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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.
Recently I worked with Beverly le Blanc on her brilliant new book, I Love My Slow Cooker, which was published last month. She very kindly gave me one of the slow cookers she’d bought to do all the testing and didn’t need any longer (many thanks, Bev!!) so I’ve been having a lovely time trying out lots of the recipes from her book. My mother didn’t have a slow cooker, and I’d never tried one before, so it was all new to me. But oh wow, are slow cookers great!
The back of I Love My Slow Cooker says “Discover how your slow cooker can transform your life in the kitchen from a frantic, stressful time into a wonderfully calm one”. Sounds like a big claim, doesn’t it? Well I wrote that so now I need to back up my words! Trust me, though, it’s true! I work full-time and my husband stays at home (doing cartoons for The Guardian), so he collects Zoё from school and makes her evening meal for her. For me, one of the fantastic things about the slow cooker is that I can quickly put a recipe together in the cooker before I leave the house in the morning, and by dinner time it can be ready and waiting for Peter to dish up for her. It’s easy to make stews and casseroles that are healthy and full of delicious flavours, that warm Zoё up in this cold weather and give her a lovely comforting meal. The slow cooker can then keep the meal warm until I get home from work and Peter and I tuck in. Great. Truly great. But then you’ve probably heard that sort of story from lots of people…
What you probably haven’t heard is how slow cookers are wonderful for making a whole variety of dishes. Yes, of course, soups, stews and sauces. They’re great, too, for cheap cuts of meat (which you can cook for numerous hours until meltingly tender) and dried beans (which you can leave to bubble away without worrying about them going mushy). But they’re also brilliant for cooking fish. Whether you’re cooking a fish stew fairly quickly, or cooking something like squid on a low heat over several hours, you’ll find that the fish cooks perfectly and doesn’t overcook. And what’s more, the slow, gentle, steam cooking can create superb puddings, too. No need to mess about doing a bain-marie method – you can just put it in a slow cooker.
I have some firm favourites already from this book. And one of them is this Asian-Style Poached Chicken & Pak Choi. I’ve adapted the recipe slightly so that it’s completely gluten-free and dairy-free. But basically, you put a whole chicken in the slow cooker, add the Asian-style ingredients, and 4 hours later it’s bubbling away, ready to be served. I serve it with coconut rice because Zoё loves that (I do equal parts coconut milk and water and a few coriander leaves in at the end) and often add more veggies to the pot. It’s a lovely family meal but it also gets lots of oohs and aahs when people come round.
gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, seed-free, citrus-free
Serves 4–6 Preparation time 10 minutes Cooking time 4 hours
- a few coriander sprigs, with crushed stalks, plus extra leaves to serve
- 2 onions, 1 halved and 1 sliced
- 1 oven-ready chicken, about 1.5kg/3lb 5oz, any fat in the cavity removed
- 600ml/21fl oz/scant 2½ cups gluten-free and dairy-free chicken stock, boiling, plus extra if needed
- 125ml/4fl oz/½ cup tamari soy sauce, plus extra to taste
- 4 tbsp rice wine
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2.5cm/1in piece of galangal or ginger, sliced
- 1 dried red Thai chilli, deseeded if you like
- 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 2 pak choi, quartered
- ground Szechuan pepper or freshly ground black pepper
- cooked long-grain rice, to serve
- Put an upturned heatproof saucer in the slow cooker. (Check that the chicken will be able to sit on top of the saucer with the cooker lid in place.) Preheat the covered cooker on HIGH.
- Put the coriander and halved onion in the chicken’s cavity and season with pepper. Secure the opening with wooden cocktail sticks. Put the chicken in the cooker, breast-side down, then pour over the stock, tamari and rice wine. Add extra stock to fill the container, if necessary, leaving a 2.5cm/1in gap at the top of the pot. The chicken will not be completely covered with liquid. Push the sliced onion, garlic, galangal and chilli into the liquid.
- Cover the cooker with the lid. Cook on HIGH for 3¾ hours until the juices from the chicken run clear when the thickest part of the meat is pierced with the tip of a sharp knife or skewer. Remove the chicken from the cooker, wrap in foil and leave to rest for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, put the spring onions and pak choi in the cooker, re-cover and cook for a further 20 minutes until the pak choi is tender. Remove the pak choi from the cooker, and wrap in the foil with the chicken.
