In case you’re wondering, a vague nerdy interest in the scientific side of things (informed, unfortunately, by nothing beyond high school classes!)  is a large part of what’s keeping me motivated on this Elimination Diet.  It’s been over a month now of keeping a strict food diary, and there have been some results.  But culinarily and socially, our family’s eating has been less than exciting.  I did enjoy doing a couple of the food challenges: the first week, I got to reintroduce salicylates, which, among other things, meant I could have herbs and spices again.  As you would imagine, I went crazy – making cajun this and pilaf that – and when I then rang my dietician to ask about some strange things my body was doing, she said: you sound toxic; you must stop.  Oh dear.  The second challenge was better: for amines, I had to eat chocolate every day!  Needless to say, that was fun, and happily my body did not protest (as much).

But what I’ve been trying to do is to refine some core recipes that comply with the requirements of the bare-bones elimination diet that I can use when I feel the need to detox again.  I returned to an adaptation of a Moosewood favourite that we first tried in the autumn.  It’s hard to make pea soup look appealing, but it sure is tasty and nourishing, and uses very few ingredients.  I just made a up a huge lot that will keep me going in lunches all week.

Meanwhile, wish me luck as I try out glutamates (MSG being one of the better known incarnations of this chemical). I’m hoping that I don’t react because I so want to continue to be able to eat mushrooms and parmesan cheese (which contain naturally-occurring glutamates), not to mention eating Chinese food again!  So have a go with some pea soup for now and cross your fingers for me!

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Split pea and vegetable soup
Adapted from Moosewood Cookbook Classics

1 tbsp butter
1 large leek, white part only, finely sliced
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 carrots, cut into 1.5cm chunks
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1.5cm chunks
2 cups dry split peas
about 1.25L  water

Heat the butter in a large saucepan.  When the butter has melted, add in the leek, carrot and potato.  Saute on low-medium heat to sweat the vegetables.  It should take about 10-12 minutes until they are aromatic and the leek is completely soft but not coloured.  Add in the garlic and saute for 1 or 2 minutes more.

Then add in all the split peas and the water.  Bring to the boil, then simmer gently for about an hour, stirring occasionally to help the peas break down.  You might need to add more water as needed.  Season to taste.

Yield:  serves 6

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The idea of eating ‘pease pudding in the pot, nine days old’, according to the traditional English children’s nursery rhyme, is surely not an enticing way of encouraging kids to eat their greens. Even before I knew the rhyme, peas were a special target of childhood vegetable-hate: for instance, every time my mum made chicken and vegetable soup, I remember my brother and I would pick out the peas and line them up forlornly on the side of our plates. I’d pick them out of take-away fried rice, and assiduously avoid them when lurking around other tasty vegetable treats like creamy mashed potato.

So it is not without some amusement that I have discovered in recent years that the humble green pea (in perhaps its most humblest form – the frozen green pea) is one of my most loved and most eaten vegetables. It’s something about their texture, the sweetness of baby peas, and just how amazingly instant they are to enjoy when they come frozen in a bag! Normally I’m not a fan of frozen veg, but baby green peas hit the spot – there’s always a 1kg bag lurking in our freezer ready to be tossed into an omelette, enjoyed with creamy mash, made into mushy peas, or whatever else.

This risotto recipe, despite using frozen peas, is not a speedy dish to make. To be fair, this is the case with most risottos anyway, but this one does require an extra pot of simmering peas to factor into the usual juggling between the rice pot and the stock. But the dish is super tasty and worth the effort and extra washing-up. The original recipe calls for freshly podded baby peas, which I’m sure would be fabulous too, if you have the time and the peas are in season.

(I should add when I made this recipe for this post, I had to do it in stages, so the peas had to sit for a little in their cooking juices before I could resume the risotto. If you make it all in one go, you can expect a bit more brightness and brilliance in the green than that pictured below – what fun!)

green pea risotto with lemon garlic prawns
Adapted from River Cafe Cook Book Green

For the risotto
750g baby peas (frozen is fine)
750mL vegetable stock
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves
2 garlic cloves
50g unsalted butter
1 bunch spring onions (about 5 small white onion bulbs), chopped finely
200g arborio rice
1 tbsp fresh basil leaves, torn
1/3 cup dry vermouth

For the prawns
400g peeled raw prawns
1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
finely grated zest of half a lemon

Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil. Add 1/4 tsp salt, the peas, mint and 1 whole peeled garlic clove. Simmer for 3-4 mins until the peas are just cooked and bright green. Drain, reserving 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Put the drained peas and the reserved cooking water back into the saucepan and set aside.

Heat up your stock (I normally do this in a pyrex jug in the microwave) so it’s ready to go. In a large saucepan, saute the spring onions with 3/4 of the butter on medium heat for 2 minutes, then add the second garlic clove, crushed. Saute for another minute or so until the onion is soft but not coloured. Add the rice, and stir for another minute or so until the grains are coated. Then add in the hot stock, about 1/2 a cup at a time, stirring and adding more stock when the rice has absorbed the liquid. Continue till all the stock is used, which should take about 10-15 minutes of loving attention and stirring. The rice should now be not quite al dente.

Stir through half the peas into the rice. Mash the remaining peas, mint, garlic and cooking water in the medium saucepan (I use a bamix/hand blender for this step), then stir the pea mash into the rice as well. Stir through the basil, vermouth, and remaining bit of butter. Test for doneness, and season well with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside while you do the prawns.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan on high heat and add a tbsp of olive oil and toss in the garlic. When the oil is very hot, add the prawns all at once and stir fry until golden. This should only take a few minutes. Add a good grinding of salt and the lemon zest. When the prawns are cooked, remove the garlic halves, and stir the prawns into the risotto.

For a purely vege version: instead of using prawns you can top the risotto with crumbled creamy ricotta, finely grated lemon zest, and generous grindings of parmesan cheese and black pepper.