fancy, roughly process together 2 or 3 peeled and burstingly-ripe tomatoes, a clove or 2 of garlic, a couple of chillies, a de-seeded red capsicum, a glug of olive oil and plenty of salt to taste. Use your fingers to squish together but do not use a food processor. Finish with a little fresh coriander. This should be a rough, chunky sauce with a zingy freshness from the raw tomato and good kick from the chilli and garlic. When you can find them, tomatillos make an excellent substitute (pictured) for the tomatoes. The tomatillo version is known as salsa verde, but shouldn’t be confused with the very good but complexly different Italian sauce of the same name.

As you might have noticed, none of these ideas is exactly innovative or original. But that’s because when I’m really hungry I don’t want to think, I want simple pleasing flavours that recharge my batteries, so I can focus on the real matter at hand-dinner!

There’s nothing wrong with going to lots of effort with your snack foods, but it’s often wasted on the tired and hungry.

In my professional life I attend a great many gallery and exhibition openings. Quite often the catering for these affairs is very lavish indeed, with an endless array of very clever, very fussy canapés and amuse bouche sweeping through the crowd. As most of these events happen in the very early evening, the assembled company is usually desperately hungry, and as result virtually inhale whatever they are offered. I often think they’d be just as happy with sausage rolls and curried eggs. So ultimately, my personal golden rules for après toil pick-me-ups are: keep it simple, keep it quick, keep it tasty.

So what do you think? Are you a snacker by nature ?

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9 thoughts on “The Virtues Of Snacking

  1. I graze all day – between breakfast and tea – and usually just have a salad for lunch in the middle.

    Some of my typical snacks are cherry tomatoes, wasabi peas, peanuts in their shell, pistachios, tim tams (I have to hide these from the kids), brasil nuts, garlic-stuffed olives, pickled onions, fresh coconut, salt and vinegar kettle chips, beef jerky… this week I sprouted some beans and found them to be strangely compulsive!

    I make my own pickled onions and beef jerky, the others I just buy at the supermarket in moments of weakness and financial abandon!

  2. My current snack, which is quality testing, you understand, nothing to do with compulsion or greed, is a teaspoonful of one of three nut butters in the pantry: Kaiora Organic; Pics (from Nelson); and Chantal Organic Cashew. They all get big ticks but the cashew is lower in the jar.

  3. Another way to tart up peanuts is to add diced fresh chilli and finely sliced green onion to roasted salted peanuts. Dead easy and tasty.

    However I only ever make it for others – I have no willpower, so as a rule, I don’t have a snack before dinner, as I can’t stop!

  4. My favourite at the moment is to keep small savoury biskets or crostini near the fridge.The jar of Dukka is a real pick me up and I cant resist it.Sometimes I dunk fresh young veg from the garden in it like celery or asparagus

  5. Spinach and cashew dip is my current snack of choice:

    250g spinach frozen
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    1/2 cup cashews
    2 tablespoons tahini
    1/2 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)

    Method
    Defrost spinach and put all ingredients into a food processer and mix well.
    Eat.

  6. I don’t see fruit or vegetables anywhere on your list (well apart from little bit of tomato in the salsa??? Snacking is not actually that good for you at all – most traditional cultures (e.g. Greek, Japanese, French, Italian) other than the Western culture don’t spend all day stuffing their faces with food. All snacks do is add to the already high calorie consumption of the average Western consumer. Overeating (which eating outside the main meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner contributes to) is unhealthy: excess calories fuel cell division, faster cell division increases the risk of mutations, which may increase the risk of some forms of cancer.

  7. I love to grab some bread and veges I find around and some olive oil and dukka.I am totally addicted to Dukka and can often can be found tipping a little into the palm of my hand while still thinking of what to snack on.

  8. What a great write-up, Helen. You described so well what it’s like to get those hunger stupours. Thanks for being honest.

    As long as we listen to our correct body cues, snacks are good for us. I just won’t eat as much during my main meals :-)