One of the delicious new trends taking the world by storm is the southern African meaty treat biltong, an affordable snack that is considered a delicacy in some circles. Biltong is made from seasoned and cured silverside-cut beef—the part found between the top side and shin on near the tail of the animal (see image below). The meat is air-dried at a low temperature of around 160oF. The process of curing biltong usually involves soaking it in a marinade made from salt or saltpeter (naturally occurring potassium nitrate), pepper, vinegar, and coriander. However, since biltong has been a thriving southern African tradition for centuries, creativity has led to various homestyle versions. This makes for more variety, and so some recipes may add garlic, cloves, brown sugar, or baking soda to produce a variation on the flavor as well as the texture.
The marinated silverside beef is then air dried at a low temperature to avoid cooking the meat but to give it enough heat for preservation and to facilitate curing. The process usually avoids the fattier portions of the meat, as fat easily becomes rancid and does not cure as well as the lean portions. Yet it is not unusual to see thin streaks of fat in biltong. Once the meat is marinated and dried, it is cut against the grain into thin slices or longer fillets for packaging either in storage containers for home use or in commercial packages for sale.
Biltong or Jerky?
Biltong is notably related to beef jerky, but what’s the difference? The main difference is the air-drying method of curing the biltong. While biltong is hung to dry, jerky is cooked and dried on a rack. The spices that flavor the two types of meat are also different, and jerky has a smoked flavor that usually is not present in biltong.
To do a complete about-face, let’s turn to another trend taking root in 2020—plant-based foods and their sustainable development. Plant-based cuisine is an art and not just an alternative-meat movement. It is the art of preparing delicious and visually appealing foods using ingredients sourced only from plants. The benefits of eating plant-based come from the fact that plant foods are cholesterol and lactose-free. They are also usually low in fat—especially saturated fats—and heart-healthy.
The benefits to restauranteurs of preparing plant-based foods is a wider appeal to millennials who are conscious about the food they put into their bodies, even if they are not vegan or vegetarian.
Some savvy or adventurous chefs might even try adding “raw vegan” to their plant-based cooking techniques. In this variation on plant-based cooking, no actual “cooking” is involved. All the preparation involves uncooked and unrefined ingredients. Nothing is brought to a temperature above 50oC. One benefit of this method is that it preserves the food’s nutritional value. Another is the perceived value to the environment by reducing the human food chain’s reliance on animals, especially cows, which are thought to contribute more to the production of greenhouse gases. Since foods prepared in this way also retains higher levels of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fibers, chefs and restauranteurs practicing the method will attract patrons looking for healthy foods that support an active and environmentally activist lifestyle.
Mocktails have become a movement. They are delicious, adventurous cosmopolitan drinks prepared using either low levels of alcohol or no alcohol at all. These low (abv) alcohol-by-volume drinks are great for social events and are present on the cocktail menus in restaurants and bars in cities with some of the savviest nightlife and most vibrant happy hours. Mocktails make socializing both fun and safe. They are in line with the healthy living now en vogue in the millennial age—and they help avoid those pesky hangovers that too often follow a night of friends, fun, and socializing.
Great mocktails include virgin mojitos, with their minty and invigorating flavors. They can be varied in many ways by adding strawberries, raspberries, or even mango or basil-cucumber. Just jettison the alcohol or drastically reduce its levels. You may spice up your evening with a Bloody Mary mocktail. Margarita and daiquiri mocktails can be flavored with just about any fruit, and adding some Pellegrino will give a fizz without the buzz. The possibilities are endless. Pictured above is a Shirley Temple mocktail—ingredients: lemon juice, club soda, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, ice, and grenadine. Simple, light, delicious, and above all, very healthy.