Carbohydrates (also known as saccharides) are long-chain carbon molecules to which hydrate (hydrogen and oxygen) are added. They are basic organic compounds that, in food terms either directly supply energy (in the forms of sugar) or are used as storage molecules (starch, glycogen).
Carbohydrates have received a bad press of late. Partly this is due to various high-profile high-protein diets and the association of our sugar-rich modern diets with early-onset diabetes and obesity.
However, it should be recognized that carbohydrates are essential for a whole range of processes in humans and these include bolstering the immune system, fertilization, pathogenesis, blood clotting and development. Complex carbohydrates and sugars (especially those carbohydrates found in grains) provide delayed energy for the body during the day and are of critical importance for children’s alertness. Starchy foods are also important energy resources for much of humanity.
It’s only our Western diet that’s skewed this balance, in that too much refined sugar is consumed in our food. Indeed, for the majority of human history the quest for carbohydrate staples has been of major concern for every culture. In Europe, this was grain and rice (until potatoes came from the New World). Even today most of our staple foods are carbohydrate based (think of porridge, bread, mashed potatoes, chips (crisps), rice, tortillas etc) and carbohydrates remain a critical component of the human diet.
Below are two classic recipes for carbohydrate-based staples from around the globe.
Beans and Bananas
300g dried red kidney beans
4 green bananas or plantains
2 tbsp palm oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp salt
Hot chilli pepper to taste
Soak the beans for at least 3 hours in plenty of water, Drain, place in a pan, cover with plenty of water and boil for 40 minutes, or until tender. Drain.
Peel and chop the bananas then add the oil to a pan and brown the onions. Add the beans and bananas to the oil, season with salt and pepper then stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add 1l water and simmer until the beans are completely cooked and the liquid has reduced to about 250ml. Serve hot as an accompaniment.
Colcannon (Potatoes and Greens)
120g butter(1/4 tsp
freshly-grated nutmeg(salt and black pepper, to taste
Add the kale to a large pan of lightly-salted water and cook until tender (about 20 minutes). Drain, allow to cool, then chop to shred the greens.
Finely chop the leeks, then place in a pan along with just enough milk to cover. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking until the leeks are soft (about 8 minutes).
Meanwhile peel and chop the potatoes and add o a pan of lightly-salted water. Return to a boil and continue cooking until the potatoes are soft (about 25 minutes). Drain the potatoes then mash well before stirring-in the leeks and their cooking milk. Return to the heat, blend-in the kale then cream everything together until the mixture is soft and green coloured. Continue cooking until warmed through then add the butter and cook until the butter has melted and combined with the potatoes.