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The Free-From Food Awards Shortlist has just been published. Set up six years ago by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson of freefromfoodsmatter.com, these Awards celebrate the innovation and imagination shown by the food industry in creating foods for the free-from market (ie foods that do not include one or more of wheat, gluten, dairy products, eggs, yeast, soya and sugar.) It’s worth mentioning the website Foods Matter here… Originally a magazine offering information and support both to food allergic/intolerant consumers and to the health professionals caring for them, it went on-line in 2010 and has become the most awesome reference site for people with food allergies/intolerances or coeliac disease (logging over 13 million hits per year!)
I took part in the judging for a day and was hugely impressed with the whole process. There were 11 of us that day and we blind-tasted every entry in our categories in silence, making notes and scoring each one out of ten. Once we had finished, we discussed every entry and then came to our conclusions as a group. This done, we could look at who had produced what. During the day I was there, we covered Breakfast Cereals and Grocery Ambient, including pastas, sauces and condiments.
It was great to taste so many of the entries. Some of them (especially some from outside Britain) I hadn’t come across before. And it was fascinating to sit there, tasting pasta after pasta, cereal after cereal etc against each other. The variety of ingredients, and combinations of those – and the resulting tastes and textures – were really interesting. The results of the awards will be announced in April…
One of the products we tasted was especially interesting. Shortlisted for the Pasta Award, the Slim Noodles were a subject of a great deal of discussion. Recently launched, it is gluten-free and it claims to deliver not only a feeling of fullness, but also an unbelievably low calorie content (7.7 calories per 100g serving). Made from a vegetable extract called Konjac (or Konnyaku) which has apparently been eaten in Asia for centuries because of its health benefits, it expands in your stomach, leading to the sensation of being full for up to four hours. Zero fat, zero sugar, low-calorie and low-carb, it’s currently being hailed (along with a very similar product called Zero Noodles which is made of exactly the same ingredient) as the answer to weight loss for many, many people. What’s more, independent studies apparently show that it can help increase insulin in your blood sugar levels, making it great for diabetics, and can help lower cholesterol. Wow!
Slim Noodles comes in three different guises – Slim Pasta, Slim Rice and Slim Noodles. The Slim Noodles – and Zero Noodles – look very similar to glass noodles and thin rice noodles in that they are white-coloured and very thin. They have a slightly rubbery texture (the Slim Noodles I find more so than the Zero Noodles) and almost no taste. I tested these at home this weekend with a recipe (see below) and they both worked really well with noodle-style recipes, such as stir-frys and Asian-style dishes. I haven’t tasted the Slim Rice yet but the Slim Pasta was very similar to Slim Noodles – just thicker, apparently more like a pasta-shape. I’m not convinced about the concept of Slim Pasta, though, as it doesn’t work for me as something that would work with pasta sauces, such as tomato-based sauces, and there was a slightly ‘fishy’ aroma to these, I thought.
You’ll find both the Slim Noodles and Zero Noodles in health food stores. In Holland & Barrett the Slim Noodles sell for £2.49 and the Zero Noodles (organic) for £1.99. They’re the same size – so go for the cheaper Zero Noodles if you’re looking to try the product!
Steamed Asia-Style Fish with Zero Noodles
gluten-free, dairy-free, soya-free, egg-free, nut-free, seed-free
Serves 2 Preparation time 10 minutes, plus at least 1 hour marinating time Cooking time 12–15 minutes
- 2 fish fillets, such as salmon, trout or cod
- 2 large salad onions or 6 spring onions, white part finely chopped
- stir-fry vegetables, such as beansprouts, pak choi
- 2cm/¾in piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 lemongrass stick, finely chopped
- 1 large red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 2 large handfuls of coriander leaves, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp Thai fish sauce
- 2 tbsp tamari soy sauce
- juice of 2 limes
- 1 serving of Zero Noodles, to serve
- Put the fish in a shallow, non-metallic dish. Mix together all the marinade ingredients in a bowl or jug and pour over the tuna. Cover with a lid or cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour, preferably longer.
