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.
So I’ve been MIA lately (sorry about that), but I do have a very viable excuse: 21st Birthday celebrations. I’ve gotta be honest, though: it’s not really my birthday. I actually turned 21 back in July, but with over fifty close friends exploring abroad and a home in the midst of renovations and landscaping at the time, it made perfect sense to hold off celebrating until later in the year when all my pals would be home and my house would be party-ready. Just a quick side note: for anyone who’s planning a milestone birthday party in future, birthdays and parties in close proximity to one another are totally overrated. I highly recommend having your party 4-6 months after your actual birthday – it literally feels like you have two birthdays in the one year!
Anyway, I had the most incredible time laughing, dancing and going bonkers until the wee hours of Sunday with over 200 brilliant people. I almost slipped ‘memorable’ in there with ‘incredible’, but I’d be lying because the entire night is a monumental blur. A monumentally glorious blur, but a blur nonetheless. I do, however, remember that the night went far too quickly as all eagerly-anticipated celebrations do, and I also remember that the night was absolutely perfect in every way. I’d give almost anything to relive those hours on the dance floor again. On the contrary, Sunday’s whopping hangover is something I’m happy to farewell. It’s Thursday as I write this, and I still haven’t recovered fully. Nor has my digestive system…
Sunday and Monday, I ate birthday cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Technically speaking, I didn’t eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but rather with breakfast, lunch and dinner, with numerous candy bar leftovers (hello, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and white chocolate raspberry bullets!) in between. My family couldn’t believe my bizarre lack on self-control as I scoffed my two-tiered moist-white-chocolate-mudcake-with-strawberry-swirl by the handful. I usually turn down one slice of cake — opting for a mouthful of someone else’s instead– let alone eating three kilos of the stuff over two days. The thing is that I wasn’t even trying to control myself. I didn’t want to. If I can’t eat every delicious ounce of refined, fat-forming and fructose-fueled food under the sun during my 21st birthday celebrations, then when the hell will I?! It’s my birthday, I’ll eat whatever, whenever and however much I want to.
Come Monday night, I was feeling thoroughly flat. I hadn’t eaten a full days’ serving of vegetables in three or four days. My daily three litres of water came in the form of vodka and champagne punch. I’d been forgetting to take my vitamin supplements and my excitement I hadn’t had a decent sleep in weeks. AND I’d been shoveling FODMAPs and fructose into my gob like nobody’s business (can you imagine how mortified I was when I receieved the 20 kilos of candy I ordered for my candy bar, only to realise that 90% of it was sweetened with the only thing worse than pure fructose itself: HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP?!?!?!?!?!). I’m almost ashamed to say that this did not stop me. Almost…
Refined food has an evilly addictive nature, and I’ve got an awfully addictive personality, so it took a lot to quell the devil in my head who was telling me just one more chunk of white mud cake wasn’t going to kill me. My abdominal cramps and impertinent gastrointestinal symptoms suggested otherwise. I told myself enough was enough. I needed serious nutrients, but lacked the motivation to move, let alone cook. So I did a quick brainstorm and whipped up a perfectly healthy and positively delicious Summer dinner in 25 minutes. I cheated a little bit, but my family couldn’t tell, and neither will yours!
This meal is jam-packed with A-grade quality proteins and complete amino acids, complex carbohydrates, antioxidants, minerals, a range of vitamins and essential fats including the amazing benefits omega-3. I started eating salmon at the start of last year, I haven’t looked back since. My eczema and dermatitis have improved ten-fold since incorporating essential fatty acids into my daily diet. I eat one large salmon fillet once a week, and small amounts of raw and smoked salmon throughout the week.
Crispy-Skinned Salmon with Lemon, Thyme & Mint Quinoa
Serves 5 Ingredients:
5 boneless salmon fillets, skin on (200g each, wild if possible)
2 Packets Celebrate Health Lemon & Thyme Quinoa
2 cups low-sodium chicken/vegetable stock
2/3 cup water
Leaves from 2 large rosemary sprigs, chopped
2 large handfuls baby spinach leaves, torn
1 small handful fresh mint leaves
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves (optional)
1 avocado, diced
200g green beans
1/2 cup flaked almonds, lightly roasted
Juice and grated rind of 1/2 small lemon
EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
Sea salt flakes
Place quinoa, stock and water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to the boil (uncovered). Reduce heat to low and cover, allowing the grains to absorb the liquid for 15 minutes. Remove from heat when all the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy.
