Introduction

Introduction

By
Tori Haschka
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978 184949 465 6

I know what it’s like to use carbs as a culinary crutch. Until I was a teenager I would only eat things that were white. Rice, bread, potatoes, but most of all noodles. A little lick of butter, cheese or plain chicken was all the flavour I needed.

It wasn’t until I was 21 and scoffing white rice and a small slick of curry in Malacca, Malaysia, that the tables really turned. The water I was sipping came from the local well. The meal was accompanied by a side order of E. coli. Soon after that, I got glandular fever. Then came five years of a spluttering immune system and exhaustion which felt like weights were attached to my legs and my brain was swaddled by marshmallow.

Suddenly, the foods I had turned to for comfort provided anything but. Not only did they not give me lasting energy, but they encouraged a sugar spike in my body which made me feel even worse.

And so I was lost. I had been conditioned to use white carbohydrates as the base of every meal I cooked. I assumed that because they sat at the bottom of the food pyramid I grew up with, that they were best for me. So Monday nights were quick stir-fries (with rice). Sometimes there were curries (with naan). The rest of the week: pizza, pasta, risotto, sushi. There was take-away Thai with my beloved Pad See Ew. Toasted sandwiches, plucked off the panini press. Baked potatoes with mince. Gnocchi with pesto. Sourdough toast with avocado and lemon juice for emergency late-night snacks. These were all quick, safe and relatively cheap. Those white carbohydrates were the blank canvas on top of which I pottered with other flavours.

As it turns out, the white carbohydrates that I had grown to love were foods which are broken down quickly in our bodies, swiftly transforming into glucose. Some of them left me feeling bloated. Some drove me to rabid hunger only a few hours after I’d eaten. And most would deliver a sharp jolt of energy, before leaving me more lethargic than I was to begin with.

The only way out I could find was to get creative in the kitchen. I needed to find some food that was smarter. And I needed to be a little cannier about how I cooked.

So what’s the answer?

I knew from the beginning that a strict no-carb doctrine was not for me. I’m not interested in brutal regimes; I love food too much. I take too much pleasure from gathering people around a table brimming with wine and conversation for an absolutist approach. I needed a moderate, middle path. But I was also starting to acknowledge the slightly uncomfortable truth A. A. Gill once expounded, that ‘the easiest way to lose weight fast is to cut out carbs. Not all of them, but the big four: bread, potatoes, pasta, rice’.

I had to stop relying on the big four as my everyday, every-meal foods. Because losing a little bit of weight wasn’t the only thing I could do with. The honest truth is that white carbohydrates were doing me no favours in lots of areas of my health. And the reason for that has to do with their glycaemic index.

what is the glycaemic index (GI)?

It’s a way of ranking carbohydrates on a scale of 0–100 based on the impact they have on your blood sugar after you eat them. Foods scored with a high GI are digested swiftly and spike your blood sugar. Foods with a low GI are absorbed and digested more slowly, which has a more moderate, sustained effect on blood sugar, helping to keep you fuller for longer.

And which foods have some of the highest GIs of all? The big four: white bread, white rice, potatoes and white pasta.

what are smart carbs?

Carbohydrates help give us fuel. They have a significant role to play in our diets; even the most famous ‘no-carb’ doctrines incorporate carbohydrates again at some point. But a ‘smart’ carbohydrate is one which will work harder for you. Rather than eating a downy cloud of simple sugars, smart carbohydrates come packed with fibre, essential nutrients and amino acids.

what is the choice?

The choice between filling up on smart carbs or simple white ones is akin to packing a suitcase for a trip. On one hand, you’ve got the option of taking with you a variety of clothes, three pairs of shoes and your toiletries. On the other you could just cram a white fluffy duvet into your bag. Sure the duvet will cover you for a brief period, but its usefulness will soon wear out.

New foods, new options, new life

I know better than anyone that the comfort of white carbs can be difficult to leave behind. For one, we associate them with filling us up, at least in the short term. For me, one of the hardest things was finding new meals that would also satisfy my 6’3” husband. I’ve referred to him for years as ‘The Hungry One’. And while it’s a name that applies to his appetite for life as much as his ability to consume, most who know him will agree: the man can eat. Straight soups and salads with grilled protein just weren’t going to cut it.

Slow-burning carbohydrates that could provide proper substance needed to take centre stage. That was one way to prevent him churning through dinner and then at the end gently asking what was for main course.

Since then, I’ve fallen for protein-rich grains and seeds like quinoa, chia, ground flaxseed/linseed. I’ve become a little evangelical about pulses, replacing the staple side of mashed potatoes and rice with white bean purée, and convinced others that not only is it quicker, but oft en tastier too. I found that chickpea flour has a nutty flavour that works particularly well in savoury dishes. And when it comes to sweets, instead of my default desserts of bread pudding, tarts and pies, I learned to love baking with ground nuts and use fruits as a base.

Once I started cooking this way, I quickly learned that a change really can be as good as a holiday. And I’m not alone. Friends and colleagues with diabetes, heart conditions and polycystic ovaries, those who are breastfeeding and those who just want to lose a little bit of excess weight, have all benefitted from shifting away from white carbs – and they’ve never looked back.

Concentrating on eating smart carbs when we’re at home has made a world of difference to my life. I’m healthier. I have more energy. My skin is better. I lost four kilos from what I thought was my standard weight (and The Hungry One has lost six). When I got pregnant with baby Will, I found it tempting to fall down a deep and dark carb hole. And I certainly had my moments: the first thing I ate aft er he was born was a toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwich, and nothing has ever tasted better. But eating slower and smarter carbs as the base of most meals not only allowed me to shed most of the pregnancy weight, but gave me the right sort of energy in the first three months of his life to balance feeding him, taking care of him, and writing and testing the recipes for this book.

