Rumblings: Jane-Anne Hobbs
Sneaky but healthy ways to satisfy bottomless appetites
Anyone with teenagers will be familiar with what's known in our house as Open-Door Fridge Gaping. Standing like a perplexed giraffe, the teen will gaze into the fridge for a full minute before demanding, exasperated: "But what is there to eat?"
There is usually an ample supply of vegetables, fruit, cheese, eggs and leftovers, but to the mind of a young person, these don't count, not least because putting them together in a pan might require 10 minutes' effort. No, a properly stocked grazing station must include sausages, pizza, roast chicken, hamburgers and, in Sector 5 (bottom shelf), litres of cola and a case of beer.
Over the years, since my three children turned from nibblers into eating machines, I've had to come up with some sneaky, inexpensive strategies for feeding them and their friends. In a nutshell: fewer fish, more loaves.
It may seem obvious that bulking out a little protein with plenty of filling carbs is the way to go, but the trick is doing it in such a way that your youngsters neither feel deprived nor are so short-changed on nutrients that they turn into lumps of blubber.
In my arsenal are four key ingredients: chickpeas, beans, pasta and potatoes. On their own, they're meek-tasting foods ("lame", in teen-speak) so the secret is to combine them with robust aromatics and vivid colours to create dishes that please both eyes and taste buds. A packet of bacon or pork sausages, for example, can be stretched between eight or 10 mouths if you brown the meat and then slice it into a slow-simmered stew of chickpeas, tomatoes, red peppers, carrots and potatoes. Give the stew a kick in the pants with wine, paprika, tomato paste, cumin and chilli, serve it with dollops of chilled tzatziki, and no one will notice that the sausage-to-starch ratio is bordering on stingy.
Garlic is an ingredient teenagers seem to adore, and they'll fall on even the humblest repast if it is lavishly anointed with a garlicky vinaigrette or dabbed with garlic butter. They also have a natural affinity for chickpeas, which I use often to make burgers, a sort of chewable form of hummus. Mash the chickpeas with feta, garlic, grated onion, tahini, fresh herbs and a little egg and flour to bind them, fry the patties until crisp, then serve on their own with a mint-and-paprika vinaigrette, or sandwiched between buns with lettuce.
Great cauldrons of spicy vegetable soup or bean-packed chilli con carne are other useful forms of teen fuel for parties, and need not be boring if you dish them up with many little bowls of interesting toppings: grated cheddar, guacamole, oven-baked croutons, fresh chillies, sour cream and so on. Few teens can tell the difference between soy mince and real minced beef if you cunningly combine them half-and-half in a herby, brick-red Bolognaise; they certainly never notice when I use the same trick in cottage pie and bobotie.
First prize in the teen-fodder division, however, goes to the potato wedge. I don't know any young person who can resist a rustling pile of golden wedges dished up with a lemony half-yoghurt, half-mayonnaise dip. The trick to really crunchy wedges is to parboil them in salty water for six minutes, let them dry out for 30 minutes, then roast them in a very hot oven with a dusting of seasoned salt and a lick of olive oil. And buy a potato-wedging gadget - you'll thank me for it.
Jane-Anne Hobbs is the author of 'Scrumptious South Africa: Food for Family and Friends' (Random House Struik). Find these recipes at www.scrumptious.co.za.