- Pour the cooking liquid into a saucepan and bring to the boil, then boil vigorously for at least 3 minutes until reduced. Add a little more tamari and pepper, if you like. Remove the skin from the chicken and carve. Strain the cooking liquid, discarding the solids. Sprinkle the chicken with coriander and serve with the cooking liquid, pak choi and rice.
This recipe comes from Sophie Michell’s gorgeous new book, Love Good Food, and is based on a dish that Sophie tried when she was in Malaysia. Malaysian food is definitely the unsung culinary hero of Asia. It’s uniquely diverse cuisine combines the original Malay cooking style along with cooking techniques and ingredients from China, India, Portugal and Holland, with Thai and Indonesian influences. The huge variety of cuisines creates a delectable mix of regional specialities and iconic dishes.
Probably the most immediately-noticeable aspect of Malaysian food is the use of an unusual mix of spices. The Chinese, Indian and Portugese spice traders brought in spices like cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, tamarind and turmeric and these are used with great effect in the dishes. Here Sophie has mixed turmeric into the pancake mixture, giving the batter a beautiful yellow colour, along with a slightly tart, peppery flavour. Mixed in with the rice flour, the creamy, sweet coconut milk and the light-onion flavour from the chive, this is a really delicious pancake mixture.
What’s more, this recipe is not only gluten-free and dairy-free but it’s egg-free. Yep – pancakes you can make without having to use eggs or egg substitutes. Brilliant! You can also use strips of pork or prawns and peanuts instead of the crab. Sophie finishes the dish off with some oyster sauce but this contains gluten, so you could simply leave it as it is, or perhaps try a squeeze of lime if you like.
gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, egg-free, seed-free
Serves 4 Preparation time 15 minutes, plus 30 minutes resting time Cooking time 35 minutes
- 1–2 tsp groundnut oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2.5cm/1in piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 300g/10½oz picked cooked white crab meat
- 1 tsp tamari soy sauce
- 175g/6oz/heaped 1 cup rice flour
- 250ml/9fl oz/1 cup coconut milk, plus extra as needed
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp snipped chives, plus extra for sprinkling
- a pinch of sea salt
- To make the pancake batter, whisk together the rice flour, coconut milk, turmeric, chives and sea salt in a bowl with 125ml/4fl oz/½ cup water until thoroughly combined to make a smooth batter, adding more coconut and water if needed. Cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- To cook the pancakes, heat a frying pan with a base about 20cm/8in in diameter over a medium-high heat. Add some of the groundnut oil, and, when it is hot, pour in one-quarter of the pancake batter. Tilt the pan to spread the batter into a thin, lacy layer, then cook the pancake for 5 minutes until the batter is set and the edges are starting to turn golden. Flip the pancake over and cook for a further 2–3 minutes until golden. Turn the pancake out onto a heatproof serving plate and keep warm while you cook the remaining 3 pancakes, adding more oil to the pan as required.
- Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, then add the ginger and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add the crab meat and tamari soy sauce and stir-fry until heated through. Divide the crab mixture onto the pancakes and roll them up. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chives.
Spring onions turned up in my veg box this week and it made me think of lighter, Asian-style food. I’ve been meaning to try this idea out for a while, but it’s felt too wintery recently. But as the blossom is now in full bloom on the trees and the weather has turned warmer, I thought it would be good to try this.
Spring onions are often combined with ginger and sesame oil, and these marry wonderfully well with the subtle tastes of pak choi and white fish. I’ve used pollack because the sauce makes the fish taste delicious, and I’ve added lots of the sea vegetable, arame, to maximise the healthy aspect of this dish. Arame, like all sea veg, contains high levels of iodine, which, as well as boosting your immune system, it helps to keep your metabolism working at an optimum level.
I bought some Chinese rice wine for this dish – and it was a revelation! I’m not sure what I was expecting but, to me, it tastes rather like sherry. The recipe uses 5 tablespoons of the wine and the bottle says that the wine will only keep for a week. So there was no choice, really – we had to drink the rest. (Yep, the detox is over!) I had bought Doragon Sake – and we drank it warm as the bottle suggested, slowly over the course of a couple of days. It’s opened my eyes to a whole new world of wine!
Preparation time 10 minutes Cooking time 10 minutes Serves 4
gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, citrus-free
- 2 pak choi
- 6 spring onions, cut into strips
- 1cm/½in piece root ginger, peeled and cut into strips
- 4 skinless white fish fillets, such as pollack
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 5 tbsp Chinese rice wine
- 3 tbsp tamari
- 150ml/5fl oz/scant ⅔ cup miso soup
- 1 handful of arame
- steamed rice or cooked rice noodles, to serve
- Remove the 2 outer leaves from each pak choi and immerse in a bowl of boiled water for about 1 minute until the leaves have softened. Refresh under cold running water and leave to one side. Cut the remaining pak choi into quarters.