In the meantime, place salmon, skin-side up, on a large plate. Drizzle skin with EVOO, sprinkle skin and sides with chopped rosemary leaves and rub a little sea salt flakes into the skin. Heat a non-stick fry-pan over medium-high heat. Place the salmon fillets skin-side down on the pan (if it’s hot enough, it should sizzle and spit, but not burn). Cook for around 4 minutes until the skin is crisp. Flip, then cook for a further 4 minutes on the other side. Remove from heat and cover with foil. Move quickly, as the the salmon will continue to cook. Cooking times will always vary depending on the thickness of the fillet, but this will generally ensure a medium-rare centre that flakes away and melts in your mouth. I love my salmon a little pinker in the middle, as pictured. Adjust cooking times to suit how rare or well-done you like yours.
Transfer the quinoa to a mixing bowl and toss through torn mint leaves, thyme leaves, spinach, avocado and a little grated lemon rind. Drizzle with a little EVOO.
Arrange green beans on plates (I served mine raw for textural and nutritional purposes –not because I was just feeling lazy, of course 😉 — but you could lightly sautée them in a tiny bit garlic-infused EVOO if you wish). Top beans with quinoa salad and salmon fillets. Drizzle each plate with a little lemon juice and sprinkle roasted flaked almonds on top. Bog in.
The term ‘cheats’ isn’t exactly synonymous with the cooking habits of fructose malabsorbers. Given the amount of onion and garlic powders in almost every packeted/bottled, marinade, recipe base, stock and seasoning known to man, we’re given no choice to make it all from scratch. After being forced to farewell many of my favourite FODMAP-filled fruits and veggies, this has been my next biggest challenge; all of a sudden, even the most basic cooking methods like using organic store-bought stock to make soups or using sauces, curry pastes and spice blends for dishes became impossible. I was so used to turning to healthy store-bought recipe bases (particularly ones by Celebrate Health) when I was short on time or lacking the desire to cook. I soon realised how badly I’d taken for granted the very luxury of being able to use healthy products to create meals –and cut precious time– with.
Lo and behold, it is with pure rapture I can announce that Celebrate Health have, whether they realise it or not, added ONION AND GARLIC FREE PRODUCTS to their range of healthy packaged culinary bliss!!! Upon realising this, I quite literally did a happy dance down the health food aisle of my local Coles. I squealed with excitement, demanding that my boyfriend show the same amount of enthusiasm which, going by the way he scurried away from his seizure-induced girlfriend, he clearly did not. That wasn’t going to stop me – I just convulsed harder. By pure coincidence, I was having a Mexican fiesta-themed dinner party with my girlfriends that night, so I used the Celebrate Health Mexican Quinoa as a base for a gloriously vibrant salad. I was in too much of a rush to photograph it at the time, but it was so incredibly tasty and popular among my friends (one of my besties even shot-gunned the leftovers for lunch the next day) that I made it again first thing on Sunday – this time stuffing some of the salad into roasted capsicums. This dish really speaks for itself, both in terms of taste and appearance – the flavours pop just as much as the colours do! It’s full of texture from the veggies, and it’s alive with those explosive Mexican flavours (think cumin, chilli, paprika, coriander, kaffir lime and oregano).
Sadly, I can’t take full credit for the taste sensation that this dish is because I’ve used a recipe base. Frankly, I don’t really care, either. I’m going to take full advantage of this newly rekindled luxury and relish in the fact that I no longer have to make every.single.meal. from scratch every.single.day. for the rest of my life. This recipe is so positively delicious that I know I’ll be eating it for a very long time. It makes a perfect salad for all-year ’round entertaining (just double the recipe) and is wonderful either warm or cold, so leftovers can be enjoyed as a healthy, sustaining and fuss-free lunch for days after.
