Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos (vegan, onion & garlic free)

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Let’s be honest, who are you if one of your favourite things to eat in the entire world isn’t nachos?
One thing that’s certainly booming in Melbourne at the moment is modern Mexican cuisine. Gone are the days of soggy fried taco shells bursting with MSG-laden seasoned ground beef, lack lustre guar (um, where’s my coriander?!) and cloudy fish bowls filled with sugar syrup, ghastly colour dyes and cheap tequila. Under-cheesed nachos were awesome in 2004 when we didn’t know any better, but with all these new restaurants boasting affordable and outrageously tasty menu offerings with funky interiors and vibes to boot, tacky Tex-Mex joints just aren’t cutting it anymore.

Of course, if you have an irritable tummy, you’ll more than likely be frightened of Mexican food, as Mexican is synonymous with onion, garlic and black beans. However, the list of restaurants I’ve compiled below are all ones that I’ve found to be quite accommodating. As long as you’re willing to pass up a few obvious options (I hate you, pre-made guac), it is possible to find something that’s tummy friendly, tasty AND relatively healthy on all the below menus!

Here’s a list of some of my favourite modern Mexican joints around Melbourne:

Mamasita – CBD
Touche Hombre – CBD (home of the best corn on the cob you’ll ever sink your teeth into)
The Black Toro – Glen Waverly
Fonda – CBD, Hawthorn, Richmond & Windsor

Because of all the different vegetables, herbs and spices that characterise the cuisine, Mexican is actually very easy to health-ify. Having said that, I couldn’t be bothered inventing a dehydrated corn chip, so here’s my healthy take on modern nachos, using sweet potato chips instead! Since my recipe is FODMAP/fructose conscious, it doesn’t include beans, but feel free to add them if you can eat them!

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Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos (Vegan)

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

Low FODMAP Mexican Spice Mix (makes approx. 2.5 tbs):

  • 1 tbs cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Guac:

  • 2 large avocados*, lightly mashed
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 6 spring onions (green part only), chopped
  • Generous sprinkle of ‘Low FODMAP Mexican Spice Mix’ (above^)

Nachos:

  • 2 large sweet potatoes**, washed, peeled and sliced thinly into 3mm-thick rounds
  • 1 packet Celebrate Health Mexican Quinoa (available from the health food aisle of most leading supermarkets in Aus)
  • 1 red capsicum, chopped
  • 1 tin corn kernels (no added salt or sugar)
  • 1 small handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped, to serve
  • 3 spring onions (green part only), chopped, to serve
  • 1 red chilli, seeds removed and sliced, to serve (optional)
  • Lime wedges, to serve

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 220*C and line 2 large trays with baking paper.
  2. Prepare the spice mix by combining all ingredients. Set aside.
  3. To make the sweet potato chips, spread the sliced potato in an even layer on the prepared baking trays. Spray lightly with coconut oil spray and sprinkle with the spice mix. Bake the chips for 20 minutes, then flip the chips, give another light spray of oil and another sprinkle of spices, then return to the oven for a further 15-20 mins or until the rounds are beginning to resemble chips (refer to the images). Remove form oven and set aside. You may also wish to swap the position of the trays half way through to ensure even baking.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the Celebrate Health Mexican Quinoa according to packet instructions and set aside.
  5. Heat a little coconut oil in a frypan over medium-low heat. Sautee the capsicum, corn and a sprinkle of the spice mix until the capsicum is slightly tender and the corn kernels are beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from heat and set aside.
  6. To make the guac, combine all ingredients and season with sea salt.
  7. On a large flat serving dish or board, assemble the nachos by starting with the sweet potato chips on the bottom, then piling on the quinoa, capsicum, corn and guac. Garnish with coriander, spring onions, sliced chilli, lime wedges and a light sprinkle of the spice mix.

Notes: 
*Avocado contains sorbitol. Monash currently recommends that people highly sensitive to polyols should stick to 1/8th.
** Sweet potato contains mannitol. Monash currently recommends that people highly sensitive to polyols should stick to 1/2 cup.

Buen provecho, amigos! 
Ax

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Lemon and Coconut Slice

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In primary school, vary rarely would I leave our after-school trips to the local bakery without a lemon slice in hand. My irrepressible love continued into the early years of high school where I’d make a batch most weekends, using half of the sweetened condensed milk for the biscuit base and drinking the rest straight from the tin…

Still to this day, I’ll never knock back a little nibble on a traditional Lemon Slice in all its delectably sweet, lemony, melt-in-your-mouth biscuity glory, but it’s great to know that I can enjoy a full slice of my healthified version without the guilt or sugar slump afterwards. This Lemon and Coconut Slice recipe tastes unbelievably close to the real deal, and has all those familiar characteristics: just enough sweet, perfectly lemony with a base so buttery (sans butter or biscuits) that it melts in your mouth. I can’t wait for you to try it!

Like all my recipes, it’s very adaptable to suit your taste buds, dietary requirements or what’s in your pantry. Just use similar ingredients to those you can’t/don’t have, and you should end up with a fairly similar result.

Lemon and Coconut Slice

Ingredients Biscuit base:

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut*
  • 1/2 cup raw pecans*
  • 1/4 cup buckwheat groats
  • 1 tbs linseeds (or any other seeds)
  • 2.5 tbs pure maple syrup
  • 4 tbs melted coconut oil (or 2tbs each coconut oil & almond/macadamia oil)
  • Generous pinch of Himalayan sea salt

Lemon cream topping:

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews*
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut*
  • 1/3 cup + 2tbs coconut cream
  • 1.5 tbs pure maple syrup
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1/2 – 1 lemon (depending on how lemony you like it)

Method

  1. Line a slice tray with baking paper. Please note, the quantities above yield enough to fill half a normal slice tray (4 full sized bars or 8 small squares). If you want to make a full sized slice recipe –and fill the tin– simply double the ingredients.
  2. To make the biscuit base, use a high-powered processor to process the buckwheat groats, seeds, pecans and salt until a fine crumb forms. Add the oats and coconut and blitz again (I like my oats a little chunky, but you can blend for longer to make a fine crumb). Add the oil and maple syrup and process until it all comes together and is sticky. You may need to scrape the bowl/jug down a few times to fully incorporate all the ingredients. Press firmly into the prepared slice tin (see images for thickness) and place in the freezer to set while you make the topping.
  3. To make the lemon topping, process the cashews, coconut and lemon rind until a super-fine crumb forms, taking care not to over-process into butter. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth and creamy.
  4. Remove the base from the freezer and top with the lemon cream, using the back of a dessert spoon to smooth. Top with extra shredded coconut and allow to set in the fridge for an hour or so.
  5. Once set, cut into 4 large bars or 8 squares. I would say one square is a good sized portion for a snack.

Notes:

  • The quantities above yield enough to fill half a normal slice tray (4 full sized bars or 8 small squares). If you want to make a full sized slice recipe –and fill the tin– simply double the ingredients.
  • If you like your slice extra lemony, try adding zest of 1/2 lemon to the biscuit base.
  • For a gluten free version, replace the oats with buckwheat groats or gluten free oats (depending what your stance on GF oats is).
  • Ingredients marked with an asterisk* are higher in FODMAPs than the others. As such, this recipe is relatively low in FODMAPs, but it is not FODMAP free. Modify the quantities to suit your tolerance levels.

