RECIPE: Low-FODMAP Sesame Peanut Power Bars

Sesame Peanut Power Bars

Power to the peanuts.

There’s one trick to going on any sort of restricted diet, no matter how complex, how punishing. Follow this rule, and managing any elimination diet is a breeze.

The simple trick? Never leave the house.

Yeah, it’s not impossibly hard to keep to the low-FODMAP diet if you stay at home and always cook for yourself, but what if you have, you know, go to work, travel or basically do anything else that requires you to get out of the house for more than a few hours at a time?

Well, there’s no simple answer, beyond remembering to always pack a lunch or to have a list of low-FODMAP-friendly restaurants on hand. But one thing that’s saved my day more than a few time has been making sure I brought along some (sorta) healthy, gut-friendly snacks. And when I saw a recipe for some tasty Sesame-Peanut Bars in a recent Bon Appetit, I knew I could easily convert them to the side of low FODMAPs. Salty, crunchy, chewy and sweet all at the same time, they’re an addictive treat, and they’ll be your best friend in a pinch.

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Ode to a rice cooker

Rice cooker

My culinary workhorse.

I hate to admit this, but I have a thing for kitchen gadgets. I like to talk a big game about how I don’t really care about owning a lot of “stuff,” that it’s experiences that matter to me, but… as soon as I step into the kitchen, my hippy-ish anti-materialistic philosophy kinda flies out the window. My sous-vide circulator, my pressure cooker, my Vitamix, my bullet smoker—they all bring me a lot of joy. And, hell, I’d argue they help me create experiences—delicious dining experiences—and don’t just sit there looking pretty and collecting dust.

The gadget I use the most in my kitchen—once or twice a day!—isn’t as sleekly powerful as the Vitamix or as geekily futuristic as the sous-vide machine. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common kitchen appliances in the world.

It’s my rice cooker.

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RECIPE: Let us eat (flourless) cake

Low-FODMAP Flourless Chocolate Cake

Dark, delicious, and digestible.

Cake.

Even typing the word is a little painful. It’s been so long that I’ve been on the low-FODMAP diet that I can barely remember the last time I ate piece of soft, rich, chocolate cake. Sure, I’ve daydreamed about it, I’ve walked past cupcake bakeries with yearning in my eyes—but it wasn’t until last week that I actually yielded to temptation and had a slice (or several, if we’re being honest here). Was I beset by the same painful symptoms I experience within 24 hours of consuming wheat flour?

I was not.

The reason why? The cake we baked contained no wheat flour whatsoever. No flour at all, in fact. No, what we indulged in was a flourless chocolate cake—a great example of a recipe that is naturally low in FODMAPs without any weird or unsatisfying substitutions. It’s almost hard to believe you can bake a flourless cake, but believe me, it’s true. (You just need a lot of eggs.) With its crisp top, it reminds me of the brownies I loved as a kid, and of which I have been so cruelly denied lately.

There’s plenty of recipes for flourless chocolate cakes out there, but the one I like the most we adapted from Martha Stewart, adding our own flourishes like cinnamon and sliced fruit (optional). Try it for yourself and let me know if it hits the sweet spot for you. With so many desserts (ice cream, regular cake, pie) off the table for us low-FODMAPers, it’s nice to find something so rich and delicious and guilt-free (well, one kind of guilt).

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RECIPE: Low-FODMAP Cold Peanut Soba Noodles

Cold soba peanut noodles

Cold comfort. (Literally.)

I recently had a bad noodle experience. It was a bummer. But in the spirit of “getting back on the horse,” I decided I had to immediately wipe the quinoa-wheat pasta fiasco from my mind. And since it’s still stiflingly hot where I live, I decided the time was right for a cold noodle dish, with a refreshing green smoothie on the side.

Soba noodles are typically made with buckwheat, but beware: most are actually made with a blend of buckwheat and regular wheat. You can find buckwheat-only versions, but make sure you check the package carefully. I like them with peanut sauce, a splash of sesame oil, some chopped green onion tops, shredded carrot, some toasted sesame seeds and a squirt of Sriracha (which contains garlic, so be mindful if you have trouble tolerating it.)

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Rice milk: not nice milk?