Being vegan, gluten free, dairy free, low FODMAP, fructose friendly, egg free and nut free, it’s totally tummy and allergy friendly. What’s more, unlike other recipes that call for pre-made bases which are filled with refined sugar and fructose, simple carbs, saturated fat, preservatives, fillers, flavour enhancers, thickeners and countless other nasty artificial additives, this Mexican Quinoa Salad is brimming with all the good stuff: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, complex carbs, complete protein and health-promoting fatty acids.
Cheat’s Mexican Quinoa-Stuffed Capsicums
Makes 2 meals or 4 side dishes. I like to double the recipe to make a week’s worth of lunches!
Note: You can either stuff the quinoa salad into roasted capsicums or just eat the salad on its own, as the recipe already has capsicum in it. I do both, although the stuffed capsicums make great individual servings for entertaining.
1 packet Celebrate Health Mexican Quinoa
1.5 cups reduced-sodium vegetable stock, organic if possible (organic chicken stock could be used too, or water but it won’t be as flavoursome)
1 large red capsicum, chopped (plus 2 more red capsicums to be stuffed, if using)
1 small tin sweet corn* kernels, or 1/2 large tin (ensure that no sugar has been added)
1 cup green beans, chopped into 2cm pieces
1 large handful baby spinach leaves, torn
1/4 cup chopped spring/green onion**, or chives.
1/2 cup fresh coriander plus extra, to serve
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
pinch dried chilli flakes
lime zest and juice , to serve
1/2 avocado, chopped, to serve
If you’re making the stuffed capsicums, preheat oven to 180*C for 10 mins. Cut 2 capsicums in half lengthways, place on a lined baking tray cut-side up and bake until slightly tender, around 10-15 mins, while the quinoa is cooking.
Place the Celebrate Health Mexican Quinoa in a saucepan along with the stock, cumin, paprika, oregano and dried chili. Give a quick stir, bring to the boil, then cover and reduce heat to low, allowing the grains to absorb the liquid for 15 minutes. If the quinoa hasn’t absorbed all the liquid by now, let it cook for a further 5 minutes, careful not to overcook or it will turn into mushy porridge. It’s ready when the grains are soft, but still able to be separated with a fork. Remove from heat.
In the meantime, heat 1tsp olive oil (I used garlic-infused) in a fry pan. Add chopped capsicum to the pan and sautée over medium-high heat for 2 mins. Add chopped green beans and sautée until slightly tender but still crisp.
In a bowl, combine the quinoa, capsicum, green beans, corn, green onion/chives, spinach and coriander. If you’re making stuffed capsicums, spoon the mixture into the roasted capsicum halves. Upon serving, top with chopped avocado and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Garnish with fresh coriander and a sprinkle of lime zest. It’s also great with a dollop of Greek yoghurt if you’re not vegan or dairy-free!
* If you have fructmal and you’re quite sensitive to sweet corn, try halving the recommended quantity. I can personally tolerate a fair bit of it, and this amount shouldn’t cause any upsets because the rest of the ingredients are very low in fructose and free of fructans. The safest thing is to test your own tolerance.
**Those with fructmal should only use the green part of spring (green) onion.
Last Saturday was my favourite kind of Saturday; the air smelt like Summer and I spent the day walking my pup in the sunshine, wandering around Prahran Market and cooking.