Happy Nourishing! Ax

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Hellenic Republic-Inspired Quinoa Salad with Cumin Yoghurt Dressing & Pomegranate

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Last December, my mum had a bunch of her girlfriends over for their annual Chrissy lunch. Of all the memorably tasty dishes on offer (the leftovers overflowed our fridge for days – score!), one thing stood out in particular: a colourful little grain salad made by one of my mum’s friends. Upon tasting it, I was equal parts delighted and deflated; delighted because it set off a party of whiz-bang flavours and textures in my mouth, but deflated because it was packed with high FODMAP ingredients like freekeh (green wheat), lentils, red onion and dried fruits.
Typical me, always wanting what I can’t have…

As it turns out, the ‘Cypriot Grain Salad’ is a recipe by George Columbaris (of Masterchef fame), and is one of the most popular side dishes served at his modern Greek taverna, Hellenic Republic, in Brunswick, Melbourne. I’d love to be able to take full credit for this recipe, but that would be a jackass move. All I’ve done is add a few things here and there for flavour and tweaked it to suit my dietary needs. Besides, I’d rather not be on George’s bad side.
I couldn’t wait to taste this dish again, and so here it is: my low FODMAP version of Hellenic Republic’s ‘Cypriot Grain Salad’ in all its fluffy, crunchy, sweet and savoury glory. It’s perfect on its own or as a side salad to chicken or slow cooked lamb.

Hellenic Republic-Inspired Quinoa Salad with Cumin Yoghurt Dressing & Pomegranate

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups tri-coloured quinoa (available at most supermarkets)
  • 3 cups low-sodium stock of choice
  • 1 bunch coriander, washed and chopped
  • 1/2 bunch continental (flat-leaf) parsley, washed and chopped
  • 1 cup chopped spring onion, green part only (use 1/2 chopped red onion if you don’t have FM )
  • 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup toasted pepitas
  • 2 tbs toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup currants*
  • 2 tbs dried cranberries*
  • Juice of 1 – 1.5 lemons (or to taste)
  • 3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup thick full fat Greek yoghurt
  • Seeds of 1 small pomegranate, or 1/2 large
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground (or 1.5 tsp cumin powder, carefully cooked in a dry fry-pan over medium-low heat until fragrant)
  • 1 tbs pure maple syrup (use honey if you don’t have FM)

Method

  1. In a saucepan or pot, bring the quinoa and stock to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed (depending on your cook top, this can take anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes). Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.
  2. Combine the yoghurt, cumin and maple syrup/honey in a small serving bowl.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the quinoa, coriander, parsley, onion, almonds, pine nuts, pepitas, currants, cranberries, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Transfer salad to a serving dish and top with the yoghurt dressing and pomegranate seeds. I like to mix some of the yoghurt dressing through the salad, then add more on top, but that’s up to you 🙂

* Those of you with fructose malabsorption/IBS or on a low FODMAP diet should limit your intake of dried fruit (excess fructose). However, if you’re trying to reintroduce FODMAPs back into your diet, a small amount shouldn’t hurt as the overall FODMAP load of this recipe is quite low. As always, assess your own tolerance. Halve or quarter the quantities if you’re unsure, and leave out altogether if you know you react to any amount of dried fruit.

 

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

Jolly Christmas Cheer and the Ultimate Summer Salad: Maple-roasted Pumpkin & Chicken Salad with Strawberries & Caramelised Macadamias

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Synonymous with all things indulgent, the Silly Season is a time for feeding the soul…

We find ourselves kicking back more, getting outdoors more and filling our social calendars with BBQs, parties and beachside gatherings. Any excuse to get together with friends and family over beautiful food and one too many drinks will do.
So yes, between all the Christmas, New Year and summertime (for us Aussies) festivities, it’s almost impossible to stay as disciplined with your diet as you normally would. It feels like you’re perpetually surrounded by a sea of lip-smacking food, and it somehow seems more justified to pick at anything and everything just because “it’s the festive season!”.

The most important thing is to not be too hard on yourself.
I choose to look at it this way: if you can’t loosen up and treat yourself at this time of year, then when the hell can you?! That pretty pavlova wasn’t just put there to take photos of. You are supposed to enjoy this time of year and everything it has to offer. With that said, while I might loosen my belt (literally) and pick at more desserts, cheese boards and processed snacks than I usually would, this doesn’t mean that all my other healthful habits go down the drain. I certainly don’t want to miss out on yummy food, but I also know that going totally overboard will leave me with nothing but a heavy guilty conscience and five extra kilos. As with any time of year, maintaining balance is important. Some things I do to achieve this balance include staying hydrated at all times, opting for vodka, lime and soda over sugar alcoholic drinks, filling up on veggies and quality protein at meals so that I don’t have a bottomless pit when it comes to dessert, chewing my food slowly so I enjoy each mouthful, drinking green smoothies each day to leave less room for unhealthy and processed snacks, taking long walks and swimming whenever I can. I try to be as mindful as possible, while enjoying myself all the while.

It’s easy(ish) to stay in control of what goes into your mouth when you’re at home, but not so much when your plate is at the hands of someone else – you naturally feel pressured to eat everything that’s being served up to you, and unless your family and friends are squeaky clean raw vegans (which mine certainly are not), chances are you’re going to be faced with an array of not-so-healthy temptations. To combat this, I make a big, bright salad like this one whenever I’m asked to bring a plate of food to a gathering, so there’s always something delicious and healthy for me to fill up on and I won’t be as likely devour my weight’s worth of double brie, cabana and cheesecake.

This Maple-roasted Pumpkin and Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Macadamias is fab – I can’t wait to share it with you. But first, here are some snaps from Chrissy Day, all taken on my iPhone because although Santa very generously gave me a Canon EOS 700D SLR so I can start doing real food photography, I’m not quite ready to move from the comfort zone of my iPhone 5 just yet.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I had a ball preparing festive treats all day (and night) long on Christmas Eve…

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I first made this salad around two months ago, and it’s already become my go-to staple of the season. It’s simple and has enough substance to serve to your family any day of the week, but it’s also a little fancy, making it the perfect dish for entertaining. Casual indulgence, if you like. Donning just the right amounts of sweet, sour and savoury, this salad will have your taste buds singing and your belly satisfied. Like any salad, this recipe is very forgiving, so feel free to play around with it. If you’re after a vegetarian dish or light side salad, simply leave the chicken out. This salad is wonderful when the roasted veggies and chicken are warm, however, it’s just as delicious cold, so don’t worry about being meticulous with timing everything. Leftovers make for a perfect lunch the next day!

