Here’s one of my favourite dishes. Fresh, crunchy, flavourful, and with lots of healthy, filling fat.
Notes: 1. All the ingredients are on the list of low carb foods. 2. I haven’t given amounts for the ingredients to allow for preferences and hunger – you’ll figure it out.
French (green) beans
What To Do
Start a pot of water boiling. Add a tablespoon of salt (seems a lot, but most of it will be tossed with the water).
While that’s heating up, fry sliced almonds over low heat with plenty of butter until brown, stirring occasionally.
While that’s happening, stem the beans (if there are any). Keep an eye on the almonds to make sure they don’t burn.
When light brown, immediately take almonds off the heat and transfer to another bowl to stop them cooking. Toss with a bit of salt. (Note from experience: Beware of snacking on them right away – they are extremely hot and will burn your mouth).
Blanch the green beans in the boiling water for 2 minutes (if they are very thin, 1 minute should be enough). They should turn a nice, brilliant green.
Drain the water and add a big knob of butter to the beans in the drained pot.
Fry the beans over medium heat, tossing until the butter is melted and coats the beans. If you like them soft, keep going – the longer you go, the more cooked they will be. I prefer to keep it short – just enough to melt the butter.
Serve with the almonds, which should now be cool and crunchy.
I don’t think that denial and deprivation is a long term recipe for diet success. In that spirit, I’m posting a recipe for one of my favourite, luxury, low-carb treats. Eating this, for me, makes everything right in the world.
My wife is Italian, so of course I have a soft spot for Italian food. That might sound difficult for someone who has giving up rice (risotto), bread, and pasta, but Italian meals are far more balanced than one might expect. The pasta course in Italy is a course between the appetiser and main course and can be left away with out losing much from the meal.
At home, I often make pasta dishes without pasta. That might sound silly, but take lasagne – the pasta is not my favourite part of the dish, especially since it’s usually over or undercooked. No, I love lasagne for the melted mozzarella, ricotta, and rich tomato sauce or spinach, sometimes made more luxurious with meat.
The good news is those ingredients are low carb, so I still make lasagne with just the filling. Some people like to add slices of courgette as ‘pasta,’ but I prefer to keep just my favourite bits without adding anything at all. My family doesn’t seem to mind either.
One of the key components of many Italian dishes is a good tomato sauce, and tomato is one of my 125 delicious low carb foods. Here’s how I do it…
1 can chopped tomato (Mutti is a great brand, if you can find it)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
100ml good olive oil
Oregano to taste
What to do:
Combine the first three ingredients in a sauce pan.
Cook for a few minutes to soften the garlic.
Blitz with a mixing stick or blender until smooth
Cook, covered, over low heat until the oil separates from the tomato (ca. 30 minutes, depending on the heat).
Blitz again to combine.
Stir in the oregano.
Notes: 1. Garlic is relatively high in carbs, but it tastes wonderful and a clove doesn’t weigh much, so I keep using it… 2. Add some chilli pepper (chipotle is especially good) and the herb epazote to turn it into a yummy Mexican type sauce.
Before I started eating a low carb diet, I can’t say I knew much about chia seeds or chia pudding. Chia showed up in the odd dish out of the house, but I had never bought them – how that has changed! Chia seeds saved me in the early days, when my carb cravings were most severe and they continue to be an almost daily part of my diet (and hence on my list of 125 Delicious foods).
Chia seeds are from the plant Salvia Hispanic, which is in the sage family. Like many delicious foods (including chocolate), they are native to Southern Mexico. They are high in fibre, full of Omega-3 fatty acids, are provide protein and amino acids (especially useful if you’re vegetarian or vegan).
If you have a spice grinder, you can grind them before using, which gives you a smooth finished product. If you don’t grind them, they have a consistency similar to tapioca, which is also lovely. I enjoy them both ways, depending on my mood.
One note: watch the price, which can vary dramatically. If you’re not careful, you can pay through the nose. If you find them as useful as I do, consider buying in bulk – I buy organic seeds for far less than you’d find non-organic in the supermarket or health food store.
Here are ways I enjoy them
1. Unground, with cream
Use 20gm of chia seeds and 150gm cream. Stir regularly until it thickens (if you don’t stir at the beginning, it will clump up and be hard to break up). It has a mousse-like consistency.
Things to add for variation: 5gm pure cocoa, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
2. Ground, in a blender, with cream
Grind 50gm seeds with your spice grinder. Stir in 225gm cream, then give a blitz or two until solid. This is a thicker dessert, since the cream whips up. It’s very filling, and it lasts me a couple of days.