- Spoon the marinade into a large wok and heat over a medium-high heat. Cook for 2–3 minutes until the onion starts to soften and turn translucent. Add the vegetables and then place the fish on the top. Cover with a lid and steam for about 10 minutes, until the fish is cooked through. Serve hot with the prepared Zero Noodles.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, making the same spice paste over and over again. So I tried a new one to make this recipe – from Leemei Tan‘s Lemongrass & Ginger. I have an all-time favourite Thai green curry that I make that is hard to drag myself away from. But it uses a lot of different ingredients so it was great to try this simple paste – especially as it delivers delicious flavours and tons of oomph.
Leemei Tan is a food blogger, stylist and photographer. Her blog is gorgeous – full of Asian (inspired by her upbringing in Malaysia) and French/Asian (inspired by her French husband) recipes. Her brilliant book covers recipes from all over Asia – Japan & Korea, China, Philippines & Indonesia, Malaysia & Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam and India & Sri Lanka. Here I’ve tried one of the Malaysian recipes as I’ve become increasingly interested in this particular cuisine.
Malaysian food reflects the country’s different ethnic backgrounds. The mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya, Eurasian and the indigenous people of Borneo has meant the cuisine majors on a fusion of Malay and Chinese ingredients and cooking techniques. Added to that is the effect of the spice trade in the 15th century that brought a wide range of exotic spices to Malaysia, including cardamom, cinnamon, clove and star anise, all of which often play a starring role in the dishes.
This recipe uses star anise, ginger and lemongrass, along with coconut milk, to make a truly delicious rice. (I made the rice the other morning, before I went to work, thinking that Zoe would love it for her lunch, as she loves coconut-flavoured rice. But when I came home and asked Peter whether she had liked it, he said that she’d eaten a fair bit of it but didn’t seem to enjoy it particularly. Later on, I realised that he’d given her the chopped up dried anchovies for this Sambal recipe that I’d had in the fridge instead. No wonder she hadn’t gone for it big time!)
This recipe is a great one for cooking squid. Squid can so easily be tough and rubbery when you’ve cooked it, so you have to either flash fry/stir-fry or cook it slowly, as you do here, to get a lovely tender texture. And the whole dish is full of punchy, vibrant flavours – delicious!
I went to New Loon Moon Supermarket in Chinatown, London, to get the dried anchovies, the pandan leaves and the banana leaves for this recipe. It’s always wonderful going to this store – and I generally spend far too long in there, drifting around the aisles looking at the wonderful selection of foods…
gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, soya-free, nut-free
Serves: 4–6 Preparation time: 1 hour, plus soaking and resting time Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes
- 350g/12oz/1¾ cups long-grain rice, washed and rested
- 1 star anise
- 2 lemongrass stalks, outer leaves and stalk ends removed and crushed
- 3 pandan leaves, tied into a knot (optional)
- 2cm/¾in piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 100ml/3½fl oz/generous ⅓ cup coconut milk
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 4–6 banana leaves (optional)
For the Squid Sambal
- 4 tbsp sunflower oil
- 2 red onions, sliced into rings
- 800g/1lb 12oz squid, cut into rings
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp lime juice or 1 recipe quantity Tamarind Water
- sea salt
For the Sambal paste
- 4 dried chillies
- 5 red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 10 shallots, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp roasted shrimp paste
- 2 macadamia nuts
- 100g/3½oz/scant ⅔ cup raw, skinless peanuts
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
- 1 small cucumber, halved lengthways, deseeded and cut into chunks
- 80g/2¾oz dried anchovies
- To make the Sambal paste, soak the dried chillies in hot water for 10 minutes, then drain, deseed and roughly chop. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to a smooth paste.
- To make the Squid Sambal, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add the spice paste and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 10–15 minutes until fragrant and the oil starts to rise to the surface. Tip in the squid, stir until well coated and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and season with salt, then add the lime juice and stir to combine. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, or until the sauce thickens and turns a dark reddish brown. Leave to one side and keep warm.
- Meanwhile, put the rice, star anise, lemongrass, pandan leaves, if using, ginger, coconut milk and salt in a large saucepan and pour in 300ml/10½fl oz/scant 1¼ cups water. Put the pan over a high heat and bring to the boil for about 20 seconds. Stir with a wooden spoon to prevent the rice sticking to the base of the pan, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat, leaving the lid tightly closed, and leave to one side to steam for 10–15 minutes until cooked. Fluff the rice with a fork and discard the star anise, lemongrass and pandan leaves, if using. Leave to one side and keep warm.
