For a long time in the UK we have thought of ourselves as open to an embracing other cultures and the foods they expose us to. From the days of the Empire and the tea trade, to today’s melting pot of nationalities we have adopted food from afar. Tea is not a native plant to the UK, but if you ask anyone what our national beverage is, they are likely to exclaim, “Tea! There is nothing more British than a cup of tea!”. The regular (fairly random and silently funded) studies into what the UK’s favourite foods are often reflect our eclectic tastes with curries at the top (often with chicken tikka masala, a sweet and creamy UK invention which you won’t find in India). Britains pile into Chinese restaurants, French is a classy and rich centrefuge for small men doing big business deals, Italian is great to share with friends and wine, Tapas is a perfect start to a night out, yet do we see good British retaurants in far flung places? No, only where the ex pats feel the need to bypass beautiful local cuisines and feel as if they might just be in the UK on a hot day- picture the typical Britsh pie serving pub on the Costa Brava.
I do however love so much about British cuisine, on cold days I love a steak pie with mash, in the spring our vegetables are second to none (well perhaps the metiterranean), and there is nothing sweeter than picking your own berries on a warm Sunday afternoon.
Floating, non commitedly in the middle, is fusion food- the domain of famous restaurants and people who can’t decide. I like integrity in food, I think the Italians have paired tomato with basil for years because it works better than anything else, and that the japanese eat pickled ginger to cleanse the pallete after fatty uncltuous raw fish becuase that works better than anything else. I am not a fan of mixing wildly different cuisines, I would admit that I am a purist in this sense.
This is not to say that we can’t learn from other cuisines. Case in point is in my search for dazzling dairy free dishes, somthing that the butter centric UK doesn’t do particularly well. Europe opened our eyes to olive oil and goose fat and Asia and the Caribbean, to Coconut fat. Coconuts contain a lot of fat, saturated fat at that! The fatty tasty fruit produces an oil, which has been attributed to health benefits as diverse as weightloss, immune system support, to tooth decay. It contains a higher % of fat than butter (which is around 20% water) which means that coconut oil lends itself beautifully to shorter pastries and crusts. Here, it makes the shortest, most melty and creamy dairy free shortbread you can imagine:
Dazzling Dairy Free Shortbread
- 70g sugar
- 150g softened coconut oil
- 200g flour
- pinch of salt
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
By hand mix together the sugar and coconut oil until it forms a smooth runny paste. Add the flour and salt and rub the mixture between your fingers as you would standard shortbread.
When the dough is throughly combined, shape into ‘fingers’ and squash flat. Prick with a fork- it doesn’t add much to the texture, but it does look just like real shortbread that way!
Bake on greaseproof paper for 20-22 mins until golden brown. Take care when taking these from the oven as they will be soft and break easily.
When they have cooled and hardened, enjoy with some very British tea!