Full bellies and happy hearts all round…

Maple-roasted Pumpkin, Sweet Potato & Chicken Salad with Strawberries & Caramelised Macadamias

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

  • 1/2 roast chicken, skin removed & flesh shredded (omit for vegetarian)
  • 1/4 Jap/Kent pumpkin, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
  • 1 large sweet potato (approx. 700g), washed, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
  • 1/2 cup macadamias, chopped roughly into halves
  • 2 tbs + 2 tsp pure maple syrup
  • 1.5 tbs oil (olive, coconut or macadamia)
  • 200g baby leaf salad mix
  • 100g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 punnet (approx. 200g) strawberries, sliced
  • 1/2 cup spring onion, chopped (green part only)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tbs pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • Small handful each fresh basil and parsley (flat-leaf), roughly chopped
  • 100g goat’s curd or Danish feta, to serve (omit for dairy free)
  • EVOO, to serve
  • Balsamic vinegar, to serve (optional)
  • Himalayan sea salt, to taste

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 170*C and line a tray with baking paper. In a small bowl, coat the macadamias with 2 tsp maple syrup. Pour onto the baking paper and place in the oven for 10 minutes or until golden and caramelised. Remove and set aside to cool completely. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
  2. Turn the oven up to 200*C and line a tray with baking paper. In a large bowl, coat the pumpkin and sweet potato chunks with 2 tbs maple syrup, 1.5 tbs olive oil, oregano and salt. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, turning half way through. For the last 5 minutes of baking, add the pepitas to the tray. As always, cooking times will vary from oven to oven and depending on the size you’ve cut your veg. Use my photos as a reference to determine if the veggies are ‘done’ or not. This salad works best when the veggies are a little on the ‘under’ side – quite soft in the middle and caramelised and chewy around the edges. Don’t let them crisp up too much as the caremelisation will dry out!
  3. While the veggies are roasting, arrange the salad leaves in a servings bowl or platter. Drizzle leaves with a little olive oil and a small amount of balsamic vinegar, if using (the balsamic goes perfectly with the strawberries and feta, but be sure to only use a tiny bit otherwise the salad will be too sweet!).
  4. When the veggies are ready, top the salad mix with the spring onion, fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, roasted veg, chicken, feta, macadamias and pepitas. Just before servings, finish with a tiny sprinkle of EVOO. Enjoy!

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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Summer Smoothie Series: Super Icey & Chai Spicy Banana Smoothie

Smoothies are to summer what porridge is to winter, and as the weather warms up in Australia, I like my brekkies to cool down…

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You might have gathered by now that I’m obsessed with all things chai. Like any chai-enthusiast, nothing encompasses those gorgeous Indian masala aromatics quite like the ole chai latte does (yep, that heavenly hot milky drink made with sickly sweet powder or syrup. Pure refined sugary delight).
However, since learning a few years back that refined sugar, preservatives, additives, fillers and artificial flavours are terrible for my health and waistline, I’ve given my beloved weekly McCafe indulgence the flick.

Depending on the type of milk and chai flavouring used, the average cafes style small chai latte contains anywhere between 20-40 grams of sugar (5-10 teaspoons), with the majority weighing in at around the 32g mark! That’s a hell of a lot of sugar to waste on one small drink.

These days, I flavour anything and everything I can with my own chai spice mix. Instead of harming my health like my chai latte habit did, the real spice mix delivers a whole heap of goodness and just as much flavour. Chai spices, when used in their real and pure form, are packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals and boast cancer-prevention properties. Such spices are also great for immune function, hormone balancing (thus PMS symptom relief), gut health, bloating reduction, metabolism firing and energy boosting.

My chai spice mix uses nothing but pure ground cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. More traditional recipes call for white pepper, which you could also try. I use this mix to transform simple porridge, pancakes, muffins, granola, banana ‘ice cream’ and smoothies into gorgeous chai flavoured treats. I love how adding so much flavour to a recipe with these spices also boosts its nutritional value – win/win!

Since chai just wouldn’t be chai-like without a particular sweetness to complement and balance those spices, you can add a little natural sweetener such as rice malt syrup or pure maple to recipes.

Chai Spice Mix

Makes around 6 tbs. of chai mix

  • 2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2.5 tbsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 tbsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 tsp. allspice
  • 2 tsp. ground nutmeg

Combine all the spices together and store in an airtight glass jar or container.

Super Icey and Chai Spicey Banana Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 1 1/2 frozen ripe banana
  • 1 cup milk of choice
  • 2 heaped teaspoons chai spice mix (or to taste, recipe above)
  • 1 tbs natural almond butter
  • 4 ice cubes plus extra, to serve

Method: Add all ingredients to a blender and process on high for one minute or until thick and creamy. Pour into a glass over ice and sprinkle cinnamon over the top. Slurp away.

Notes:

  • If you need a more substantial breakfast or post workout smoothie, adding 1 tbs chia seeds delivers a great source of natural protein, fibre, omega-3, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • I use a Thermomix, and while blending for so long in such a high-power blender might sound excessive, I find that frozen banana needs at least one minute to thicken  the rest of the ingredients up and make it silky smooth.

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Easy as Pie: Chocolate, Orange & Almond Tart with a Coconutty Crust (gluten free + fructose friendly)

I’m not an expert on people (as much as I like to think I am), and I’m certainly no expert at baking, but I do know two things:
1. People find making desserts intimidating, especially when a recipe involves several elements like a crust, layered fillings, a topping, sauce, etc., etc.
2. Desserts can be very time consuming; Ain’t nobody got a spare 6-hours floating around in their day to devote to souffle-perfecting or tempering chocolate.
The ultimate conclusion?
Desserts that look half appealing are a pain in the ass to make.
But I want to prove to you that they don’t always have to be…

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My chocolate, orange & almond tart might look a little fancy, but it couldn’t be simpler. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s idiot proof, but don’t quote me on that. The coconut crust only calls for a few basic ingredients, and the filling can be prepped in a couple of simple steps while the crust turns crust-like in the oven. Then, it’s just a matter of pouring the filling over the crust and throwing it in the fridge for a few hours ’til it’s set. All the preparation can be achieved in half an hour –give or take a few minutes– and the filling only takes 1-2 hours to set in the fridge. In fact, the closer to that 1-hour mark you eat it, the better it is because the crust and almonds will still be crispy. Because of the moisture in the fridge, these will soften more as time goes by. Still yummy, but the texture won’t be as good.

But first, a few notes…

People either love or hate coconut. The crust of this tart is 95% dried coconut and the filling is mostly coconut cream. So, if you’re not a HUGE coconut fan, please don’t bother making this recipe. That’s like asking me to enjoy sushi covered in wassabi; it doesn’t matter how amazing that sushi is, once wassabi touches it, it tastes like poison to me.

Secondly, as you would already be aware, I don’t usually include ingredients which contain added/refined sugar in my recipes. However, you will notice that this recipe uses dark chocolate which, of course, means sugar. My justification? Everything in… yep, you read it before I even said it: moderation. I used Lindt 80% as it only contains about 10g of sugar in the whole 100g block which, when distributed throughout the recipe, equates to less than a gram of sugar per serving from the chocolate which is a negligible amount.

Now, readers who don’t need to worry about fructose of FODMAPs are welcome to stop reading now, unless, of course, you’re interested in our awful intolerances.
In terms of  the fructose and FODMAP content, you will see that this recipe includes two known moderately fructan-containing ingredients in relatively large amounts: dried coconut and almonds. According to the guidelines of Sue Shepherd’s low FODMAP diet, those on the strict plan should limit their intake of dried coconut to 1/4 cup per sitting, and almonds to about 10 per sitting. If this tart is divided into at least 10 segments (which is should be anyway), there is less than these amounts per servings. Individuals who aren’t on a diet as strict and who are trying to build up their tolerance should be able to tolerate more than these amounts anyway, providing their OVERALL FODMAP consumption isn’t already high that day, as it will add to the load/accumulation and could cause a reaction.

