How to eat like an Ice­lander and en­joy long, healthy life

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY - Madeleine How­ell

MICHE­LIN star chef Ag­nar Sver­ris­son (oth­er­wise known as Aggi) was a pioneer of the new Nordic food scene when he brought his restau­rant, Tex­ture, to the UK in 2007. It’s still go­ing strong to­day. Sver­ris­son serves light dishes cen­tred around in­gre­di­ents from land and sea, mix­ing British and Ice­landic in­flu­ences.

Is he on to some­thing with his Ice­landicin­spired ap­proach to eat­ing well?

“I like to feel sat­is­fied – not hun­gry, but never full,” he ex­plains. “I like to go to restau­rants and be able to go out af­ter­wards – and not be so stuffed that I just want to go home and sleep.

“You should en­joy light, amaz­ing food that makes you pleas­antly sat­is­fied.”

Ac­cord­ing to nu­tri­tion­ist Lily Sout­ter, the Ice­landic diet is typ­i­cally low in sat­u­rated fat, yet high in healthy omega 3 fatty acids.

“This com­bi­na­tion is per­fect for sup­port­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar health,” she says.

“Most of these healthy fats come from fresh, lo­cally caught fish; in fact the Ice­landic cuisine con­tains four times the amount of seafood found in the cuisine of other coun­tries.

“The diet of an Ice­lander tends to be high in fibre and low in sugar, both of which are great fac­tors for bal­anc­ing blood sugar and pre­vent­ing type 2 di­a­betes.

“Much of the food is lo­cal and sea­sonal, mean­ing it will be fresher and in some cases more nu­tri­ent-dense.

“Typ­i­cally, there is very lit­tle pro­cessed food within the Ice­landic diet.”

How does the Ice­landic diet com­pare with the widely lauded Mediter­ranean diet?

“As a whole, con­sump­tion of fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles may be lower in Nordic coun­tries than in warmer Mediter­ranean cli­mates. How­ever, the Ice­landic diet is not so dif­fer­ent from the Mediter­ranean diet in that it ad­vo­cates mod­er­ate con­sump­tion of fat and pro­tein,” Sout­ter said.

“Mediter­ranean di­ets tend to fo­cus on olive oil, nuts, beans and sar­dines while Ice- lan­ders fo­cus on canola oil (rape­seed oil), wild berries, root veg­eta­bles and cod.”

While Ice­land is known for ques­tion­able del­i­ca­cies such as whale sashimi, rot­ten shark (kæs­tur hákarl) and puf­fin, many sta­ples of the diet are far more palat­able.

Sver­ri­son is par­tic­u­larly proud of Ice­land’s fa­mous lamb. “We take the shanks and we braise them for a very long time in mother’s broth – tra­di­tional Ice­landic broth for a cold day with bar­ley, car­rots, pota­toes, swedes, rose­mary and thyme.

“I also tend to cook a rack of lamb sous-vide and then char­grill it af­ter­wards. The tem­per­a­ture should be around 60°C, so it’s pink but not too pink. I serve it with bar­ley, and I like the shoul­der best.

“Ice­landic lamb is lean and game-like, be­cause a lot of the sheep and lambs live in the moun­tains and eat lin­gonber­ries and wild herbs. Then they go to the sea and eat all the sea herbs.”

Ac­cord­ing to Sout­ter, lamb is packed with iron. “As a re­sult, it con­trib­utes to the re­duc­tion or tired­ness and fa­tigue as well as sup­port­ing im­mune func­tion,” she says.

“They also pro­vide a source of omega 3 fats and B vi­ta­mins which both play a role with sup­port­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar health.”

Herbs like sor­rel, dill and thyme are widely used.

“I love sor­rel with fish,” says Sver­ris­son. “It has a very dis­tinc­tive flavour and it helps to bring out the flavour of the food.

“And who doesn’t like dill in Ice­land and Scan­di­navia? Dill is just ev­ery­where. I love it with salmon, but not only that – I also love it with veg­eta­bles. It’s not for ev­ery­body: you ei­ther love it or you hate it.

“You also get so much wild, Arc­tic thyme and lemon thyme here, which is beau­ti­ful with lamb. I al­ways use it fresh: if you cook it with the lamb it stews and gets a com­pletely dif­fer­ent flavour – you mas­sage it a lit­tle bit and it re­leases the flavour.”

As well as pro­vid­ing flavour and sea­son­ing, there are health ben­e­fits too. “Herbs are a per­fect way of flavour­ing food with­out the need for salt,” stresses Sout­ter. “They are also of­ten high in an­tiox­i­dants.” Then there is the fa­mous Ice­landic fish. Sver­ris­son likes to cook cod on one side in a very hot pan so it’s very crispy, then hardly cook the other side so it’s very soft.

“Cod is bril­liant cold as well, mar­i­nated in a salad.”

From a nu­tri­tion­ist’s point of view, Sout­ter ap­proves of Ice­land’s lik­ing for cod. “Cod is a low fat source of qual­ity pro­tein, an es­sen­tial macronu­tri­ent needed for main­te­nance of mus­cle mass and healthy bones. Cod is also a good source for vi­tal mi­cronu­tri­ents such as Vi­ta­min B12, io­dine and se­le­nium.”

Salmon is an­other sta­ple of the Ice­landic diet. “It’s a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids. These es­sen­tial fats may help to sup­port car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, and also play a role with mood, mem­ory and con­cen­tra­tion,” Sout­ter says.

Skyr is Ice­land’s fa­mous cul­tured dairy prod­uct, which claims to be high in pro­tein and low in fat. It re­sem­bles yo­gurt, but has a milder taste.

“It’s per­fect for bal­anc­ing blood sugar, as well as main­tain­ing mus­cle mass and bone health,” Sout­ter says.

There’s been plenty of noise of late about sea weeds and sea herbs. “It’s rich in min­er­als, which con­trib­utes to nor­mal thy­roid func­tion, a key or­gan in­volved with our me­tab­o­lism,” Sout­ter says.

“It’s also rich in io­dine, which con­trib­utes to the main­te­nance of nor­mal skin, ner­vous sys­tem and cog­ni­tive func­tion, along with zinc, magnesium, potas­sium, cop­per and even cal­cium.”

It’s a lesser known fact that Ice­land is abun­dant in rhubarb.

“I love rhubarb. It’s not too sweet and has a lit­tle acid­ity,” says Sver­ris­son.

Ap­par­ently, it’s also rich in vi­ta­mins K and C, sup­port­ing the im­mune sys­tem. – The Tele­graph

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DEB LIND­SEY/ GETTY IMAGES

IM­MUNE SYS­TEM BOOSTER: Rhubarb is rich in vi­ta­mins K and C

PHO­TO­GRAPH: EDDY BUTTARELLI/GETTY IMAGES

LIGHT FAN­TAS­TIC: Smoked salmon with dill and fresh fen­nel

PHO­TO­GRAPH: LAWRENCE K HO/ GETTY IMAGES

PROTIEN PUNCH: Grilled cod with chif­fon­ade of sor­rel

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