3. With coconut milk (or coconut cream)
I make a whole can of the milk (400ml) with 100gm ground chia. Make sure you get a good coconut milk. Many of them are mostly water. Thai Gold is almost all coconut and is excellent. My local supermarket stocks it.
Things to add for variation: Toasted, desiccated coconut to bring out the coconut taste, lime juice, drop of rum if you’re feeling naughty.
4. With water
This sounds boring, but it’s so guilt free that Dr Jason Fung says it can even be used while fasting (if you have a wobble) without wrecking the fast. It also travels well, so you can bring some along incase you get hungry on the road.
I use 20gm chia with 100gm of water. Again, you need to stir it regularly.
Things to add for variation (though not if you’re fasting): Juice of half a lemon, a few raspberries, coffee.
5. With Mascarpone
I use 25gm ground chia with 250gm mascarpone. This makes a very dense, decadent dessert. If you prefer it less solid, you can loosen it with some cream or full fat yoghurt. With a bit of coffee and pure cocoa, it has some of the flavour notes of tiramisu.
6. With almond milk
Make sure you use unsweetened almond milk! I use 20gm chia with 100gm almond milk. It’s also good with 5gm pure cocoa.
In Irish, ‘cream’ is ‘uachtar,’ and our president is ‘Uachtarán.’ I imagine the president has an endless supply of fresh Irish cream in the presidential fridge. ‘Pannacotta’ means ‘cooked cream’ in Italian, and it’s a dessert from Piedmont. It doesn’t have much sugar, so I leave it away completely. I use vegetarian gelatine (from carrageenan). It’s naturally salty and amplifies the flavour of the cream. You might have to play with the quantity, depending on the brand.
227 ml full-fat cream.
1/4 teaspoon vegetarian gelatine.
Vanilla to taste.
Warm the cream and gelatine over low heat, stirring, until the gelatine is completely dissolved.
Remove from the heat. Pour into two moulds or ramekins.
Refrigerate until set.
Gently transfer onto a plate and serve with berries, with a squeeze of lemon, or on its own.
Variations: 1. Add pure cocoa to taste. 2. Cook with a crushed cardamom pod. Strain after cooking. 3. Add cinnamon. 4. Add a shot or two of espresso. 5. Add whiskey.
These helped me survive the early weeks of carb cravings and bread withdrawal, and I still make a batch every week. With a crunchy crust and light and fluffy crumb, they are adapted from Maria Emmerich’s bread recipe. They are best served warm or toasted, slathered with lots of melting butter.
Note: Because of the psyllium, drink plenty of water with them, and limit yourself to one or two rolls a day. Psyllium has laxative properties, which I have found beneficial on a low carb diet, but it can block the gut if you eat too much or forget to drink.
Delicious Light and Fluffy Rolls with a Crunchy Crust
150gm almond flour
40gm psyllium husk
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
3 egg whites
200 ml boiling water
50 gm unsweetened, full fat yoghurt
Sesame seeds (optional)
What to do:
Turn on the oven to 175C
Combine the dry ingredients
Mix in the egg whites (don’t over mix)
Mix in the hot water (don’t over mix)
Stir in the yoghurt
Form into six rolls
Roll tops in sesame seeds (optional)
Bake for 1 hour
Cool for 5 minutes
Variations: 1. Add 1 tsp cumin and 1/2 tsp turmeric to the dried ingredients. 2. Add 1 tablespoon poppyseeds to the dried ingredients. 3. Add 1 tablespoon caraway seeds to the dried ingredients. 4. Add 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds to the dried ingredients.
When I was young, my parents worked in the health food industry, and they often brought me along on business trips. Bored senseless, I’d pretend to be an anthropologist and make mental notes of people we met. Among them was a gaunt, mournful-looking species who subsisted, I was told, on a diet of brown rice. They were common enough for regular scientific observation. Their languid movements fascinated me as did their extreme self-deprivation.
It seemed incomprehensible that someone would give up everything that tasted good and, to a child’s mind, live a life bereft of happiness. How little I knew!
Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise that I went the other way when I grew up and embraced sugar and culinary decadence. As a food professional, I created costly ice creams for work and ate in some of the world’s best restaurants. I considered myself a lucky gourmand. Tokyo? Check. Paris? Check. San Sebastian? Delhi? LA? Piedmont? Charleston? Copenhagen? Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Mmmm.
Over time, the weight piled on, but if my paunch betrayed excess consumption, what harm? Did my expanding waist and extra chin not proclaim my culinary zeal? Then my doctor diagnosed me with Type II Diabetes. For the first time, I felt fat. I felt ashamed. I felt scared, for Type II diabetes is a frightful disease. My health professionals weren’t shy about describing the unpleasant complications and grim, inevitable outcomes.