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Chocolate, Orange & Almond Tart with a Coconut Crust

Dietary info: Gluten free, low FODMAP (see notes above), low fructose (see notes above). Contains egg, nuts and dairy (use vegan chocolate for dairy free).

Ingredients

Crust:

  • 3.5 cups (or 200g) unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbs melted coconut oil
  • 2 tbs rice malt syrup

Filling:

  • 1 cup (100g) slithered almonds (can also use half almonds and half pecans), chopped roughly and toasted until golden brown
  • 1 tsp finely grated orange rind
  • 1 cup (250mL) full-fat coconut cream
  • 100g 70-85% dark chocolate (I used Lindt 80% because it only has around 10g sugar in the whole block. For dairy free, you could also use a vegan block such as Loving Earth)
  • 1 tbs pure maple syrup
  • Orange oil (see notes for alternative)
  • Pinch Himalayan sea salt
  • Liquid stevia, to taste

To serve:

  • Fresh orange slices
  • Fresh Strawberries, sliced
  • Orange rind, finely grated

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 175’C and lightly grease a 20cm non-stick tart/flan tin (with a loose base) with coconut oil. Good quality tins should not need greasing, but I like to be safe. Nothing ruins a tart more than a crust that sticks to the tin!
  2. Place the shredded coconut, egg whites, rice malt syrup and melted coconut oil in a large bowl. Use your hands to squeeze and fully combine. The mixture should be sticky and form a loose dough. Press the dough VERY firmly into the base and up the sides of the tart tin. It’s important to get the crust thick enough so it will maintain form, but not so thick that not all of it cooks properly. If you think you’ve got too much, discard some of it or flatten it into small discs and bake until browned to make healthy macaroons-style biccies with! Bake the crust in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  3. In the meantime, place the toasted slithered almonds in a small bowl with the orange zest and use your fingers to evenly massage the zest through the almonds. Set aside.
  4. When the crust only has 5 minutes of baking time left, finely chop the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. Bring the coconut cream to a boil in a saucepan. Pour boiling coconut cream over the chocolate and whisk until fully combined.
  5. Add the maple syrup, sea salt and 5-10 drops of orange oil, depending on how orangey you like it. Taste and add orange oil and liquid stevia as needed. If you’re after a deeper chocolate flavour, add a teaspoon or so of raw cacao powder.
  6. When the tart crust is ready, cover its base with the toasted slithered almonds. Then carefully pour the coconut/chocolate mixture evenly over the top. Place in the fridge to set for 1-2 hours (the coconut crust and toasted almonds will begin to lose their awesome crispiness after 2 hours, so I’d serve it as close to then as possible).
  7. Serve with fresh orange segments, sliced strawberries, shaved dark chocolate and a sprinkle of grated orange rind.

Notes:

  • If you don’t have any orange oil, you can use 1-2 tsp of finely grated orange zest instead, but the flavour might not distribute as evenly.

Happy Nourshing!
Ax

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The first of many mornings at Combi + a Pumpkin, Feta & Chive Loaf

Why don’t you loaf me?
Tell me, baby,
Why don’t you knead me?

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I’m excited for two reasons:
1. Food puns are the best puns^^^
2. I’ve just returned home from my European Summer adventure, which is a harrowing fact in itself, but at least it means I can get reacquainted with glorious Melbourne cuisine again, and finally get my ass back in the kitchen.

The other morning, I was brunching with a few girlfriends at popular Elwood health foodie hangout, Combi. If you reside in Melbourne, Combi is absolutely worth a visit, by the way. Their styling is impeccable and they offer a truly healthful menu including cold pressed juices, organic fair trade coffee, Acai bowls, chia pudding, superfood smoothies, homemade nut mylks (which are now unsweetened because they stopped using dates! Win!), on-tap kombucha and an abundance of raw savoury dishes. However, if you’re intolerant to fructose or have IBS, I suggest you steer clear of their spectacular snacks and sweets cabinet, because everything’s made with dates and/or agave

*angry constipated-like expression and frustrated tear*

But what impresses me more than their menu and quirky styling is the integrity upon which their business is built. Combi aren’t just trying to appeal to health foodies, pro-green hippies or indie jar-food fad seekers. Rather, their objective is to deliver a true earth to table experience by working closely with growers, producers and suppliers to bring organic, seasonal, sustainable and ethical meals and beverages to the public. It could be for this reason that sometimes –and I’ve only been once so I can’t be sure until I’ve been several times– it seemed that the flavour of some of our menu choices (smoothies and chia pudding) was slightly lacking. Local, organic produce is sometimes not as appealing to the taste buds as mass-farmed produce that’s been cultivated under industrial conditions. For example, sometimes my homegrown strawberries are no where near as juicy, sweet or flavoursome as the ones I buy from Coles that have been mass-farmed using pesticides, herbicides and who knows what else. And sometimes they are just as good.

However, the nutrient-rich and chemical free soil in which the organic ones are grown means they’re far more nutritious. Unless Combi are going to pump their meals with sweeteners or artificial enhancers (which provide no nutrient value), it’s no wonder that the flavours of the meals which rely solely on organic fruit and veg don’t absolutely “WOW” you all the time. Organic produce is REAL, and thus less predictable in flavour. I’d rather consume something knowing every ingredient in there is thoughtful and serves a purpose to my body, rather than thrown in there to satisfy my sugar-hungry tastebuds.

While it’s no secret that I love eating out for breakfast, just like any bona fide Melbournian does, the bread situation is an ongoing frustration. Steering clear of wheat means passing on the regular seed-packed or brown options, and more often than not, the gluten free options are white, totally refined and pumped with more crap than any wheat-based bread could be. And yes, I could just opt for no bread, but I’ve never understood how people cut the fluffy stuff out.

WHAT DO YOU MOP UP YOUR EGG YOLK WITH,?! WHAT DO YOU DIP IN YOUR SOUP?!

A life without bread? If I could fathom it, I’d probably be Paleo. But I cannot. Which is why I was super excited when I came across Combi’s ‘gluten free sprouted bread’, made from fermented sprouted grains (gut-healing health for those with intolerances or bloated bellies!), fresh veg, herbs, cold-pressed coconut oil, and all cultured in coconut kefir. And yep, all intolerance-friendly.

So, as I sipped on my ‘Berry Beloved’ smoothie and chowed down my smashed avo on sprouted toast (the smashed avo with feta, lemon and mint is spot-on, by the way), something occurred to me: I’ve never made my own savoury bread before. I’m still (very slowly) getting back into the swing of things and trying to transition back into real life, so I wasn’t about to go experimenting with fermenting sprouted grains or culturing things with kefir. That all seemed a bit much. So I asked myself, “what would the perfect savoury bread consist of?” It has to be healthy, filling, fructose-friendly, have a great texture and taste great. I’ve always loved savoury sconnes, namely cheese and chive, so I thought about how I could take those flavours and use them in a healthy loaf. I also thought pumpkin would be a great addition in terms of flavour, texture and nutritional value. Luckily for my jet-lagged, grumpy bum self, the recipe worked the first time around.

If there’s one thing I love more than a food pun, it’s a food fluke.

