So I have finally decided to do something about my irksome suspicions that some unpleasant allergy-like reactions I’ve been having may be, sadly, related to food.  I took myself to see a dietician who is helping me to investigate just what the culprits might be.  Unfortunately, there appears to be no getting around the fact that the only way to do this properly is to start with an elimination diet (skin prick tests and the like are not sensitive enough to indicate food intolerances).

The version of the diet I’m doing is not super strict, as it allows me to eat foods that have a low-to-moderate amount of the relevant food-chemicals that we’re testing (salicylates, amines and glutamates, if you’re asking).  However, it does cut a huge swathe in the variety of foods that I’m used to eating and cooking with.    For example: onion, corn, zucchini, capsicum, tomato, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, spinach and tomato are out!  (My dietician had to laugh when at this point of the session I confessed that our household eats mostly vegetarian!)  Also out are most fruits (except pear and banana), cheeses (except fresh ones like ricotta or cottage cheese), and, most tragically, chocolate.  Lucky this diet thing is just for three weeks, voluntary and for a good cause!

So I decided to approach the whole thing as a new culinary challenge: and with some useful tips from friends, and a new cookbook under wing, I set about making a detailed food plan for Week 1 and its accompanying shopping list.  I’m happy to say that, almost at the that week, it hasn’t been all so bad.  Apart from chocolate, I mostly miss eating mandarines and my regular night-time peppermint tea, and I miss cooking with lemon, pepper, and tasty cheeses like parmesan.  Here’s a wrap-up of the week’s vegetarian/pescetarian highlights (I’ll skip our non-vegetarian lapses):

- caramelised tofu with crispy brussels sprouts (from 101 cookbooks)
- sweet potato tortilla with caramelised leeks and asparagus
- homemade crunchy fish with garlic mash (homemade fresh breadcrumbs are the way to go here)
- panfried chickpeas with green beans and pasta ribbons
- and a giant batch of maple rhubarb for dessert.

I was pleasantly surprised by how the chickpeas turned out, and I think I might even make them again post-diet.  It’s a snap to make and uses few ingredients.  The chickpeas turn out to be incredibly tasty and a little bit crunchy, which provides a great foil for the silky pasta ribbons.  See what you think!

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Pan-fried chickpeas with green beans and pasta ribbons
Adapted from 101 cookbooks’ chickpea salad

2 tbsp butter
1 leek, trimmed and sliced thinly into half-moons
1 400g tin chickpeas, drained
1 large clove garlic, sliced
large handful green beans, sliced on the diagonal
2 large fresh lasagna sheets, cut into thick ribbons
greek yoghurt, to serve

In a frying pan, melt the butter and toss in the leek and chickpeas.  Cook over medium-high heat until the leek starts to soften.  Add the garlic, and cook until the leek and chickpeas take on some colour (may take 10-15 minutes all up).

While this is happening, put on a separate saucepan of water to boil for the pasta.  Cook the pasta ribbons according to the packet (mine took only a few minutes to cook), and 2 minutes before they are done, toss in the beans.  When the beans are bright green, drain the pasta and beans.

When both the chickpea mixture and the pasta are done, tip the pasta and beans into the frying pan. Toss gently over low heat to incorporate it all together, and season with salt.  Serve up in bowls with a generous dollop of yoghurt on top.

Post-diet variations: some lemon zest added to the chickpea mixture at the end could be good; also I’d like to try some parmesan with this to serve as well.

Yield: serves 2 as a main