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!


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


I don’t usually have the budget or the time to look over all the lovely foodie books and magazines I would like to, so I really enjoyed having the chance to leaf through a whole stack of glossy food magazines while travelling a few months ago – for me, definitely one of the perks of not-so-frequent air travel!

This recipe caught my eye as it featured Indian flavours (a cuisine I’m trying to learn more about, and trying to cook from spices rather than bought bases), vegetarian, quick to cook (curry in spirit but cooks with the speed of a stir-fry), and used items that were all currently ready to spring to action in my kitchen (eg the usually forlorn fenugreek).  Hooray!  On the night I ended up cooking it, my fridge/pantry line-up was a bit different from what the original recipe called for – hence the inauthentic addition of tofu – but gosh can I recommend this for a speedy and tasty weeknight meal.  Even in the mixing bowl I was excited by the colours and freshness of the ingredients:


One note of warning: the chilli flavours here aren’t too hot, but add a lovely rounded warmth and is aa key part of the dish in my view.  Best not for a family meal with kiddies (unless yours are braver than mine is).


Quick and perky green bean curry
Adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller

400g green beans, topped and tailed
150g firm tofu, cubed
1 small red onion, sliced into half moons
10 curry leaves
2 small green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 tsp each chilli flakes and ground cumin
1/2 tsp each fenugreek seeds and fennel seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 coconut milk

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients except for the oil and coconut milk.

Heat the oil in a wok, and then tip in the green bean mixture.  Cook for about 5 minutes on high until the onion has softened and the beans look bright green.

Tip in the coconut milk, and continue to stir-fry on high until most of the milk has evaporated and the bean mixture is almost glazed with it.  Season with some salt to taste, and serve with rice.

Yield: 2-3 serves.  I would definitely double this next time, as leftovers the next day were still yummy.

I guess it was probably too much to ask for a dish whose principal qualities are saltiness and blackness to come out nicely in a photo. Despite this, I hope you’ll believe me when I say we were pleasantly surprised by how this stir-fry worked out. For a dish that is usually made with pork spare ribs, I wasn’t entirely sure how this combination of robust vegetables – flat beans and japanese eggplant – coupled with fried tofu, would match the intense earthy saltiness of fermented black beans; but I can recommend it.

This is a dry stir-fry; the sauce is just sticky enough to coat the vegetables but not liquid enough to moisten your rice. Adjust the amount of black beans to your taste: we found 2 tablespoons a bit too much, so I’ll probably halve it next time. Also, I used 2 small red chillies with the seeds removed – next time I’ll keep the seeds in one of them to take the heat up a notch. Hope you enjoy this!

Flat beans and eggplant with salty black beans
Adapted from Delicious

200g fried tofu, cut into squares
250g green flat beans, cut into 5cm pieces
250g japanese eggplant, cut into 1cm thick rounds
1-2 tbsp salted black beans, rinsed well in cold water
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine (shaoshing)
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-2 small red chillies, seeded or not to taste
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp each sesame oil and vegetable oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce

Place the black beans into a bowl and roughly mash them a little with a fork. Add in the sugar, rice wine, chilli, ginger, garlic and oyster sauce. Stir to combine.

Heat the oils on medium-high heat in a wok. Add the eggplant, and stir fry till softening and just browned – this will take a few minutes. Add the beans and stir fry for a further couple of minutes. When the beans are almost cooked, add the tofu and the soy sauce. Stir fry again for a minute. Then, stirring continuously, add the black bean mixture and cook for a further 2 minutes, until everything is well coated and the vegetables are just cooked through.

Serve immediately with steamed rice.

Yield: serves 3-4

Like many good recipes, this one came to me through friends, and yet for no good reason lay half-forgotten in my still-to-try pile for too long. More’s the pity, since this is a tasty, grown-up’s version of baked beans that goes well with cheese on toast (as we had it here), and fills the house with wonderfully warming, comforting slow-food aromas.

Danny, the recipe’s author, suggests that you could omit the chilli according to taste (I included it and do recommend it), add some mustard powder and a tablespoon of molasses for something closer to boston beans, or even add some bacon or chorizo with the onion and garlic for a meaty version. I also imagine it might partner well with some hearty sausages. But here’s the vege version as we had it, pretty much as I received it way back when.

Danny’s Baked Beans

300g dried Great Northern Beans (or similar dried white bean) (about 2 cups, soaked overnight in cold water, or for 8 hours in boiled water)
450g tin chopped tomatoes
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 generous glass red wine
Splash of balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
Good handful fresh rosemary leaves
1 chopped hot chilli

Drain the beans and discard the soaking water. Boil the beans in fresh water until tender (can take up to an hour depending on the beans).

You can do the next steps in a flame-proof casserole dish or in a saucepan and then transfer it into a covered oven-proof dish.

Saute the onions, garlic, rosemary and chilli in the olive oil until onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, wine and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a simmer. Add the cooked beans, and season well with salt and pepper.

If needed, transfer to an oven-proof dish. Add extra water to ensure that the beans are just covered with liquid. Cover the dish, and bake at 180C for about an hour, or until the beans are very soft and the liquid slightly thickened.

Great with grilled cheese on toast.

Yield: serves 4

Sometimes, I just want one vegetable: I don’t want an elegant spread, a carefully arranged medley, a balanced mix. This is the time for a dish with a single feature vegetable. A few vegetables stand up well to this spotlight treatment (asparagus leaps to mind), but at our place, it is the good old green bean that most often gets to carry a dish on its own. Here’s a favourite weeknight recipe we often make to celebrate glorious green beans. If you can find and afford them, baby beans do take this dish up a notch. But if not, the best bog-standard green round beans do the trick just nicely.


Spicy green beans with tamari almonds
Adapted from Vegie Food

1 long red chilli, finely chopped (seeded if you want less heat)
2 cm fresh ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
350g green beans, trimmed
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp tamari roasted almonds*, roughly chopped (about 50g)
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan, and cook the chilli, ginger and garlic for 1 minute, until lightly browned.

Add the beans, hoisin sauce and sugar: stir-fry for 2-3 mins, until the beans are bright green and almost cooked.

Stir in the mirin, and cook for a further minute: the beans should now be just cooked but still crunchy.

Remove from the heat and stir in the almonds.

Serve with plain jasmine rice, or great with coconut rice (below).

* available from health food shops, or use raw natural almonds.

My grandma’s coconut rice

When I called my grandma to confirm her method for cooking this rice, she explained that it is basically a variation to the liquids you use for cooking jasmine rice, with some extra seasonings thrown in. It should work whatever method you use, but the quantities below were developed for the nifty microwave rice cooker she gave me. Theoretically, they should also work with any other absorption-type method (eg conventional rice cooker, or stove-top) where all the liquid you put in goes into the rice (rather than being drained off at the end or evaporating during cooking). The basic idea is that you substitute 25% of the water volume with coconut milk. So, for example, if you would normally use 1.5 cups (375mL) of water for 1 cup of rice, then use about 90mL coconut milk and 285mL water instead of all water. Then you season (see recipe below), stir it all together and cook as you would normally.

Here are the quantities for my microwave cooker – this will serve 3-4 people. (The quantities sound strange in metric cups, but we’ve gotten used to using this strange 150mL cup that came with the steamer. If you too have one of these cups, then it’s simply 2 cups rice, 1 cup coconut milk, 3 cups water)

1 1/3 cups rice
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
good pinch of sugar
1-2 kaffir lime leaves
1-2 slices galangal

Stir everything together, then microwave on high for 15 mins. Leave to rest for a few minutes, gently stir to separate the grains, then it’s ready to serve.