My Pumpkin, Feta and Chive loaf is very straight forward and fuss-free. It has a hearty, dense texture and a wonderfully buttery flavour (sans butter), with pops of flair from the feta and herbs. Serve it toasted with your favourite nut butter (I love it with Mayver’s ‘Energy Spread’, made of peanuts, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds and spirulina), or with avo and poached eggs. It’s also got enough flavour and moistness to snack on as is (sorry, too tired to come up with a better synonym for ‘moistness’). It’s packed full of nutrients and fibre and, unlike regular breads, is relatively low-carb and high in protein.
So to all you carb-conscious creatures out there, now
you can have your bread and eat it, too.

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Pumpkin, Feta and Chive Loaf

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mashed Jap/Kent pumpkin (approx. 400g uncooked – see method)
  • 1.5 cups wholemeal spelt flour* (see notes for gluten free alternative)
  • 1 cup LSA meal (ground linseed, sunflower seed & almonds)*
  • 2 tsp baking powder (aluminium free, if possible)
  • 4 free range eggs, organic if possible, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup chopped chives
  • 150g Danish feta (it’s always better from the deli. Omit for dairy/lactose free)
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 tbs rice malt syrup (optional – this amount is tiny but you can omit to keep it sugar free. If you don’t mind the fructose, you can substitute for honey)
  • 3 tbs psyllium (available from the health food aisle of most supermarkets, as well as health food stores)
  • 1/2 tsp ground paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan sea salt
  • Fresh sage leaves or rosemary sprigs, plus a handful of pepitas (pumpkin seeds), to serve (these are optional, but the herbs on top infuse the loaf with their flavour as it bakes, and the pepitas add great texture!).

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180*C and line a loaf tin with baking paper.
  2. 400g uncooked and peeled pumpkin should yield 1 cup of mashed pumpkin. To make the mash, simply take 400g of peeled pumpkin and chop it into chunks. Steam chunks until soft, then mash until all clumps are removed. I’m all about short cuts, so if you’re feeling really lazy, you could always blend it. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the spelt flour, LSA, baking powder, paprika, psyllium and salt.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the beaten eggs, melted coconut oil and rice malt syrup. Tip: to avoid losing half the syrup to its tendency to stick to the bowl, pour in the coconut oil first and swirl it around the edges. This will stop it from sticking. Add to the dry mixture and combine well.
  5. Gently fold through the mashed pumpkin and chives until well combined.
  6. Crumble the feta into chunks, and fold through the dough very gently, careful not to over-mix as you’ll break the feta up too much. The loaf will taste best if there are little chunks of feta throughout it.
  7. Spoon evenly into prepared loaf tin and smooth over the top with the back of the spoon. Arrange the sage leaves/rosemary sprigs over the top of the dough, and sprinkle the pepitas. Using your fingers, apply a very light pressure to the garnishes to ensure that they stick.
  8. Bake for 35-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. I’ve provided such a time range because all ovens and ingredients vary. Mine took closer to 50 minutes, but that might be because I steamed my pumpkin for too long and it thus had a lot of water in it. Check it at the 35-minute mark, and take it from there.

Notes

  • For those with fructose malabsorption/IBS: the ingredients labelled with an asterisk (spelt and LSA) contain fructans, the almonds in the LSA more so than the spelt. I can tolerate large amounts of spelt, and some individuals have no issue with it at all, while others do. As with any potential irritant, test your own tolerance.
  • To make this loaf gluten free, leave out the spelt and use 2 cups of almond meal and 1/4 to 1/2 cup LSA instead. I can’t guarantee an absolute success because I haven’t tried it and it might not rise as well. You may need to use a little more mashed pumpkin to provide more moisture for all the nuts to soak up. Make sure you use gluten free baking powder, too. This alternative would not be wise for those with fructmal, as the almond content is too high.
Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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Summer Snapshots and Byron-Inspired Zucchini & Sweet Corn Fritters

Byron Bay over New Years was perfect in so many ways. It’s a place where music just sounds better and drinks slide down more easily. People laugh harder and they smile bigger; they share experiences and ideas that aren’t limited to the one small city they come from or the single state of mind they filter their own world through. They think more and they see more. The beaches feel sacred even though you know they’re touched and the sticky air hums with a vibe that’s simply at ease with itself. It makes you at ease with yourself. The atmosphere is so intrinsically happy that you feel at home in streets you’ve never walked through, hostels you’ve never slept in with people you’ve never met. You know every little thing is better in Byron, just because it is. If you try to explain why, you’ll only ruin it for yourself.
I guess that’s why some people love to travel so much: they have an uncontainable itch to experience those places first hand, the places that no great storyteller, elaborate travel blog or perfectly filtered photo could ever do justice to.

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I was planning on writing one blog post to celebrate my glorious week at Byron Bay over New Years (presumably in early January after my return), and another to mourn the devastating death of another Australian summer (presumably in early March after the sunny season’s decease in February). I clearly failed to deliver either post, because April is nearly upon us. Let’s just say that with two part-time jobs and a manic schedule at a new Uni, I’m lucky to fit a shower into my weekly schedule, let alone a blog post. Tear, tear.

But right now, I’ve got seven hours worth of lecture recordings to catch up on, hundreds of pages worth of academic papers to read (skim over), two research assignments to write (begin researching for) and several online tests to complete (attempt). Despite all this and my truest intentions to make a dent in it this afternoon, I’ve chosen to sit in the university library, sippin’ on chai tea with Asics-encased feet up on the couch (I don’t even put shoes on the couches at home, but I’m allowed to here because the chick next to me is doing it and the guy opposite is resting his shoes on the table like a footrest, and it’s worth noting that they look respectable, so shoe-furniture contact is therefore totally acceptable here) and I’m writing this blog post on a recipe which honours both my brazen Byron adventure, and another all-too few and far between summer season. Priorities, I tell ya! I’ve so got my life sorted.

So here we go…

 Being the well-documented scab that I am, I always have to taste every meal ordered by each person I’m out with, often when I haven’t even tasted my own dish yet. If ever they object, I justify my request by pulling out the “poor Ashlyn with fructose issues” card, whereby they’re reminded (yet again) in a high-pitched whine that I can’t actually order restaurant dishes as tasty as theirs, and that denying me the simple human pleasure of tasting toothsome delights would be inhumanly cruel.

My mum almost always opts for the ‘zucchini and sweet corn fritter’ option if it’s available on a brunch menu, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ve tasted around 95% of the zucchini fritters offered around Melbourne. Of course, some are lovely and tasty and lovely, and some are not so. The reason I never actually order my own is because I’m yet to come across a zucchini fritter on a Melbourne menu that isn’t either full of onion or made with refined wheat flour. Given this frustration, it’s a wonder why I haven’t tried to come up with my own version before. Thankfully, a vibrant little gem in Byron Bay known as Manna Haven gave me all the inspiration I needed.

I couldn’t have been more in my element in Byron. Everywhere I turned my eager little head was a pretty sign pointing me to the nearest organic feasts, açai bowls, green smoothies, frozen coconut yoghurt bars and raw treats. Of all the wonderful cafes and stores, however, Manna Haven stood out. The Haven’s set up is charmingly quaint, the menu sublime and their service unmatched. The waiter looked totally unphased as I timidly informed him of my fructose issues. As usual, I interpreted this as him having no knowledge about fructose. When I tried again, this time asking if there was anything on the menu he thought I might be able to have, he simply said:
“Of course there is, choose anything you like!” Did he not get that I couldn’t eat half of the ingredients in every single menu item except for the herbal teas? I clearly needed to get more specific. I asked him if there was onion in their ‘Flipping Fritters’, and told him I was aware that there’d already be garlic and /or onion in the tzatziki and quinoa tabbouleh the fritters were served with, and asked if I could have a simple side salad instead. “There certainly is, but if I tell you what goes into each component, you tell me what you can’t have, and the chef will make it all from scratch!”

