Ilona Amos: Eating with the planet in mind offers food for thought

Eating insects could help tackle climate change - Edinburgh bakery Patissier Maxime serves cakes made with beasties and bugs as ingredients.
Eating insects could help tackle climate change - Edinburgh bakery Patissier Maxime serves cakes made with beasties and bugs as ingredients.
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Next Monday sees the start of the first ever Climatarian Week, when we’re being asked to eat with the planet in mind. This doesn’t mean giving up meat, just swapping your usual intake of beef and lamb for pork and poultry. Doing this for a year can save the equivalent amount of greenhouse gas emissions expended by driving 3,500 miles.

Great. Sounds fairly easy, and good for your health. Let’s do it.

Or maybe we could go a step further. Instead of farmed pork and poultry, perhaps we could get our protein from an alternative, more sustainable source. Insects.

Entomophagy, as it’s know, is not just for fame-hungry eejits on reality TV shows. More than two billion folks around the globe already eat creepie crawlies as part of their daily diet, guzzling around 1,900 different species. They’re nutritious and delicious – apparently. And so I’d like to share a few culinary tips on how to serve them. It’s your granny’s fly cemetery recipe, with a difference – real flies.

I’m no stranger to the idea of snacking on things you might usually clean off your windscreen, having sampled crickets and mealworms in the past. But I recently received the handy little book Insects: An Edible Field Guide. It contains all you need to know about which critters around the world are good for the pot and instructions on how to prepare them. Author Stefan Gates has even listed his top ten favourite meals, with red ant salad at number one, and some of the most “surprising” dishes he has encountered – mealworm ice-cream, anyone?

I turned to the UK and Northern Europe section to discover what fresh local produce we have at our disposal here. It seems there is plenty to choose from, with many of the recipes simple enough for even the least talented chefs. Take the sesame cricket nibbles, for instance. Once you’ve caught your bugs (easy, according to Gates), deep-fry them in groundnut oil for 30 seconds per batch. Leave them on kitchen paper to soak up excess oil while you mix up two tablespoons of dark soy sauce and one of mirin (you can use caster sugar instead if you’re clean out of mirin). Dip the crickets in the liquid, roll in sesame seeds, et voila – perfect with a large glass of wine or two. Gates describes them as crispy and meaty, like a cross between plain crisps and roast chicken. Mine were a bit soggy.

You can deep-fry many of the species featured, including the giant house spider – these are best tossed in a bit of salt and paprika to improve the flavour (if you can actually catch them). Others, like the strangely named common cockchafer, are better roasted or made into soup.

I admit I’m intrigued by the idea of a prawn cocktail made with slaters or an earthworm stir-fry (not an insect, I know, but at least an invertebrate), though I doubt I’ll ever make them at home. However, there is one seasonal Scottish ingredient featured that if served up for human consumption could surely provide multiple benefits. Here’s a chance to get our own back on the bloodthirsty Highland midge, scourge of walkers and campers and blight on the Scottish tourism industry.

They’re pretty easy to harvest, according to Gates. Just go outside at dusk or dawn – or any other time – using yourself as bait. Simply wave an oiled frying pan through a swarm, press into a cake or burger, then cook.

I haven’t tried this yet, but the tasting notes suggest a slightly nutty, musty flavour, and crumbled into soups and stews adds an umami richness “like Parmesan cheese without the cheesiness”. Coming to a bistro near you soon.