Prahran market is any health foodie’s bliss, and its location — being just off the hustle and bustle of fashion heaven Chapel Street –makes it even more blissful for those who love fashion and food. I was in my element. I won’t lie, this market isn’t cheap. But, then again, it’s only expensive relative to supermarket produce that’s mass-produced and often genetically modified, and is laden with preservatives, herbicides, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Like many local markets, most of the produce at Prahran Market is organic, seasonal and farmed locally. Basically, you get what you pay for. Not only is organic produce free of all the nasty stuff, but it’s also far richer in the good stuff – organic fruit and veg provides far more vitamins, minerals and nutritional antioxidants because it’s grown in nutrient-rich soil and is harvested with care. It’s also for this reason that organic food looks more vibrant and tastes better. I believe wholeheartedly that your health is the best investment you can make, monetarily and otherwise. People often complain that organic and ‘health’ foods are unjustifiably expensive, but I personally look at it this way: it’s more worthwhile to spend money on nourishing the body I’m going to have until I die, rather than a dress I’m going to wear once or twice. That’s not to say I don’t put money into both. One is just more justifiable than the other…
I managed to fill the boot of my car with a whole heap of gorgeous organic goodies such purple carrots, wild baby carrots, sweet potato, a Woodfrog Bakery baguette, Loving Earth coconut sugar, pumpkin seed butter and quinoa, just to name a few. I even bought a bunch of these exquisite wild tulips which, as the proud cashier announced, were not grown hydroponically (in a water solution), but in real soil. How incredibly naive of me for assuming that all flowers are grown in the grounds of pretty meadows all these years…
When I got home, my mum asked what on earth I was going to do with it all, as she usually does. I decided to whip up a big quinoa dish to get me through the next week’s lunches. None of it made it past dinner – the entire thing got demolished by my family before I could get my tuppaware containers out of the cupboard.
2 cups white quinoa, rinsed thoroughly* (I often cheat and use two packets of Celebrate Health Lemon & Thyme Quinoa)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 large handfuls baby spinach
1 bunch fresh chives, chopped
1/2 cup fresh coriander
1/4 cup roasted slivered almonds
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp garam masala (Indian spice mix – available from supermarkets & spice markets)
Pinch sweet paprika
Himalayan sea salt, to taste
1 1/2 tbs EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
1/2 tbs garlic-infused EVOO
1/2 cup Danish or Persian Feta, crumbled
Preheat oven to 200*C.
Combine the ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika and garam masala.
Chop pumpkin into 2cm chunks and sweet potato and carrot (if using) into 1cm chunks. The pumpkin is softer and therefore cooks twice as fast as sweet potato & carrot, but I’ve got better things to do with my time than fiddle with varied cooking times, so I just cut the pumpkin twice as large as the sweet potato & carrot.
Throw pumpkin, sweet potato & carrot in a large bowl with the garlic olive oil and 1/2 tbs of the EVOO (the rest will be used for the dressing). Use your hands to ensure that the veggies are evenly coated with the oil.
Arrange veggies on a baking/roasting dish and sprinkle with half of the prepared spice mix. Also sprinkle with a little Himalayan salt.
Bake veggies for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and turn to expose the less-cooked sides. Sprinkle with the remaining spice mix and some more paprika and salt if you wish. Return to the oven until they’re golden and cooked through – another 15-20 mins should do it. If they’re still a little under done, cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Cooking times will vary from oven to oven, and also depending on the size of the veggies.
While the veggies are roasting, place the quinoa and stock in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, then turn right down and cover with a lid. Leave for 15 minutes to allow the grains to absorb the liquid. Once ready, use a fork to fluff it up and separate the grains. If you’re using Celebrate Health Lemon & Thyme Quinoa or another packaged recipe base, prepare the quinoa according to packet instructions, using stock instead if it calls for water. The quinoa is ready when its germ is exposed (a white little ring around the grain will appear). It should be soft but still have some resistance when chewed – sort of like the ‘al dente’ quinoa version of pasta! It should not be cluggy or porridge-like, but if it is, don’t bother starting from scratch – it’ll still taste good!
In a large salad bowl, combine the quinoa, lemon juice (to taste), remaining EVOO, baby spinach, chives and coriander. At this stage, I threw in more of the spices to taste to make the quinoa itself more fragrant and flavourful. Top the quinoa with the roasted veggies, toasted almonds, feta and extra coriander. Finish with a little drizzle of EVOO and a squeeze of lemon juice. If I have some on hand at the time, I also love to top the salad with some of my Mum’s homegrown and home-pickled beetroot chunks. Since it’s full of sugar and not exactly clean, I only use a few tablespoons of it, but the sweetness really ties everything together and makes the flavours pop. Besides, I’ve never been able to pass up a beetroot and feta combo, anyway.
*Always rinse plain uncooked quinoa thoroughly prior to cooking, or you might end up with a very unpleasantly bitter result!