***angelic heaven-worshipping sound effect***

Within 20 minutes, I had a fabulous plate of zucchini and sweetcorn fritters before me, complete with a side of quinoa tabbouleh, tzatziki and a green smoothie made with ingredients of my choice to wash it all down with. I savoured every mouthful and knew that I had to make my own inspired version once I got home. It only took me over two months, but it’s finally here: my Zucchini, Sweet Corn and Feta Fritters. With gluten and dairy free substitutions, there’s an option for almost anyone (sorry my lovely vegans, this recipe calls for eggs. You’re welcome to try it without them and use a little coconut milk instead. If it doesn’t work, don’t blame me – I’m pro-eggie!)

These patties are wonderful served with eggs for breakfast, as a lunch meal with smoked salmon, avocado salsa, lemon and rocket or as a snack with pumpkin seed butter. You can even wrap them up and snack on them cold while you’re on the go.

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Zucchini, Sweet Corn & Feta Fritters

Makes about 15 fritters (serves 5)

Dietary info: vegetarian, fructose friendly, low FODMAP*, refined sugar free, dairy free option, gluten free option. Contains nuts (almonds).

Ingredients

  • 700g zucchini, grated
  • 8 spring onions (green part only), chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • Zest of 1 lemon, grated
  • 420g can corn kernels* (unsweetened and no or salt)
  • 3 organic free range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup whole meal spelt flour** (see notes for GF alternatives)
  • 150g Persian/Bulgarian/Danish feta (optional – omit if dairy free)

Method

  1. Place the grated zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt. Toss with your hands to distribute the salt amongst the zucchini. Place the colander in a large bowl (to catch the water from the zucchini), cover and leave for 1 hour or longer, if possible. Refrigerate if leaving for a longer period of time. During this time, the salt will help to suck the moisture out of the zucchini so you’re not left with soggy patties.
  2. In the meantime, combine the sweet corn, spring onion, herbs, lemon rind and eggs. Add the almond meal and half of the spelt flour. Combine well.
  3. When the zucchini is ready, grab handfuls and squeeze out any excess water before adding to the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Crumble the feta into chunks if using and mix well but carefully, so as to not to break it up totally – little chunks of feta are best.
  5. At this stage, you can assess the consistency of the batter. You’ll most likely need to add the rest of the spelt flour, but this will depend on how well the zucchini has drained. If the mixture seems too wet, add more spelt or almond meal, mixing well between additions, until the mixture is moist enough to all hold together, able to be formed into patty shapes.
  6. Take small amounts of the batter and form into patty shapes with your hands. The first few I made were quite thick and turned out a little soggy in the middle, but then I made a thinner round and they turned out much lighter, crispier and cooked quicker (win, win, win!)
  7. Cook the patties in a little coconut or macadamia nut oil over medium heat for about 4 minutes on each side or until cooked through and lovely and golden (cooking times will always vary depending on your stove, pan and patty thickness).
  8. Serve warm with eggs to kick start your day, or with avocado salsa (smashed avo, chopped cherry tomatoes, coriander, lemon and chives), smoked salmon and rocket for a wholesome lunch.

Notes:

* I can tolerate large amounts of sweet corn, thought I know some people with fructose malabsorption have issues with it. The commonly tolerable amount is the equivalent to at least 1/2 cob or 1/4 cup of kernels, and there’s less than that in each serving in this recipe. Always assess your own tolerance levels.

** For a gluten free version, replace the spelt flour with another suitable flour. Buckwheat or brown rice flour should work!

 

Happy Nourishing!
Ax

Toasted Almond, Coconut & Chocolate Granola

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Granola is just one of those foods that makes me salivate.

The
 warm flavours, the sweetness, the wonderful texture and, of course, that irresistible crunch. It just gets me every time.

I think I was in year 7 when my mum first brought home the newest addition to the Kellogg’s breakfast cereal range, Crunchy Nut Clusters. Those peanut and ‘honey’ (sugar, molasses and vegetable oil) coated cornflakes teamed with deliciously crunchy clusters of oats, puffed wheat and coconut (and yep, more sugar, molasses and vegetable oil) became not only my brekkie bowl filler, but also my mid-morning, afternoon and pre-bedtime snack by the handful. I had every right to go through four boxes of this golden blessedness a week because Crunchy Nut Clusters were clearly less sugary than the Froot Loops and Frosty Flakes many of my friends still ate, and they were made with healthy ingredients like corn, oats, honey and nuts. I was so on my way to getting healthy and losing all my puppy fat quickly, all while eating something so damn tasty. YEAH!

Much to my horror, the so-called puppy fat not only stuck around, but started to soar. Thankfully, I slowly grew older and wiser. I learned that just because something is manufactured from a vegetable, that does not necessarily make it healthy (but what do you mean vegetable oil and High Fructose Corn Syrup aren’t good for you?!)  and I began reading labels (why doesn’t the front of the box mention anything about the cereal being covered in sugar, molasses and oil as well as honey?!)

It took a while, but I started to become aware of marketing gimmicks and misleading advertising. After a year, my beloved Crunchy Nut Clusters were replaced by Sultana Bran Crunch after a year. Ah, the ignorance. Still, it was a move in the right direction, and at least I wasn’t eating Honey Joys disguised as a breakfast cereal anymore.

For those of you who are more or less like me, buying packaged granola poses two main problems:

  1. Mainstream granola brands packed with different forms of sugar, preservatives and other additives and provide little to no nutritional value.
  2. They’re very rarely fructose-friendly: pre-packaged granola always contains either loads of honey, dried fruit or both, which makes them indigestible for my fellow fructose malabsorbers. Even the ‘healthier’ granola alternatives available at health food stores are made with with high-fructose sweeteners like agave and dried fruit.

I’ve been avoiding pre-packaged granola and toasted muesli for several years now. The thought of sweet, crunchy clusters of puffed grain heaven still excites me, but I’ve never come across one that’s healthy enough to eat regularly. And so, I’m more of an egg gal these days.

The other week, however, my love for granola was reignited. I was in the cereal aisle of Coles, looking at Carman’s muesli for my sister when I saw them. Carman’s Crunchy Clusters with Honey Roasted Nuts. I was immediately taken back to my mornings in early high school when I’d eat two bowls of candied greatness and drink the leftover pool of sweet milk afterward. My salivary glands started going mental as I viewed the large oaty clumps and golden roasted nuts through the heart-shaped plastic window on the box. I threw the box into my trolley without giving it a second thought or reading any labels. My sister just had to try it. Not me, my sister. I was getting it for my sister.

I ripped open the box the second I got home and started shovelling handfuls of the stuff into my mouth as if it were popcorn. Everything about the granola was lip-smacking. The wording on the box was spot on: I absolutely did “adore these crunchy muesli clusters with almonds, hazelnuts and pecans, buzzing with trickles of honey and a hint of vanilla!” The granola was also “fruit free, Low GI, high in fibre and full of wholegrain goodness”. It all sounded too good to be true. I soon realised it was, but it was all too late. After my snacking straight from the box for three days, the box was empty. I don’t think my sister ever got to touch it. I read the label more closely just before I threw the box into the recycling. I was shocked.

