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
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)
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.
Combine the yoghurt, cumin and maple syrup/honey in a small serving bowl.
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.
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.
If you made this recipe prior to 2018, you may notice it’s a little different now. I’ve been doing some pretty extensive research over the last few years (thanks to findings and publications by a bunch of mega brainy gut experts), and I’ve recently decided to join the glutard (AKA gluten free) crusade. As such, this recipe is now gluten free. It’s still FODMAP friendly, low in fructose and tastes the same as before, but calls for gut-friendlier alternatives to the gluten. Your belly will thank you for it, and I hope your tastebuds still do, too! Ax
It’s probably not news to you that most muesli bars on supermarket shelves –and even some in the “health food” aisle, are not that great for you.
In fact, many of them belong in the confectionary aisle. If you’re a label reader, you’re probably used to avoiding ingredient lists with nasty additive numbers and unpronounceable chemical names. And sure, you might do a quick scan of the sugar content. But how much notice do you pay to where all that sugar is coming from? The majority of muesli/snack bars out there are LOADED with added sugar, whether it’s refined (white/brown sugar, golden syrup), unrefined like in the ‘healthier’ varieties (honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, coconut sugar/nectar, rice malt syrup etc.), or sneakily disguised as being the most ‘natural’ sugar sources of all – dried/raw fruit and fruit juice concentrates.
As I write this, I’m analysing the labels of 2 different muesli bar boxes I found in my pantry. They’re by a popular ‘real food’ supermarket brand, marketed and believed to be truly healthy. Yes, most of the ingredients are whole, and one thing I’ll give them is how transparent they are about the ingredients they use, but they’re still out of touch with the anti-added sugar movement. Either that, or they know most people will read “honey” or “apple juice concentrate” and think to themselves, “oh cool, it’s all natural therefore it’s healthy!”
One of the aforementioned “healthy” and “all natural” muesli bars contains SIX DIFFERENT SOURCES OF SUGAR: cranberries, sugar, glucose, honey, rice syrup and apple. The other contains FIVE different sources: glucose, honey, sugar, cranberries and sultanas.
Of course, if you don’t have fructose malabsorption, then finding a healthy packaged snack is less of an ordeal because there’s a whole heap of health bars on the shelves of health food stores and even supermarkets now. The problem for someone like me is that all those ‘refined sugar free’ and ‘raw’ bars and bliss balls usually scream one thing: FRUCTOSE. They’re pumped with agave (which is 70-90% fructose), dates, and dried fruit. And dried fruit is practically just concentrated fructose. So, without being too controversial, I’d argue that 90% of those raw food bars and bliss balls aren’t that great for you anyway, whether you can digest them or not. Most of them are glorified lollies with a little extra fibre and protein, disguised in rustic packaging with words like ‘raw vegan’ and ‘no added sugar’ sprawled across them. No added sugar? OF COURSE THEY DON’T CONTAIN ADDED SUGAR! They don’t need to add sugar on top of all the syrup and fruit, because if they did, those bars would be distastefully sweet.
Like I always say, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
And regardless of how ‘natural’ the sugar source is, if it’s as sweet as a lolly, it probably isn’t that good for you.
I’m pretty sure that you get my point by now: most muesli bars are unhealthy, and even the semi-healthy ones are often packed with fructose and are thus out-of-bounds for those who cannot digest excess fructose. I should quickly note that fructose friendly snack bars do exist, but I’m yet to come across one that ticks all four boxes: it’s gotta be honestly healthy, fructose friendly, filling, and YUMMY! All the ones I’ve tried lack in an area or two.
These Honestly Healthy Fruit-Free Muesli Bars are super easy to whip up and the recipe is very forgiving. If you don’t have a particular ingredient, don’t stress, just use something else that’s similar in density (except maybe for the oats and eggs, you’ll need those!), being mindful of wet to dry ratios. This is a great base recipe, so feel free to mix things up! Try adding things like goji berries (dark choc-coated gojis would be delicious for a more decadent treat), cacao nibs, or a little unsweetened dried fruit, like cranberries or raisins. While this recipe is relatively high in protein, you could even incorporate your favourite CLEAN protein powder into the mix, to make it a great post-workout snack.
When divided into 24 pieces, each serving contains just 3g of sugar, which is equivalent to 2 large strawberries. These bars are super filling so you can be sure they’ll tie you over to your next meal. They’re also high in fibre, healthy fats, protein and antioxidants, and relatively low carb, making them a perfect snack any time of day.
Keep them in an airtight container away from direct sunlight for up to a week. I also like to keep a little container of them in my car’s glove box (in cooler weather), and one wrapped up in my handbag to ensure that I’m prepared for a snack attack no matter where I am.
Fruit Free Quinoa Muesli Bar Slice (fructose friendly, low FODMAP, gluten free, dairy free)
Makes 24 snack squares, or 12 bars
FODMAP friendly serving size: one snack sized square
2 cups (160g) quinoa flakes
½ cup (30g) unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ cup (30g) brown rice flour
1½ cups (180g) mixed seeds (I use pepitas & sunflower kernels)
½ cup (60g) nuts of choice, such as walnuts and pecans (activated if possible), roughly chopped
1 tbs (10g) chia seeds
1-2 tsp (3-6g) ground cinnamon (depending on your taste preferences)
½ tsp (2g) ground cardamom (reduce this to ¼ tsp if you don’t want the cardamom to be pronounced)
¼ tsp (1g) ground dried ginger
¼ tsp (1g) Himalayan sea salt
3 large free range eggs (approx 65g each & organic if possible), lightly beaten
¼ cup (80g) pure maple syrup
¼ cup (60g) natural nut butter of choice (I use peanut)
2 tbs (26g) melted coconut oil
2 tbs (30mL) warm filtered water (can be boiled and then cooled slightly)
1 tsp (4.5g) pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180*C and line a slice tray or square cake tin with baking paper.
Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon
In another bowl, add the beaten eggs and whisk in the remaining ingredients. Add wet mixture to dry mixture and combine well.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and use your fingers to press it in firmly. Sprinkle the top with some pepitas and linseeds, if desired. Bake for 30 minutes or until firm and golden brown.
Remove from oven allow to stand for 10 minutes, before removing and allowing to cool completely on a wire rack.
Use a sharp knife to remove the edges of the slice (this is purely aesthetic and largely unnecessary). Cut the slice into 24 squares or 12 bars, and store in an airtight container away from direct sunlight for up to one week.
Some individuals with FM might be more sensitive to nuts and needs than others. If this applies to you, reduce the amounts. However, the amounts I have used should be pretty safe, especially when the recipe is divided into 24 servings.
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.
These days, I steer clear of laksa and store-bought laksa pastes for a few reasons:
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.
Restaurant and hawker-style laksas often contain substantial amount of added sugar.
Traditional laksas served at restaurants are covered in fried shallots, which are both unhealthy and high FODMAP.
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.
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.
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!
My Low FODMAP Laksa Paste (makes approx 1.5 cups)
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
1/2 tsp Himalayan sea salt
2 tbs garlic-infused EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil), plus extra
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.
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
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.
Heat a little coconut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Fry the paste for 5 minutes, or until it becomes fragrant.
Add the coconut sugar and fish sauce. Fry for 5 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Season with lime juice.
Add the chicken, capsicum and tomatoes. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the chicken is almost cooked through.
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.
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.
I know I’m not alone in the food blogosphere when I look at old posts from what feels like a previous life, and cringe at every single photo and every second word I once put out there. I try to remind myself that nearly every food blogger who started back when photos of food taken with professional DSLR cameras were pretty much exclusive to print magazines and cookbooks, and when it was totally acceptable to feature iPhone photos on websites, has been there. Still, telling myself this doesn’t make me want to bury myself in a deep, dark hole any less when I revisit my blog after a ridiculous hiatus (AKA quarter life “WTF am I doing with my life?!” crisis – FYI I’m back for good now) and rediscover posts like this one.
I discovered last week that this recipe, which to my horror is still one of the most visited on the entire blog, hadn’t been touched in over four years. Unfortunately I can’t travel back in time and smack the iPhone 4 out of my hand, so I’ve re-photographed the recipe and deleted approximately 2,000 flimsy words. Thankfully, the recipe is still great. I’ve been making variations of it on a near weekly basis for years, and it’s always a hit.
BRB in 10 years when I’ve finished re-photographing the remaining 59 recipes. Ugh.
1/2 large kent/jap pumpkin, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
1 medium sweet potato or 1/2 large, washed, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks (see FODMAP notes below)
2 cups tri-coloured quinoa, rinsed thoroughly*
4 cups water
3 large handfuls baby spinach
1 bunch fresh chives, chopped
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme (always fragrant but not essential)
10 slices pickled beetroot (see FODMAP notes below)
1/4 cup flaked or slivered almonds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
3 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 cup Danish or Persian Feta, crumbled
Juice of 1/2 lemon
EVOO or melted coconut oil
Preheat oven to 200*C
Combine the ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika and garam masala in a small bowl. Set aside.
Place the almonds on a lined baking tray and place in the oven for 2 minutes or until toasted and golden. Keep a close eye on them after the 1 minute, 30 seconds mark – the suckers can go from raw to charcoal real quick. Remove from oven, place in a small bowl, and set aside.
Place pumpkin and sweet potato in a mixing bowl and use your hands to coat the veg with 1/2 tbs oil (preferably coconut as is it more stable than olive oil when heated)
Arrange the pumpkin and sweet potato on a lined baking tray and sprinkle with half of the spice mix and sea salt. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until tender and golden. Cooking times will vary from oven to oven.
While the veg is baking, place the quinoa, water, thyme sprigs (if using), remaining spice mix and a generous sprinkle of sea salt in a saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to simmer, cover and leave for 15 minutes or until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid. The quinoa is ready when its germ (the little white ring around the outer edge) is exposed. Remove from heat, remove thyme sprigs, fluff with a fork, and set aside.
In a large salad bowl, toss the quinoa, baby spinach, chives, coriander, lemon juice, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Top with the roasted veg, feta, and roasted almonds. Finish with an extra drizzle of EVOO, a squeeze of lemon juice, and coriander. If I have some on hand at the time, I also love to top the salad with some of my Mum’s homegrown pickled beetroot, however
*Quinoa has a natural chemical called saponin, which can be bitter to taste when quinoa is not rinsed thoroughly prior to cooking.
Sweet potato contains moderate amounts of mannitol, so large amounts can be troublesome for people with polyol sensitivities. Once divided into servings, this recipe calls for less than the threshold recommendation, so you should be fine. If you’re unsure of your tolerance, simply omit and use more pumpkin. I’ve personally always been able to tolerate large amounts of sweet potato.
According to Monash, up to 1/2 cup of pickled beetroot is considered safe for those with Fructose malabsorption and IBS, however I still like to moderate it because it is quite high in sugar and therefore not great for you or your gut microbes in large amounts 🙂