Women of Hong Kong have now officially taken over from the Japanese as the people with the greatest life expectancy in the world. It’s unsurprising, in the sense that there is an infuriating number of little old ladies shuffling slowly along the street whenever I’m in a hurry, or shrieking their gossip at each other in public(they don’t seem to speak quietly), but I’m not quite sure why it is that they have achieved such longevity. Health care must be good here, I imagine, and there is a stress-relieving army of south-east Asian women who take care of all the domestic chores such as raising the children and doing housework. That can’t hurt.
I suspect the women also do a fair bit themselves to keep in good health – in the early hours it’s quite common to see the elderly out and about doing their peculiar exercises, which look like the vague flopping and half-hearted stretching you’d be scolded for in PE lessons, but clearly works wonders for them. And then there’s the all important diet. I always wonder how healthy the diet here is, as there seem to be lots of fried goods, but also plenty of seafood and vegetables too. You really don’t see that many of the elderly who are overweight. One key factor is probably that desserts here are not what I would call desserts – brownish soups made of beans, or not-particularly-sweet jellies. I’m not sure I’d want the extra years if it meant no luscious chocolatey, creamy indulgence!
Here at least is a healthy dish, my bid to live as long and healthily as my neighbours. It’s a really fragrant, tasty tagine which is easy to prepare and delightfully full of cinnamon. Chickpeas are so delicious in a stew or tagine, I just love the texture of them and how pleasingly substantial they are. This should fill you up so much that you don’t even need a dessert. But then, it’s not about need, is it?
Sweet Potato & Chickpea Tagine
Serves 4, from Holiday by Bill Granger
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp saffron threads, soaked in 3 tbsp cold water
400ml vegetable stock
800g sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
200g green beans, trimmed and halved
1 tsp maple syrup
1. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cook the onion for 6 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin and cinnamon and cook for a further minute.
3. Add the saffron threads in their water and the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil.
4. Add the sweet potato chunks, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes until tender.
5. Tip in the chickpeas and green beans and simmer for another 5 minutes.
6. Stir through the maple syrup and seasoning.
7. Serve with couscous.