Carman’s is usually one of the more wholesome and cleaner cereal brands available at supermarkets. They usually sweeten their products with a little honey instead of sugar, and while this makes their products unsuitable for most FructMal sufferers, at least it’s better than nearly all other cereal boxes for most people. This is why I was shocked when I read the Carman’s Crunchy Clusters ingredients list. After the oats and nuts, raw sugar comes in as the third ingredient, making it even more predominant than supposed primary ingredients like puffed rice and pepitas! And that’s before the honey is added. That’s a lot of added sugar! I did some quick calculations and became aware that I’d consumed just shy of 70g of added sugar over a few days from the granola aloneThat’s nearly EIGHTEEN teaspoons of added sugar, which equates to almost NINE teaspoons of pure fructose! No bloody wonder why it tasted so good. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Carman’s would rightfully argue that you’re not supposed to eat the entire box over just a few sittings, hence their “serves 11” guideline. I would argue that if you make something taste that freaking awesome, you’re asking people to eat the entire box over a single sitting.

Healthy or not, I’d gotten a taste for granola again. I tried so hard to forget about it, but we all know that telling ourselves not to crave something usually leads us to craving it all the more. The human psyche is a treacherous beast. To crush my cravings once and for all, I came up with this scrumptious granola recipe, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. My Toasted Almond, Coconut and Chocolate Granola has all that wonderful crunch, so much full-bodied flavour and just the right amount of fructose-friendly sweetness. If Coco Pops and Crunchy Nut Clusters decided to have a lovechild and it were born healthy, this would be it.

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Toasted Almond, Coconut and Chocolate Granola

Serves 12 (1/2 cup servings)
Dietary Information:
wheat free, vegan-friendly, refined sugar free, dairy free, fructose-friendly, low FODMAP. Contains gluten (Oats – see notes for GF alternative) and nuts.

Ingredients

Muesli mixture:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded/flaked coconut
  • 1 cup puffed brown rice or rice crisps (I use 1/2 cup of each for varied textures)
  • 1 cup activated plain buckinis (activated buckwheat. I used Loving Earth brand)
  • 1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup of your favourite raw nuts, roughly chopped (I use a combination of almonds, walnuts, pecans and macadamias)
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs (optional – If you’re not a fan of cacao nibs, don’t use them because their flavour can be quite dominating)

Chocolate mixture:

  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 15-20 drops liquid stevia, or to taste
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbs pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao powder
  • 1/4 tsp  Himalayan sea salt

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 150*C and grease a large baking tray with a little coconut oil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all “muesli mixture” ingredients, except the shredded coconut.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt the coconut oil over medium-low heat. Add the maple syrup, cacao and cinnamon and stir until all combined. Bring to the boil and remove from heat. Add the vanilla and salt and stir until the liquid is fully incorporated. Sweeten further with stevia to taste, if needed.
  4. Pour the chocolate mixture over the dry muesli mixture and stir gently until all dry ingredients are evenly coated. There should be enough ‘wet’ mixture to completely cover the muesli.
  5. Spread mixture evenly over the greased tray. Bake in oven for 15 minutes, then remove and stir. Add the dried coconut and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. The granola will continue to crisp up after you take it out of the oven, so don’t worry if it’s still a little wet or soft.
  6. Allow to cool completely before transferring to air-tight containers or large glass jars. The granola will remain fresh for 1-2 weeks if stored in a cool place, away from sunlight.
Notes and serving suggestions: 
  • For an indulgent weekend treat or breakfast entertaining, serve with cinnamon-grilled banana, organic full-fat or coconut yoghurt, fresh berries and a large drizzle of chocolate ‘sauce’, as pictured. To make the grilled banana, simply cut a large ripe banana length-ways, sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon and place under an oven grill. Grill until the natural sugars in the banana start to caramelise and bubble. Remove immediately and serve while still hot. To make the ‘sauce’, combine 1 tsp natural smooth peanut butter, 1 tsp raw cacao powder, 1 tsp melted coconut oil and a few drops of liquid stevia.
  • Use the granola to make a layered Chia Pudding Parfait, another quick, easy and effective breakfast entertaining idea.
  • For a nourishing breakfast, serve with organic full fat or coconut yoghurt, your choice of milk (I love Pure Harvest’s coconut-rice milk) and fresh strawberries.
  • Serve on top of healthy banana ‘ice cream’ (frozen banana blended with a little natural peanut butter) for a great post-workout meal or snack.
  • Portion into little snap-lock bags for a super tasty and nourishing trail mix to nibble on between meals and satisfy late-arvo chocolate cravings.
  • For a gluten-free version, simply replace the oats with 1 cup extra puffed brown rice or rice crisps, 1/2 cup extra shredded coconut and 1/2 cup extra plain buckinis.
Happy Nourishing!
Ax

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Spice up your low FODMAP life: healthified Chicken & Prawn Curry Laksa

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WARNING: do NOT pick your nose within 12 hours of trying this recipe. You’ll regret it. And don’t let curiosity do you in now that I’ve warned you, either. I’ve already told you, you’ll regret it. 

I’m feeling seriously proud right now, like pride-bordering-on-undiluted-arrogance proud. I’ve recreated one of my favourite dishes of all time, one which I thought I’d never be able to eat again, and I’ve made it FODMAP friendly.
Oh, curry laksa…

According to Wikipedia, laksa is a spicy noodle soup which comes from the Peranakan culture, a fusion of Chinese and Malay elements found in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Curry laksa (or just ‘laksa’, as we know it) uses coconut milk in addition to stock to give it a beautiful curry-like richness. Before I became as health-conscious as I am today, I was a regular at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, where a lovely Malay man makes the best laksa in the world (huge call, I know, but I’ve never had better). That little man’s aromatic bowl of laksa heaven is still one of the most mouthgasm-inducing things I’ve ever experienced. I’m seriously salivating just thinking about it as I write this, and I only just ate lunch.IMG_1765IMG_1767

These days, I steer clear of laksa and store-bought laksa pastes for a few reasons:

  1. Fact: all laksas are full of onion and garlic. Brown/Spanish (purple) onion and garlic are two of the main components of any curry paste, especially laksa paste. The abundance of onion in these pastes makes them totally intolerable for people with fructose malabsorption. In addition, the curry soup typically contains stock, and nearly all stocks are made with onion and garlic.
  2. Restaurant and hawker-style laksas often contain substantial amount of added sugar.
  3. Traditional laksas served at restaurants are covered in fried shallots, which are both unhealthy and high FODMAP.
  4. Store-bought laksa pastes are full of nutritionless crap: refined sugar, vegetable oil and/or palm oil, salt, artificial flavours, preservatives, thickeners, stabilisers, and other nasty fillers.

