Cauliflower steak | Peter Clover

I was recently horrified to learn of a ‘life study’ report highlighting the probability of ‘today’s’ children as being less likely to achieve the longevity of their own parents, let alone coming even close to clocking up the dizzy decades of their doting grandparents.

These shorter life-span expectancies among children were primarily based on the increase of present day obesity, fuelled by fast food trends prevalent in the lifestyles of today’s universal youth. Combine diet with a lack of exercise through too many hours spent isolated in lonely bedrooms on social media or in front of the x-box and it’s a recipe for total disaster.

Yet, putting chicken nuggets aside, there was also a contrasting view, that with technology in their lives, today’s children will actually thrive longer, albeit at the risk of spending their twilight years battling extremely poor health. Don’t we at least owe it to the children, as well as ourselves, to live the healthiest life possible?

You only have to look around at the alpha choices of impressionable youngsters to see where this problem is generating from. Fast food, saturated sugar products, and basically a rubbish diet with not a green vegetable in sight! It seems that young people everywhere are losing their appetite for healthy eating and turning their noses up at traditional, local fayre.

For decades, nutritionists have proudly announced the healthier benefits of a Mediterranean diet, rich in fresh fish, lean meat, juicy tomatoes, green vegetables, lush peppers, nuts and fruit with lashings of extra virgin olive oil and a good shake of sunshine. We are truly blessed, that here on the island of Mallorca, all this health inspiring produce is readily available at arm’s reach and found in absolute abundance across the island.

But let’s not get too carried away by thinking that the healthy Mediterranean diet encompasses everything consumed here in Mallorca! There are quite a few local delicacies that stretch the idea of healthy eating beyond any boundaries set by culinary critics. Traditional favourites including ‘embutidos’ (processed meat cuts) are not exactly a truly healthy option if eaten to excess. And the range of produce including jamon Serrano, bottifarron, morcilla, sobrasada, chorizo and camaiot to name a few, remain so popular amongst the locals that they turn up in some form at most meal times. A lot of Majorcan food is also breadcrumbed and fried - again not the healthiest dietary option. Or includes pastry fortified with ‘manteca’ (pork fat) lacing those thickly rolled pie crusts. Empanadas, cocarrois and robiols - all absolutely delicious and listed highly as Mallorcan favourites; yet like the beloved Ensaimadas - a far cry from healthy eating.

But of course, on the flip side of the coin, Majorcan cuisine is also full of locally grown fruit, organic vegetables, fresh fish, a stunning variety of seafood, sweet tomatoes, succulent peppers and all those Mediterranean ingredients that we expect from our island cuisine.
‘Tumbet’ is a simply stunning local dish of sautéed potatoes, courgettes, aubergines and peppers layered beneath a sweet cloak of tomato sauce, and is as Mediterranean looking, smelling and tasting as it comes. ‘Trampo’ is another island favourite – a salad heralding summer, consisting of chopped tomato, sweet white onion and peppers, all taste-tinglingly refreshing and uber-healthy drizzled with lemon squeezes and virgin oil dribbles. ‘Lomo con Col’ – a succulent pork speciality wrapped in tender cabbage leaves, simmered in a tasty jus embraced with raisins and pine nuts.

‘Sopes Mallorquines’ - a vegetable based extravaganza. Yet, along with many, many more of these healthy home cooked and traditional Mallorcan dishes available, why, at the first opportunity, do the local youngsters head straight for the nearest fast-food outlet? It would appear, that the first base choice of today’s youth is a greasy burger, some form of golden, breadcrumbed nugget, or a stodgy pizza, all served with chips and washed down with a sugar loaded soft drink. It’s quite mind blowing to discover that the average 12oz can of cola contains at least 9 teaspoons of sugar which translates as 39gms. The daily recommended intake of sugar for a fully grown man is 36gms! Do the math!!!

If the excuse for reaching towards fast food is down to time, then I think Mallorca has one traditional classic which is probably one of the quickest snacks on Earth to prepare. And at a push can easily become a substantial meal. Take a slice of Mallorcan bread. Lightly toast it. Now rub it first with a clove of garlic, then the squidged juice and flesh of sun ripened tomato. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.

BOOM! You’ve just made a ‘pa amb oli’ or a ‘Pam’s brolly’ as our English friends call them. Top with a little local cheese or Iberica ham and you have a tasty snack that rivals any Big Mac!

Making a pa amb oli might be fast but it’s also a real art to make a good one. The real secret to getting everything exactly right, is that you have to be Mallorcan! It’s in their blood. So, instead of ferreting out the fast food franchises of cheeseburger and fajita fame, why don’t the Majorcan teenagers go back to embracing their own Mediterranean diet?

Take a lesson from Mama and learn how to make decent fast-food. My top tip – grate tomato halves on a box grater into a bowl. The tomato skins actually protect your fingers! Add salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and dried oregano along with a good splash of virgin olive oil. Mix well and spread generously across your Pam’s brollies! Also delish topped with a sliced, hard-boiled egg and a few anchovies.

Burgers and fries are totally OK now and again. But when fast food becomes a daily obsession, I think parents have got to seriously start educating their children, and bring them back to a diet that the Mediterranean Mallorcan’s are famous for.

These days, we are also being heartily encouraged to include meat free days into our weekly, culinary repetoire. Who would have thought that a cow breaking wind in Somerset could be partially responsible for ice caps melting in Antartica!

Over the years I have subconsciously cut out a lot of red meat from my diet and totally embraced the Mediterranean menu. Vegetables have always proved exciting for me in all their forms, and I was delighted to discover (through experiment) a quick, vegetable based midweek or anytime dish that will knock your socks off. And hopefully, even get the kids begging for more.

Cauliflower Steaks Parmigiana

1 Take a medium sized cauliflower and carefully cut through the entire form into even slices of approx 1.5cms thickness to create cauliflower ‘steaks’. That’s about the width of a finger unless you are an Olympic shot-putter! You can prepare this dish for any number of people but for this recipe I am concentrating on two!

2 Sprinkle steaks with garlic powder, onion powder, freshly milled black pepper, salt and a dusting of dried oregano, then sauté steaks gently in olive oil and butter, turning occasionally until golden and cooked through. Cover pan with a lid while cooking steaks to guarantee the thicker part of the stems (which are integral for holding the slices together) are perfectly tender. Test with the point of a knife. The cauliflower steaks are fabulous eaten just like this as a side, but for this recipe carefully remove and place in a baking dish.

3 In the remaining oil/butter, sauté thin slices of aubergine until golden and tender. Add more oil and butter if necessary. Set aside.

4 Defrost frozen spinach in microwave and squeeze out excess water. Spread a thin layer of spinach across cauliflower steaks and season with powdered or freshly grated nutmeg. Smear 2 tbsp of tomato passata across spinach then top with two of the cooked aubergine slices and two slices of tomato. Cover generously with grated cheddar cheese (you can prepare to this stage in advance) then cook on middle shelf under a hot grill until cheeses is bubbling and ‘steaks’ are heated through. About 8 minutes. I always turn grill off, close oven door, and leave steaks in for another five minutes.

5 Serve with buttery mashed potatoes and green beans, then remind yourself that this dish is vegetarian as you swoon over the flavour. Soooo tasty.