- Arrange the spring onion strips and ginger on the top of the fish and wrap the softened pak choi leaves around the fish, tucking each end under the fish.
- Heat the sesame and olive oils in a large wok over a medium heat until hot. Pour in the rice wine, tamari and miso soup and add the arame, making sure the arame is immersed in the liquid. Bring to the boil, then place the fish on the top and cover with a lid. (If your wok is too small for all the fish, cook in batches.) Cook for 5 minutes, then add the remaining pak choi quarters and cook, covered, for a further 3–5 minutes until the fish is cooked through. Serve immediately with steamed rice or rice noodles.
The truth is that I don’t like kale normally. Try as I might, it tastes bitter and unappealing to me. But I know it’s packed with nutrients and fantastically good for you. And it’s wonderfully cheap. So I’ve been experimenting with different flavours to add to it and I think I’ve come up with a winning formula! Bursting with fresh, fiery tastes, this Asian-style version can be served with rice for a light lunch or as a side dish with, say, steamed fish and rice. Enjoy!
gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, egg-free, nut-free, citrus-free
Serves 1 as a main course or 2 as a side dish Preparation time 5 minutes Cooking time 5 minutes
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lemongrass stalk, finely sliced
- 1cm/½in piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- ½ red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 200g/7oz kale, chopped
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp agave syrup
- 1–2 tbsp tamari soy sauce
- Heat both of the oils in a wok or large frying pan over a high heat. Add the lemongrass, ginger, chilli and then the garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the kale and stir-fry for about 2 minutes until the kale is starting to look cooked.
- Mix together the rice wine vinegar, agarve syrup and 1 tablespoon of the tamari and pour into the pan. Cook, stirring, for another 1–2 minutes until all of the kale is cooked but remains quite crunchy. Check the seasoning and add the other tablespoon of tamari if you like. Serve hot.
This wonderfully delicious recipe is from Beverly le Blanc’s new book, The Big Book of Soups. This book is literally brimming with an incredible variety of soups for all seasons and all occasions – whether you’re looking for a light soup for lunch outdoors on a summer’s day, or a thick, creamy, comfort-soup for when the weather turns cold and rainy.
I love this soup because it tastes great, and is full of nutrient-dense ingredients. Watercress is a true superfood – containing more than 15 vitamins and minerals, including more calcium than milk, more vitamin C than an orange and more iron than spinach! Shiitake mushrooms have been used as both food and medicine in Asia for thousands of years and is currently used in Japan to treat many conditions, including chronic fatigue syndrome. And kombu (in the dashi) is packed with minerals and phytonutrients that help detoxify your body and relieve many ailments.
You can either make dashi yourself (see below for the recipe) or you can buy it ready-made from Japanese stores or from the internet. Just in case you need some instructions because they might only be in Japanese(!) you normally dissolve 2 teaspoons powder in 1.25l/44fl oz/5 cups water. You can get vegetarian versions, made without bonito (fish flakes). This recipes also uses another very Japanese ingredient, daikon, which is a long white crunchy vegetable from the radish family, with a light, peppery punch similar to watercress.
PREPARATION TIME 20 minutes, plus making the dashi COOKING TIME 30 minutes MAKES about 1.25l/44fl oz/5 cups
- 400g/14oz watercress, any thick stalks or yellow leaves removed
- 280g/10oz thin rice noodles
- 2l/70fl oz/8 cups Dashi (see below) or prepared instant dashi
- 10cm/4in piece of daikon, peeled and finely grated
- 1 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
- 750g/1lb 10oz salmon fillet, small bones removed, and fish cut across the grain into 1cm/½in thick slices
- 12 shiitake mushroom caps
- 280g/10oz firm tofu, drained and cut into 12 cubes
- 200g/7oz enoki mushrooms, stalks trimmed
- tamari soy sauce, to serve
To make Dashi:
- 25cm/10in piece of dried kombu
- 10g/¼oz/²⁄³ cup bonito flakes
- To make the Dashi, put the kombu and 1.4l/48fl oz/5½ cups water in a saucepan and leave to soak for 30 minutes.