Us low-FODMAP-living lovers of milk products can’t catch a break. We can’t drink regular cow milk (unless it’s lactose-free). Soy milk is a no go (unless it’s specifically made from soy protein, not soy beans, which is harder to find). Almonds are no good, so we stay away from almond milk. Rice, at least, is easy for most of us to tolerate, so rice milk should be fine, right?

Right?

Not so fast. The good researchers at Monash (aka the people who discovered this whole FODMAP business in the first place) recently found that rice milk, even in small quantities, contains a high amount of oligo-saccharides and even some fructans as well. Therefore, it’s definitely not good for those on the low-FODMAP diet!

If you’re confused, don’t worry—the Monash folks are as well, and in this blog post they detail their findings and posit a hypothesis as to just how this came about. (They theorize it somehow takes place during the manufacturing process.) And they do warn that perhaps not all rice milks are troublesome—they didn’t test them all.

For now though, it might be best to stay away. Sorry cold cereal and milky coffee lovers—we’ll have to just keep looking for another substitute.

Pasta problems

Make sure you read the ingredients closely.

The nefarious noodles.

When it comes to low-FODMAP eating, I’m not particularly interested in eating “fake” or “substitute” versions of foods I used to enjoy. As you probably know, gluten grains are a no-no, but gluten-free bread doesn’t do it for me, and, until this weekend, I’d never even tried to replace my beloved pasta (my passion for which I have written about before). The truth is, those “fake” foods kind of depress me. All I can think about when I have pseudo-bread is how much I’d rather be eating the real stuff. So I try to stick to recipes that are delicious and wonderful in their own ways, rather than trying to recreate something they are not.

A few days ago, though, I was putting my new pressure cooker through its paces with a tomato sauce recipe of my devising. It is, after all, tomato season, and I had just returned from the market with a backpack full of bright red beauties. And while I know that tomato sauce has many uses, I decided this was the time to finally try out a gluten-free pasta. I invited a friend over for dinner and asked him to pick up a bag of quinoa-based pasta (which tends to get the best reviews) from the health food store.

The first thing I noticed about the pasta was its red colour, which, I read on the back, was the result of the red peppers added to the noodles as a flavoring ingredient. Neat!, I thought, not realizing that reading the distracting note about the peppers on the package—and not the ingredients, which I otherwise always do—would be my downfall.

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RECIPE: Low-FODMAP Migas, for Breakfast or Lunch

Low FODMAP breakfast or lunch migas

Scrambled plus.

Eggs. I’m a little obsessed with them, even if I (as I’ve mentioned before) so often mess them up. Still—poached, scrambled, omelette-ed, I love them all. And while I eat steel-cut oats for breakfast basically every day of my life (more, much more, on that soon), I’ve found that eggs often form a great basis for my new sandwich-less lunch lifestyle. I’ve talked before about the Feta Double Heada I sometimes have as a treat on weekends, and today I want to introduce another favorite. It’s a breakfast/lunch (there must be a word for that) with a Tex-Mex twist, but I’m not talking about huevos rancheros, as delicious as they are. No, today I’m talking migas.

Migas are basically scrambled eggs plus, and the “plus” I’m talking about here are crispy strips of corn tortillas. They’re fast and easy to make, endlessly customizable, and they go perfectly with a splash of your favorite hot sauce (I’m personally addicted to Frank’s, but Tabasco, Valentine, heck, even Sriracha* will do the job, though mind the garlic). A tomato salad on the side balances out the meal nicely and adds some brightness.

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RECIPE: Low-FODMAP Moorish Paella

A pot of low-FODMAP Moorish Paella

One (delicious) pot.*

One of the saddest goodbyes I had to make as I embarked on the low-FODMAP journey was to one of my dearest old friends, spaghetti with red sauce. Spaghetti and meatballs was my all-time favorite meal as a kids, and I never really outgrew it. Sure, I discovered the joys of Marcella Hazan’s simple, sweet marinara, and got myself tangled up  in various  elaborate bolognese and ragù recipes, but that core love of pasta, tomatoes and ground meat never really changed—for better or worse.

In fact, spaghetti was one of the reasons it took me so long to come around to the low-FODMAP diet. I knew I always felt sick the day after eating it, but I always thought it had something to do with the acidity of the tomatoes. I never suspected that it could be the onions and garlic flavouring the tomato sauce—and the very pasta I poured it over—that was the source of the problem.