- While the Sambal and rice are cooking, heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add the peanuts and dry-roast until fragrant and starting to brown. Tip the peanuts onto a plate, sprinkle over the sugar and leave to cool. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and fry the dried anchovies until slightly browned.
- Serve the rice on plates or banana leaves. Ladle the Squid Sambal over the rice and top with the eggs. To the side, heap the cucumber, toasted anchovies and sugared peanuts. Serve hot.
This recipe is adapted from one in Sunil Vijayakar’s The Big Book of Curries. Sunil is a wonderful food writer and stylist whose understanding of how to cook with spices is inspirational. Here he’s used garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander and chilli, along with fresh coriander, mint and lime – which is a fairly traditional mixture. But what I loved about this recipe was the perfect balancing of these spices – just enough ground cumin and ground coriander to give a lovely pungent base and then a really fresh, vibrant chilli, ginger, herbs and lime mixture. (All I did to adapt it was to substitute dairy-free yogurt for the natural yogurt he uses, and I also used unsalted peanuts instead of the skinless roasted ones he uses, simply to reduce the salt count.)
gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, egg-free, seed-free
Preparation time 20 minutes, plus at least 4 hours marinating Cooking time 10 minutes Serves 4
- 100ml/3½fl oz/scant ½ cup dairy-free, plain yogurt
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tsp peeled and finely grated root ginger
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 green chilli, finely chopped
- 1 large handful coriander leaves, chopped
- 1 small handful mint leaves, chopped
- juice of 2 limes
- 800g/1lb 12oz skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 tbsp chopped unsalted peanuts
- lime wedges, to serve
- Put the dairy-free yogurt, garlic, ginger, cumin, ground coriander, chilli, coriander and mint leaves and lime juice in a blender and blend for 2–3 minutes until fairly smooth. Season lightly with salt.
- Put the chicken in a large bowl, pour over the yogurt mixture and toss to coat evenly. Cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for 4–6 hours, or overnight, if time permits.
- If using wooden skewers, soak them in cold water for at least 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat the grill to medium-high. Thread the chicken pieces onto the skewers and grill, turning frequently, for 8–10 minutes until cooked through and lightly browned. Sprinkle with the peanuts and serve hot with lime wedges for squeezing over.
This gorgeous fruit salad comes from spice master John Gregory’s Smith‘s book, Mighty Spice. Inspired by his travels around the world, John wrote the cookbook to show how you can use spices to add amazing flavours – including spicy, zingy, fiery and tangy – as well as delicious aromas. Instead of having to use a whole load of different spices, John uses a total of only 25 spices – and a maximum of only 5 spices for each recipe. And there’s a wonderful selection of dishes from all over the world. Brilliant!
This recipe literally took no time at all to prepare. I cheated (!) and bought a pre-prepared tropical fruit salad. So I simply made the syrup and mixed it into the papaya, pineapple, mango and passion fruit. So easy. And the flavours here are stunning – a combination of fiery chilli, zesty lime juice, and sweet, aromatic cinnamon and star anise – all mixed into the different fruit flavours. We ate this after a beef stir-fry, making the whole meal a fantastic mix of tastes and aromas. It’s wonderful to find new inspiration for fruit and this is fast becoming a new favourite in our house!
gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, egg-free, soya-free, nut-free, seed-free
Serves 4 Preparation time 10 minutes Cooking time 10 minutes
- 90g/3¼oz/heaped ⅓ cup caster sugar
- 5cm/2in cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- ¼ tsp chilli flakes
- juice of 2 limes
- seeds and pulp of 3 passion fruit
- 1 mango, peeled, pitted and roughly chopped
- ½ pineapple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
- 1 papaya, peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
- Put the sugar, cinnamon, star anise and chilli flakes into a large pan with 250ml/9fl oz/1 cup water and bring to the boil over a high heat. Stir continuously for 1 minute, or until all the sugar has dissolved, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, shaking the pan occasionally, for 10 minutes until the liquid has reduced to a thin syrup. Transfer the syrup to a mixing bowl and set aside to cool. Remove the cinnamon to stop its flavour overpowering the dressing, but reserve for decoration.
- Once the syrup has cooled, pour in the lime juice and passion fruit and mix well. Add the mango, pineapple and papaya, then toss together so that the spicy, sweet-sour flavours of the dressing coat the fruit. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
This is show-stopper of a meal – with a wonderful blend of tastes and aromas – and very beautiful.
