Trish Deseine reinvents the meal …
Inspired by the wise behaviour of my glowiest French girlfriends, who always keep their social drinking to a mere glass or two, I am slowly transitioning from sober curious to sober serious. After two years of chaotic eating and drinking habits, the second half of 2022 will be a period of serenity, health and wellbeing. In this major #soberissexy vibe shift, which sees no or low-alcohol as a stigma-free option, I see an opportunity to shake things up and treat myself better while I do.
It’s not that easy in my neck of the woods. The supremacy of wine as partner for food has been a constant in my social life in France. When my first cookbook dared to include exotic curries and spicy-savoury-sweet dishes and I asked the wine experts in my entourage to suggest drinks pairings, they simply gave up. No decent French wine was to be wasted alongside a chicken korma, or hot chilli: “Let them drink Coke!” they scoffed. Over the years, from time to time there might be some good craft beer or cider served at the table, mostly if the dish itself contained it, and these days, natural wines constantly provide new and interesting tastes and sensations. But still, s’il vous plaît – rules.
In both drinking cultures, French and Irish, choosing non-alcoholic drinks with our food can be as big a shift as reducing or removing meat or dairy on our plates. Add to this strangeness the Pavlovian associations we all make. When I taste a slice of gooey Camembert, I instantly crave an old Bordeaux. Likewise a fresh, ash-coated goat’s cheese immediately has me dying for a crisp, cold St Véran, and oysters absolutely require Guinness, Beamish or Murphy’s.
Nevertheless, slowly I am introducing other drinks at my table to my, happily more curious, current social circle and I’ve been experimenting with water kefirs, iced, cold-brew teas and my favourite, kombucha, tea’s fermented, fizzy and refreshing first cousin. I tend tend to prefer a plain version, hoping soon to master the subtle highlighting of the original tea’s flavour – Oolong, Yunnan, Genmaicha and Sencha teas all have distinctive notes, from toasted to acidic to smoky – in order to match it to the food. Thankfully, fruit flavours added to a kombucha can help pair it with dishes, just as you would with wine. A citrus and ginger kombucha goes well with Thai or Malaysian cooking; one with spicier notes would be great with, say, kimchi, or the fermented vegetables in a pickled beet and goat’s cheese salad. Red fruit-flavoured kombucha and a rich, roast duck would also be very good together.
But just as I cannot bring myself to use meat and dairy substitutes, I’m not yet a huge fan of “straight” alcohol-free wine or beer with home-cooked dishes, as options here in France are less than attractive. One brand I do love however, when I want delicate bubbles and colour, a pretty bottle and a proper cork pop is Jennie Kergoat-Ruelland’s “So Jennie”. These delicious “luxury bubbles” sit very nicely next to real champagne when you want to give a non-alcoholic, low-sugar option.
Vaughan Yates of The Virgin Mary Bar on Dublin’s Capel Street (see the online shop at www.thevirginmarybar.com) recommends a chilled Kolonne Null Riesling as one of the best wines available to accompany food. “Its crisp, fruity and creamy bouquet is a perfect accompaniment to light fish dishes and salads. Sparkling wines such as Wildlife Botanical Blush make a fantastic pairing with Eton Mess or roulade or as a summer non-alcohol serve with afternoon tea. It’s also full of vitamins and mood-boosting botanicals.” Fiona Beckett, author of How To Drink Without Drinking, also recommends WildLife Botanicals. And All About Kombucha, made in a carbon-neutral Kombucha brewery in Co Galway, is now in over 250 stockists and online at www.allaboutkombucha.ie. Á votre santé!
Three kombucha recipes to try
KOMBUCHA MINT REFRESHER
No alcohol here, but don’t forget that kombucha makes a wonderful, low-calorie, high-flavour mixer in classic alcohol cocktails too. This is my go-to base for refreshing, mojito style apéritifs. I also like it with Poacher’s ginger beer.
3 minutes preparation
1/2 a lime
1 tsp runny honey
5–6 mint leaves
Cut the lime into chunks. Add the honey and mint and crush them all together to release and mix the aromas. Add the ice and stir well, top with the kombucha and serve immediately.
KOMBUCHA SALAD DRESSING
The sweet, tart, funkiness of kombucha is delicious in a dressing for salads, raw fish or crudités.
5 minutes preparation
100ml olive oil
1 tbsp good mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp fresh herbs, finely chopped – parsley, chives, chervil, basil
Salt and pepper
As kombucha ferments, the acids produced make it taste like a sort of sweet vinegar and are a great way to flavour and tenderise meat. Kombucha’s tangy taste will work with beef, chicken, lamb, tofu and fish.
3 minutes preparation
250ml ginger lemon kombucha
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 crushed garlic cloves
100ml olive oil
1 tbsp chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
Whisk all the ingredients together and marinade the meat – or whatever protein you have chosen – for 1-2 hours before grilling.
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