- Bring to the boil, uncovered. As soon as it boils, skim the surface, then add the bonito flakes. Skim the surface again, if necessary. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
- Strain the dashi into a large bowl and use immediately. Alternatively, leave to cool, then store in the fridge for up to 2 days. Freezing isn’t recommended for more than 2 weeks as it will lose much of its flavour.
- (To make Vegetarian Dashi omit the bonito (fish) flakes in the above recipe. Instead soak 8 dried shiitake mushrooms in 1.4l/48fl oz/5½ cups hot water for at least 30 minutes. Put the mushrooms and the soaking liquid in a saucepan. Add the kombu and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Slowly bring to the boil, uncovered. As soon as it boils, skim the surface, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Strain through a muslin-lined sieve, and use the dashi as above.)
- To make the soup, bring a saucepan of lightly salted water to the boil, and bring another saucepan of unsalted water to the boil. Boil the watercress in the salted water just until the leaves wilt, which will be almost instantly. Drain and immediately rinse under cold running water, then drain again and set aside. Meanwhile, boil the rice noodles in the unsalted water for 6–8 minutes, or according to the packet instructions, until tender. Drain and immediately rinse under cold running water and set aside.
- Put the dashi in a saucepan, cover and bring to just below the boil. Meanwhile, mix together the daikon and chilli in a small bowl and set aside. Just before the dashi boils, reduce the heat to low, add the salmon and shiitake mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes or until the salmon is cooked to your liking. One minute before the end of the cooking, add the tofu and enoki mushrooms and simmer until the enoki are tender. Season with salt.
- Divide the noodles into bowls and top with the salmon. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the watercress, mushrooms and tofu into the bowls. Ladle the dashi over them and serve immediately with small bowls of tamari soy sauce and the daikon and chilli mixture on the side.
I work for a publishing house, Duncan Baird Publishers, where I run a list of cookery and natural health books – commissioning and managing them. This year we published a brilliant book called The Best Recipes for Babies & Toddlers by the founder of the Planet Organic stores, Renée Elliott. As Trudie Styler says, this book “is a wonderfully inspiring book for any parent trying to provide the best possible nutritional start for their baby”. This recipe is an adaptation of one of my favourites from her book – and one that I make for Zoe because she adores it.
In this recipe Renée soaks the rice overnight, using kefir or natural yogurt with the soaking water because of their beneficial bacteria and yeast cultures. I haven’t used kefir or yogurt but I’ve still soaked the rice, which breaks down any phytic acid (that can block absorption of minerals in your system) and also makes the rice much easier to digest. Brown basmati rice is a bit of an unsung hero, I think. You get the nutritional benefits of brown rice but it’s quicker and easier to cook. Renée also uses Cheddar cheese, which I’ve substituted with soya cheese, and gluten-free Worcestershire sauce which I couldn’t find, so I’ve used tamari instead.
This is delicious hot but also cold, too – so it’s great for meals out and about. Thank you, Renée, for a wonderful recipe!
gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, seed-free, citrus-free
Preparation time 20 minutes, plus at least 7 hours soaking Cooking time 1 hour 20 minutes Serves 2 adults and 2 children
- 175g brown basmati rice
- 500ml vegetable stock
- 55g pine nuts
- dairy-free margarine, for greasing
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 4 eggs
- 225g spinach
- 175g soya cheese, grated
- 1 tbsp tamari soy sauce
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- Put the rice and 500ml warm water in a medium saucepan and leave to soak, covered, for 7 hours or overnight.
- Drain the rice, then return it to the pan and add the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil over a high heat, stir, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes until the rice is cooked.
- Meanwhile, put the spinach in a steamer and steam, covered, over a high heat for 3–4 minutes until wilted. Remove and drain thoroughly, pressing the spinach leaves with the back of a spoon to squeeze out any remaining liquid.
- Preheat the grill to medium. Put the pine nuts on a baking sheet and grill for 2–3 minutes until lightly browned, checking frequently to ensure they don’t burn. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 and grease a 20 x 20cm baking dish with dairy-free margarine. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion and cook over a medium heat for 3–4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Remove from the heat.
- Put the eggs and spinach in a blender and blend for 1–2 minutes until smooth, then transfer to a large bowl.
- Add the pine nuts, onion, soya cheese, tamari, thyme and rosemary to the spinach mixture and mix well. Stir in the rice, then spoon the mixture into the baking dish.
- Bake for 45 minutes until lightly browned. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then serve.