Hope and Research
Instead of giving up, I applied the same sense of curiosity and adventure to my illness that I previously used discovering ingredients and unearthing restaurants. Almost immediately, I determined that the outcomes aren’t inevitable. 50% of people with Type II diabetes can achieve remission if they cut carbohydrates and quickly lose weight. That gave me hope.
I read the excellent Diabetes Code by Dr. Jason Fung and work by Dr David Unwin, Dr Malcolm Kendrick, and Tom Jelinek, PhD. I learned three methods seem to work best for losing weight quickly.
A low carbohydrate diet
A severely restricted-calorie diet
I decided to combine low carb and fasting. The fat melted away. In just three months, I lost 21kg and brought my blood sugar into the normal range.
In many ways, that was the easy part. When the stakes are high enough, anyone can change their behaviour for a while. I must sustain the behaviour into the long term or risk the diabetes returning. In doing so, I don’t want to become a gaunt and mournful creature, for if I did, I would give up. For my happiness, I need to keep my love of food alive. I need to enjoy eating it. How? By celebrating food and seeking out luxury.
Spoiling yourself is key to success. Joy and gratitude will keep you healthy in a way that deprivation never can.
When I changed my diet, I naturally missed the ice cream, pastries, pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread, so I concentrated on the foods I could eat. I planned and cooked delicious meals that satisfied not only my hunger but my soul. I continued to eat out (occasionally and carefully). To reward myself for staying thin, I spend the money I save by fasting on culinary luxuries. Fillet steak? Lobster? Of course. It’s hard to feel sorry for myself when eating lobster. Instead, I feel like a lucky gourmand.
Six Luxury Foods That Help Keep the Joy Alive
These work for me. Your luxuries might look different. For all I know, brown rice gives you spiritual bliss, and that’s fine of course if you’re not trying to cut carbs. In any case, pamper yourself to whatever degree you can afford.
Butter might seem a simple thing to list as a luxury, but luxuries don’t have to be expensive. Butter makes almost everything taste better and more gourmet. For example, lobster without butter is good, but lobster with butter is fantastic. The same is true with many dishes. Green beans are fine. Green beans drenched in butter, with crunchy, sliced almonds toasted with butter, are exquisite.
Butter has played a part in most of my favourite foods — croissants, mashed potatoes, cookies, cake, and toast with melted butter. Sometimes I wonder whether those foods were just an excuse to eat butter, and I can still do just that. When I mash cauliflower with enough butter and cream, I (almost) don’t miss the potatoes. It’s like losing the wrapping paper but keeping the gift.
Some things I do with butter:
Add to coffee.
Add to sauces or use instead of sauce.
Top toasted nuts, especially pecans.
Spread on low carb psyllium bread
Make garlic butter.
Next time a friend mentions the deprivations of a low carb diet, serve them caviar. They will quickly change the conversation. Roe (fish eggs) are among the most expensive foods globally, and roe of the sturgeon — caviar — are the most costly of all. Do not purchase illegal wild or poached caviar for obvious reasons. Luckily the endangered fish are now farmed and no longer killed to extract the roe.
Low carb ways to serve caviar:
On a spoon.
Spread on fresh, crunchy cucumbers.
On homemade cheese crackers.
Spooned on eggs.
As caviar butter (gently blend caviar and butter).
As an unrepentant chocoholic, chocolate is the treat I’d hate most to lose, and guess what? I haven’t. This ambrosia of the Mayans tantalises and satisfies in a way few other foods do. If you weren’t a chocolate snob before, it is time to become one. Milk chocolate is full of sugar, so gravitate toward the dark varieties (85% or higher) to keep the carbs down. Low in carbs and high in fat, a small amount of chocolate goes a long way.
Other varieties of chocolate: Cocoa nibs are worth seeking out; they add a nice crunch. Pure cocoa gives tremendous flavour to cream or puddings and in small amounts adds few carbs (make sure you’re not buying cocoa with sugar added). Cocoa butter is a luxurious fat, a guilt-free way of adding chocolate flavour, and by adding vanilla, you can make sugar-free white chocolate.
Some things I do with chocolate:
Savour it dark and sparingly (3gm).
Add 25g pure, organic cocoa butter to a cup of coffee. Blend.
Whip with cream and top with cocoa nibs (above).
Make delicious, satisfying mole sauce — no sweeteners, of course.
Shave over a handful of raspberries and whipped cream.
Could anything be more luxurious? The word ‘cream’ signifies the best or something special — la crème de la crème, the cream of the crop, the cat that got the cream. Give me decadent Irish cream, and I’m like that cat. In Irish, ‘cream’ is ‘uachtar,’ and our president is ‘Uachtarán.’ I imagine the president has an abundance of luscious, thick Irish cream in the presidential fridge.