But not only did I just love eating spaghetti bolognese because it tasted so delicious, but it was also such a convenient meal as well. I could cook up a big ragù on Sunday night and eat it through the week, or freeze it; I could even, on a lazy evening, just pick up a good bottle of meat sauce from a local gourmet grocer that would do the trick almost as well.

So, in starting out on this new diet, I was hungry for meals that could bring back some of that one-pot convenience, while hitting all the starchy, tomato-y, meaty flavor notes I was craving. A friend sent me a link to a recipe that Food52 community blogger NWB called Moorish Paella, and I knew I was in love. As is, the recipe contains some FODMAP warning signs, but I knew I could create a “recipe translation” that I could happily eat, digest and, importantly, not feel like I was compromising on by enjoying. And it’s the ultimate one-pot meal!

Make sure you use low-FODMAP chicken stock to cook the rice. And while the original recipe contains a healthy portion of onions and garlic; you can use the “fry” method to impart flavor to the cooking oil, add garlic-infused oil or just drop them completely. It’ll be delicious either way!

Low-FODMAP Moorish Paella

Parsley optional.

Low-FODMAP Moorish Paella

Ingredients

4-6 chicken thighs (I prefer to use bone-in, skin-on, but when I can’t find them I go boneless/skinless and it works out just fine)
2 links of merguez sausage (or other spicy sausage)
1 tsp ground caraway seed
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tablespoon harissa (may contain a small amount of garlic; if you malabsorb, replace with a hot sauce that doesn’t cause problems)
2 cups Arborio (risotto) rice
3/4 can tomato paste OR 1 cup low-FODMAP tomato sauce
3 cups Delicious Low-FODMAP Chicken Stock
OPTIONAL: 1 small onion, quartered
OPTIONAL: 2 garlic cloves, halved OR 1 tbsp garlic-infused oil
1/2 cup red or white wine (I use a splash of port, myself—wine vinegar will do in a pinch)

Instructions

1. If you can, toss the chicken thighs in a plastic bag early in the day or the night before with a tbsp or so of kosher salt (don’t worry if you forget/skip this step).

2. Slice the sausage into disks (or diagonal chunks and stick them in the bottom of your saucepan (I use a 26L Creuset) while cold. Turn the heat on low and let them slowly render out their fat and brown in their juices. Brown both sides, then remove them with a slotted spoon to a drain on some paper towels resting on a plate. While they’re browning, combine and mix the spices together with a teaspoon of kosher salt.

3. Turn the heat up to medium. While the pan heats up, pat chicken dry on both sides (important step!). Then, in batches if need be, brown chicken on both sides in the rendered sausage fat, about 5 minutes a side. When they’ve got some colour on both sides, stick ’em on some more paper towels to dry.

4. If using onions and garlic, add to pan (splash in some olive oil if it’s dry—it probably won’t be) and let them fry away for a couple of minutes. Once they start to get golden brown on all sides, remove them with a slotted spoon and toss ’em out. (If not using onions and garlic, or using oil, skip this step.)

5. Deglaze the pan with the wine and scrape all the good fond-y bits off the bottom. Spoon a good portion of the spice mixture into the pan. Before it completely dries out, add the harissa or hot sauce and re-introduce the sausage, then give it a good stir. Add the tomato paste or sauce and another big spoonful of the spice. Let it all simmer down for about 5 minutes, but if it seems to be drying out too fast, proceed to the next step immediately.

6. Add the rice and mix it in with the sauce and sausage bits, then distribute it evenly across the bottom of the ban. Stick the chicken parts on top (again, evenly). Pour in the stock. Stir in the rest of the spice mixture. Cover.

7. Bring the pot to a boil (this should happen quickly) and then immediately reduce to lowest heat. Let cook away, lid still on—remember the BBQ rule, if you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’!—for about 20 minutes, then check on it. If the rice seems tender and most of the liquid is gone, you’re golden. If not, cover again and wait a few more minutes. (It can theoretically take up to 30, but mine is usually done on the earlier side.)

8. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, and enjoy!

And as always, drop me a line in the comments below if you have any questions, or if you made the recipe and have something—good or bad—to say about it!

* Check out the super-cool “Nonna Spoon” from bottledBrooklyn, a wedding present (and not a paid endorsement—I really love it!)