These recipes take inspiration from both my travels and my life in Sydney and London. They fill us up and pack a flavour punch. They’re celebratory, but in a low-key sort of way. This food is fresh, vibrant and addictively good. What you’ll find is not really a diet at all; It’s just a new way of looking at what you eat. There are some new ingredients to fall in love with and some makeovers for old friends.

Hopefully you’ll find that some small shift s can make a big difference. But the biggest change for me since we started eating this way has been that on the days when I go to enjoy pasta, bread, rice or potatoes, I do it because I really want to savour every bite, not just because I can’t think of anything else that’s good to eat.

Some new (and old) friends for a smart-carb kitchen

Quinoa and quinoa flakes

While it might look like a grain, quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wa’) is actually a South American seed from the goosefoot plant. It’s high in protein and contains essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus and iron. It comes in a variety of colours, has a nutty flavour and benefits from being rinsed before cooking. The flakes can be used as a porridge, or in baking, and the seeds make a sturdy side for dishes like Peach Pulled Pork with Dirty Quinoa, and Prawn and Quinoa Grits.

Chia seeds

Closely resembling poppy seeds, chia seeds are packed with essential fatty acids like Omega-3, fibre, protein and minerals like calcium, zinc and iron. When combined with liquid, they swell up into small orbs. Most of the benefit is found when they’re eaten raw, like in the Chia, Mango, Coconut and Macadamia Trifle, Chia Bircher Muesli, or sprinkled on top of salads, but they’re also a good source of fibre when cooked in the Peppers Stuff ed with Chia, Hummus and Pine Nuts, for example.

Linseed/flaxseed

The seeds from the flax plant have a light caramel and oatey flavour and are an excellent way to reduce the amount of white flour used in baking recipes. They are a great source of Omega-3, fibre and antioxidants.

Chickpea (besan or gram) flour

Chickpea flour (also known as besan or gram flour) is made from ground chickpeas or chana dal. It’s a common ingredient in Indian and Bangladeshi cooking and you can usually find it cheaply in Indian grocery stores. It’s a great substitute for white flour in savoury dishes, whether for dusting fishcakes, or making béchamel. It’s also a key ingredient in socca, the chickpea pancakes common to Nice.

Rice malt syrup

Rice malt syrup is a sweetener made of complex carbohydrates. You can use it in place of honey or syrups in many recipes, like the glaze for the Pigs in Kimchee Blankets, or try it as a substitute for sugar to balance the flavours in many of the savoury recipes, too.

Apple cider vinegar

Beyond its terrific balance of sweetness and acidity which helps to brighten recipes as diverse as dal to dressings for Brussels sprouts and lentils, the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar is reputed to help prevent the build-up of fat in our bodies.

A few notes about pulses

Pulses are some of the real heroes in this book. Eating more lentils, beans and chickpeas is a key way to stay full for longer. They’re excellent sources of fibre. Yet there are a couple of key reasons why people don’t eat as much of them as they should.

The soaking factor

True, you will get the best results from most of these recipes if you use dried pulses, soak them and then cook them from scratch. The texture will probably be superior and you’ll find the GI of your pulses can be even lower if they avoid the canning process. But how many of us will remember to put a key ingredient for tomorrow’s dinner on to soak before we go to bed, or while we eat breakfast? The answer lies in tinned pulses. Stock your cupboard with cannellini beans, borlotti beans, black beans, adzuki beans, lentils and chickpeas. They’re cheap and last for an age. Organic ones will have a better texture. Just be sure to rinse them well of all of the liquid before using them. (You may also want to look for tins which are BPA-free.)

If you prefer to use dried pulses, in any recipe that specifies 1 x 400-g tin of beans, rinsed, feel free to substitute 90–100 g dried beans or pulses, then soak and cook them according to the timings.

Soaking and cooking times

Large beans: kidney, chickpea, borlotti, cannellini

6–8 hours

Drain soaking liquid and cover with water, plus 3 cm. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 1–2 hours. Simmer uncovered for firmer beans, or covered for creamier, softer beans. Drain, if necessary, then serve.

Medium beans: black beans, pinto

4–6 hours

Drain soaking liquid and cover with water, plus 3 cm. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 40–60 minutes. Simmer uncovered for firmer beans, or covered for creamier, softer beans. Drain, if necessary, then serve.

Small beans: mung, adzuki

4 hours

Drain soaking liquid and cover with water, plus 3–5 cm. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Simmer uncovered for firmer beans, or covered for creamier, softer beans. Drain, if necessary, then serve.

Split peas, chana dal, lentils

Not strictly necessary, though 1 hour will benefit

Drain soaking liquid and cover with water, plus 3–5 cm. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 30–45 minutes. Simmer uncovered for firmer beans, or covered for creamier, softer beans. Drain, if necessary, then serve.

The gas factor

Nobody likes to talk about it. But I guess if you had to pinpoint one reason why people don’t eat as many pulses as perhaps they should, they’ll mention the gas factor. In addition to the fact that the more you eat of them, the more your body gets used to digesting them, there are certain things you can do to help mitigate this side effect. The first is to dispose of both the soaking and cooking water and to rinse your pulses well. The second involves adding certain things to them while you cook them.

There are amino acids in seaweed, kombu and kelp which help make the beans more digestible. Try adding some in when you cook them next time, or try the Ultimate Ham and Lentil Soup which makes use of nori for exactly this purpose.

Spices and flavourings like cumin, turmeric, ginger, coriander and lemon are all reputed to help ameliorate some of the gassy effects. Many of the recipes in this book, from the Mexican Baked Eggs, Smokey Baked Beans, Chilled Chickpea Soup, Dal, Yellow Split Peas with Ginger, and Tandoori Salmon with Spiced Lentils all use these to help.

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