Healthifying and low FODMAP-ifying (how’s that for good English?) curry laksa was easier, but more time consuming than I expected. It was a fun challenge swapping typical ingredients for healthier and “safe” ones, but I found myself in the kitchen for many more hours than I care to admit. Don’t let that put you off though; writing recipes is a far more arduous task than following them, especially when you’re the world’s biggest procrastinator, re-thinking every milligram and milliliter of each ingredient, wondering if and how each element will work and at which point it should be added. It’ll take you a quarter of the time it took me. IMG_1771IMG_1764

The key to getting Asian flavours right is finding the perfect balance between its three distinct taste components: spicy (mostly chilli), sweet (usually palm sugar or brown sugar) and salty (fish sauce and salt).
You need sweetness to soften the blow of that spice, and salt to enhance the flavour of each ingredient. Too much or too little of any one component and you’ve got a disaster. To create a healthy, low FODMAP version of curry laksa soup, I used spring onion (the green part) instead of regular onion to form the base of my paste, and garlic-infused olive oil to replace both the vegetable oil and fresh garlic that all traditional laksas call for. I used a little coconut sugar instead of brown sugar to get the sweetness balance right, and added lots of vibrant veggies to up the nutritional value of the meal. Admittedly, I did use a little fish sauce –which contains added sugar and salt– because it’s hard to achieve an authentic quality without it. In the scheme of the recipe, the amount used is minuscule, so that’s how I justify its use. Always opt for good quality fish sauce with as least sugar as possible.

The recipe does call for rice noodles, and while I rarely eat refined rice products, I’m willing to make an exception in the name of Curry Laksa. Don’t get me wrong, rice noodles aren’t at all terrible for you, but they’re just not particularly good for your health, either. They’re one of those “empty” calorie foods, meaning they don’t provide anywhere near the amount of nutritional value as they do calories. The great thing about rice noodles (such as vermicelli or pad thai noodles) is that a little goes a long way. Unlike traditional laksas which are comprised primarily of noodles (either rice or egg noodles), you only need a very small portion of noodles in my recipe because it’s so packed with other nutrient-dense foods which will fill your belly up. Remember that balance is everything when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle; moderation is key. So when you do really want rice noodles, have them! Just don’t make them the main component of your meal. Pack your dish with veggies and quality protein, and you’ll find yourself only needing a tiny amount of the not-so-good stuff.IMG_1766 IMG_1768 IMG_1772

In terms of cost, the below looks like a hell of a lot of ingredients. I already had most of the items at home, such as the spices, coconut milk, coconut sugar, cashews and fresh ginger, because they’re staple ingredients in my kitchen. My family and I recently started a big veggie patch, so I was super excited to use our own homegrown –and as organic as it gets– cucumber, beans, spring onion, coriander and mint for this recipe. Needless to say, a mega expensive Woolies trip wasn’t necessary.

If you don’t have at least half of the below items at home, you could be looking at one nasty supermarket receipt. So, while I highly recommend using all the below ingredients to achieve beautiful depth of flavour and a laksa that actually tastes like laksa (not to mention the nutritional benefits the ingredients deliver), you might need to cater the shopping list to your budget. If there’s one thing you buy, it should be the spices. Spices are my secret weapon – I never make a meal without them. Not only do they contain potent antioxidants and cancer-fighting properties, packing a variety of spices into your meals will give your skin a radiance no moisturiser can buy, and you’ll notice your immune system picking up. What’s more, one $3 jar will last you from months to even years, so an A-Z range of spices is a totally justifiable investment. Another recommendation I can make is growing your own fresh herbs. You don’t need a large veggie patch or even a garden bed to grow them. All you need is a few pots, soil and an area that is well sun-lit. It’s cheaper than buying a bunch of herbs every time you need them, and there’s something so gratifying about making meals out of your own organically grown produce. Not to mention they taste better!IMG_1760

My Low FODMAP Laksa Paste
(makes approx 1.5 cups)

Ingredients:

1 large bunch spring onion (green part only), chopped
2 tbs chopped FRESH ginger
2 fresh lemongrass stalks, chopped (only use the bottom thirds – that’s where all the flavour is!)
2 birds eye chillies (birds eye chillies are the small ones and they’re HOT. If you prefer milder dishes, only use one)
1/3 cup cashews (if you’re particularly sensitive to cashews, use peanuts instead)
Roots from 1 bunch coriander, chopped (reserve leaves for serving laksa)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 tsp shrimp paste (READ the ingredients! The more shrimp, the better. I used ‘Trachang’ brand from Woolies)**
1.5 tsp each ground turmeric, ground coriander & ground cumin
1/2 tsp each ground cardamom & sweet paprika
3 cloves
1/2 tsp Himalayan sea salt
2 tbs garlic-infused EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil), plus extra

Method:

Add all ingredients to a high-powered food processor. Blend until a paste forms, scraping the sides of the bowl down with a spatula as needed. If the mixture is not coming together properly, add tiny amounts of garlic-infused EVOO until a paste forms. Transfer to a jar or small airtight container and cover with 2 tbs EVOO to seal in flavour. Store in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze for a few months.
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Low FODMAP Chicken & Prawn Curry Laksa

Serves 8
Dietary Info: Wheat free, dairy free, fructose friendly, low FODMAP. Contains nuts.

Ingredients:

1 cup of my low FODMAP laksa paste (if you’re using a pre-made laksa paste, you’ll probably still need 1 cup)
300g rice noodles (I used pad thai stick noodles because I love the width and texture. You could also use rice vermicelli)
2x 400g cans coconut milk (I use organic and full fat)
1L chicken stock*
600g green (uncooked) prawns, tails left on**
1.2kg skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2cm chunks**
2 punnets (400g) cherry tomatoes, halved
350g green beans, ends chopped
1 very large capsicum, or 2 small, sliced into strips
juice of 1 lime
2 tbs coconut sugar
1/8 cup fish sauce (a variety that’s low in added sugar & salt, if possible)**
1 large handful fresh coriander leaves, to serve
1 large handful fresh mint leaves, to serve
1 cucumber, sliced into thin sticks, to serve
2 cups bean sprouts, to serve
coconut oil

Method:
  1. Place the noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes or until the noodles are cooked. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat a little coconut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Fry the paste for 5 minutes, or until it becomes fragrant.
  3. Add the coconut sugar and fish sauce. Fry for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the coconut milk and stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Season with lime juice.
  5. Add the chicken, capsicum and tomatoes. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the chicken is almost cooked through.
  6. Add the prawns and beans, and cook for 3 minutes or until the prawns are just opaque and the beans are slightly tender but still crisp. Remove from heat. The prawns will continue to cook in the heat of the soup.
  7. Divide noodles among bowls. Use a slotted spoon to retrieve chicken, prawns and vegetables from the soup and divide evenly among bowls. Spoon desired amount of soup over the top. Serve with fresh cucumber sticks, coriander, bean sprouts and mint.

* Unless I’m making my own onion-free stock, I always use Massel’s chicken or beef stock cubes. They’re the only onion and garlic free stock I’ve come across, and although they’re not totally clean, they used in sparing amounts and they sure make life easier for those with sensitivities to onion and garlic. The packet recommends that you use one stock cube for each cup of water, but I like to roughly halve this to minimise the sodium levels, depending on what I’m making. I believe the Massel’s vegetable cubes still contain garlic, hence why I only use chicken or beef.
** For a vegetarian or vegan version, simply omit the shrimp paste from the paste recipe, and omit the prawns, chicken, chicken stock and fish sauce from the soup. Use organic firm tofu (you may want to cook it first, then add it for a few mins toward the end to soak up flavours), vegetable stock and season with Himalayan sea salt to make up for the fish sauce.

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Happy Nourishing!
Ax