Laksa recipes can differ hugely – and I’ve made my version with far more peanuts than any laksa I’ve ever eaten. I think it gives it a wonderfully nutty base to the fiery tastes. Don’t be put off by the idea of making your own paste – it’s actually amazingly quick and easy. You simply put the ingredients in a mini-blender or mini-food processor and whiz – and you have a beautifully fresh, aromatic paste which is worlds away from the ready-made pastes you can buy.
gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, seed-free
Preparation time 15 minutes Cooking time 20 minutes Serves 4 ⅓
- 250ml/9fl oz/1 cup olive oil or rapeseed oil
- 2 shallots, finely sliced
- 150g/5½oz/1 cup unsalted peanuts
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 750ml/26fl oz/3 cups coconut cream
- 500ml/17fl oz/2 cups stock made from gluten-, yeast- and dairy-free stock powder
- 4 tbsp Thai fish sauce
- 200g/7oz rice noodles
- 100g/3½oz beansprouts
- 250g/9oz cooked large, king prawns
- 1 large handful coriander leaves, chopped
- 1 handful mint leaves, chopped
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped, to serve
- 2 spring onions, white part finely sliced, to serve
- 2 limes, quartered, to serve
- 2 large red chillies, halved
- 3 sticks lemongrass, cut into thirds
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2.5cm/1in piece root ginger, peeled
- 4 shallots, quartered
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp shrimp paste
- 1 tbsp agave syrup
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Pour the oil into a small saucepan and heat over a medium-high heat until hot. Add the sliced shallots and fry for 5–6 minutes until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and put on kitchen paper.
- Heat a wok over a medium-high heat until hot. Add the peanuts and dry-fry for 3–4 minutes until starting to turn brown, stirring frequently. Remove from the pan, put into the bowl of a mini-blender and process until finely chopped. Remove and leave to one side.
- Put the ingredients for the paste into the bowl of the mini-blender or mini-food processor and blend thoroughly until the mixture becomes a paste.
- Pour the oil into the wok and heat over a medium heat until hot. Add the paste and stir in the chopped peanuts. Fry for 2–3 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour in the coconut cream, stock and fish sauce and stir well, whisking if necessary, to mix the coconut cream in thoroughly. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes.
- Meanwhile, put the rice noodles in a large, heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to stand for 5 minutes until soft. Tip into a colander and rinse well under cold running water.
- Add the rice noodles to the wok, along with the beansprouts and prawns, stir in thoroughly and cook for 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the coriander and mint and stir in gently. Serve immediately with the chopped chilli, spring onions and fried shallots sprinkled over, and served with lime quarters.
Taking some time to make a delicious meal is lovely – but often I want to be able to whizz something together with zero effort. So I made this Creamy Salmon Pasta recipe for lunch at the weekend. Zoe (who’s almost 2 years’ old) loved it!
Recently Peter (hubby) and I went on a health blitz for a weekend. We drank loads of juices and ate mainly salads with either pulses or steamed fish. It reminded me just how delicious steamed fish can be – beautifully moist and very soft textured. And the flavours of the fish come through wonderfully. So here I’ve steamed the salmon, instead of frying or baking, to get that gorgeous taste and texture.
gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, seed-free
Preparation time 2 minutes Cooking time 15 minutes Serves 4
- 4 salmon fillets
- 400g gluten-free pasta
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
- 450ml soya cream cheese
- juice 2 limes
- 1 small bunch chives, finely snipped
- 1 handful finely chopped dill leaves
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- Grease the skins of the salmon with the oil and put in a steamer. Cook for 12–15 minutes over a high heat, depending on how cooked you like it, until it is cooked through. Take the fish out of the pan and remove the skins. Using a fork, flake the fish, checking for any bones and discarding any you may find.
- Put the pasta in a large saucepan and cover with boiling water. Pour in the oil and stir well. Cook over a medium heat for about 8–10 minutes, or according to the packet instructions, stirring frequently so that the pasta does not stick together. Drain and rinse well with boiling water, then drain again and return to the pan.
- Mix together the soy cream cheese and lime juice in a large mixing bowl until smooth and cream. Stir in the herbs and the pasta and season with salt and pepper if you like, and stir in thoroughly. Add the salmon, stir in gently and serve.