I do too — cream makes up for many foods I’ve put aside. Forget what you’ve heard about it being unhealthy — it has half the sugar of milk. Look for the highest fat content you can find — half and half means it has more sugar. Buy cream often, and rummage around the back of the shop fridge to make sure it’s the freshest. Use it liberally and enjoy every minute. Cream satisfies in a way that few foods do.
We all have our weak moments. We have times when we feel our path is too hard. Before I started a low carb diet, I’d reach for a candy bar or something else sweet at delicate moments. Now, when I feel a wobble approach, when I feel overwhelmed or just a bit down, I know it’s time to pamper myself. Since I live by the sea and lobster is abundant here, it is a luxury that isn’t out of reach if I cook it myself.
Because we vacationed in New England when I was a child, lobster is a nostalgic dish for me. It transports me back to sea breezes, sunburns, plastic bibs, and unpretentious lobster shacks with wooden picnic tables. In other words, it feeds my soul. Of course, like any treat, it is best not to overdo lobster. In Irish, there is a saying, ‘An rud is annamh is iontach’ — ‘What is seldom is wonderful.’ Keep it special.
Top 5 low carb lobster dishes:
Steamed lobster with butter.
George Sand called truffles ‘the fairy apple,’ and Alexandre Dumas called them ‘the holy of holies for the gourmet.’ They grow wild in forests in Piedmont, Tuscany, Marche, and in the Périgord region of France. Specialist truffle hunters use dogs or pigs to find them. The Italians prefer the former, for dogs are less likely to swallow the precious find.
Truffles come in principle colours — white and black, and there are two seasons for each — summer truffles and winter truffles. Both reach peak flavour late in the season when they have matured. White truffles have a notoriously short shelf life — they must be consumed within a few days of harvesting. Black truffles last a bit longer. Although white truffles are perhaps most famous paired with tajarin pasta, they are also sliced and served on eggs and carpaccio of beef.
While I have cooked with truffles, I haven’t done so with great success. This is one ingredient I leave to the professionals and enjoy out of the house.
Note: I’m starting my list with luxury foods because I want to make a point that low carb does not equal hardship. Instead, I believe that enjoyment makes a low carb diet sustainable. I suggest embracing culinary fat and splurging whenever you can on luxury foods.
Truffles – Low Carb Foods, Luxury, #6
George Sand called truffles ‘the fairy apple,’ and Alexandre Dumas called them ‘the holy of holies for the gourmet.’ They need a specific soil to grow, rich soil found in forests in Piedmont, Tuscany, Marche, and in the Périgord region of France. Truffles usually grow under an oak, linden, or hazel tree, and they have a symbiotic relationship with them. Known as ‘tartufo’ in Italian, they grow underground, sniffed out by the sensitive noses of dogs or pigs. The Italians prefer the former, for dogs are less likely to swallow the precious find.
If you locate them in a shop or on a restaurant menu, they will be a luxury, but they are delicious, low carb, and full of nutrition. I was lucky enough to spend time in and around Alba, Italy in truffle season. There, I enjoyed a variety of dishes with their famous white truffles. Although white truffles are perhaps most famous paired with tajarin pasta, they are also sliced and served on eggs and carpaccio of beef. I enjoyed it most on the eggs – I found the combined flavours irresistible.
A few notes:
White truffles have a strong aroma but subtle flavour, so they don’t take kindly to cooking. In Italy, they are usually washed and sliced raw as a topping or garnish.
Black truffles, on the other hand, can take a bit of cooking and infuse dishes with flavour. You might be able to find a good quality black truffle oil that will enliven a variety of meals, but beware – many truffle oils include artificial flavours and should be avoided.
While I have cooked with truffles, I haven’t done so with great success. This is one ingredient I will leave to the professionals and enjoy out of the house.
The weather is getting cooler, and I love Italy in Autumn. I’ll sit here at my dest, far away in Ireland, and dream of restaurants around Alba, thin slices of truffles falling gently on my plate.
Why I’m writing a list of 103 Foods: When I changed my diet for health reasons, I spent the first weeks mourning the foods I could no longer eat. What’s the point in being miserable, though? By switching to focusing on the foods I could eat, and savouring every bit of them, I started enjoying food again. I also found hope for the future, especially as the weight fell off and my diabetes reversed. Now, I would love to help others who might find themselves in a similar situation. Finally, there are endless possibilities in terms of what to do with any food. Take that as a challenge, and let me know if you have any suggestions. I wish you happy eating.