Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Slow-carb lunch

Scott Jurek-inspired lunch. Pleasant but not marathon fuel.
Lunch is a tricky meal for slow-carbing, especially for hapless office workers who are at the mercy of the food court or sandwich bar.

Essentially the slow-carb approach entails eating a variation of the same meal several times a day: lean protein, legumes and officially sanctioned, non-starchy vegetables. (The starchy variety include everyone's favourites. More people get excited by pumpkin than green beans.)  Tim seems to manage the lunch conundrum by eating in restaurants and swapping rice for vegetables.

Eating in restaurants every lunch time isn't a sensible option for me. For a start, I'd have no money left to finance my considerable grooming and fashion regimen. I'm more likely to be having a lunchtime procedure than eating in a restaurant.

So, I take my lunch to work most days. And this requires even more organisation and planning in my highly scheduled working week. Sometimes I make a slow-carb dish on a Sunday in addition to the breakfast lentils, but that means lots of time in the kitchen - and the weekends are terribly short as it is.

I frequently take in dinner leftovers, although that puts me in competition with my daughter who is also partial to leftovers. And, of course, she comes first.

Increasingly, I take in breakfast lentils on Thurs and Fri and have an egg on toast for breakfast instead. A tin of salmon makes a satisfying addition to Karen Martini's dal. Yummy lunch. And yummy breakfast, but - more bread, which is supposed to be a weekend treat only.

Scott Jurek's dinner for lunch
One attempt for lunch I made recently was a variation of a meal consumed by none other than Scott Jurek, the 'demigod of ultramarathoning' (according to Tim, who includes this recipe in the Appendices of 4 Hour Body, which is where I found it). Never heard of him? Neither had I until I read Born to Run, which I must confess I have only just read this year. Bit late coming to the party on that one.

Scott's prodigious achievements include the 2010 new all-surface record in the 24-Hour Run of 165.7 miles. For this (running solidly for 24 hours, think about it), he was named USA Today's Athlete of the Week. The week? Seems a bit paltry for all that effort.

Anyway, Scott credits his superhuman endurance, recovery and overall health to his 100% plant-based diet. I was curious to sample a little of what he's having. And so I made his dinner of roasted sweet potato, bok choy sauteed with chilli and some fried tempeh. Not in the same quantities because it was lunch: 1 potato not 4; 2 strips of tempeh, not a whole packet; but a whole bunch of bok choy, just like the man (good work, Brown!).

The verdict? Delicious, but madly insufficient. When it comes to plant-based, quantity is crucial. And making lots of vegetables is time-consuming. And then there's all the chomping to follow.

I guess Scott can eat all the starchy vegetables he likes.

Lunch with Holly Davis
I did have lunch in a restaurant this week. Back to Cafe Sopra at Walsh Bay to meet the gorgeous Holly Davis, wholefood demigod. We had to move tables because Cate Blanchett was seated a couple of tables away (Sydney Theatre Company is across the road), and it was impossible to stop glancing over. Too distracting; and it must be awful for poor Cate to know everyone's sneaking a peek at her.

Holly has been running a course called 'Wholefoods in 20 minutes' and she was telling me about some feedback she'd received from a participant. This individual felt she had been misled because Holly's 20 minute recipes all require some degree of pre-preparation, such as soaking grains (Holly is a exponent of fermentation). Holly was lamenting the fact that people want to spend as little time as possible cooking, while serious wholefood cooking relies on time and effort for flavours to develop. It's a cooking style that can't be hurried.

Time in the kitchen
I was reminded of my values: a commitment to nourishing, delicious food made with care from high quality ingredients. I suppose if I want to take a slow-carb lunch to work each day I'm just going to find more time to spend in the kitchen, chopping, peeling, sauteeing, roasting, simmering. It's the season of salads. Time to experiment with legume salads. Watch out for more recipes.

And what about you? How do you manage a healthy lunch? Sushi? Sandwich? Mexican restaurant, swapping rice for vegetables? Any suggestions for gorgeous legume salads gratefully received!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Losing weight with slow carb living

I've been slow-carbing my breakfasts and most of my lunches and many of my dinners for a few months now, and Droptober has come and gone. The burning question is . . . how much weight have I lost?

Well, perhaps a few grams.

It isn't the fault of the Slow-Carb Diet
I have not attempted the Slow-Carb Diet as prescribed by the mighty Tim, so I am not in any way blaming his methodology, his research, his recommendations, nada. What I set out to do was make some dietary changes rather than going on a diet, so that once I lost the 2.8 kg I could easily maintain it. Slow-carb is a way for me to learn some new habits and become accustomed to eating a smaller daily calorie load. So, my ambitions with regards to the diet were always small.

Giving up grains
And I have found it easy to give up grains. A relief, actually. I stopped eating risotto ages ago, much to my husband's disappointment. He makes a great risotto. In the 90s (senior's nostalgia moment coming up), he used to make it once a week. Our favourite risottos?
  • feta and carrot or spinach
  • sashima tuna and green beans
  • with gravlax and a grilled pepper salad
  • with Not Bacon and peas
We always ate it with a roast tomato salad or green salad and bread with oil and balsamic. White bread and white rice in the same meal. Aaah, the 90s.

But while I would happily never have another mouthful of rice or quinoa, pasta and bread are different stories.

Everyday slow-carb
The social dimension of eating influences our decisions in so many ways. If I was to insist on eating slow-carb at every dinner, I would be cooking for myself much more often (instead of enjoying my husband's beautiful meals) at great inconvenience to the family. So it means pasta once or twice a week. It's always fresh, flavourful, full of vegies, accompanied by a big green salad (no baguette no more). I portion-control and eat most of the salad, but I'm still breaking rule #1: avoid 'white' carbohydrates'.

Pasta is also a useful stand-by when eating out. I don't eat red meat, and sometimes choices are limited. On Tuesday last week I had an exquisite seafood pasta at Pendolino. On Wednesday I had a gluggy, creamy bowl of starchy mushroom pasta at Cafe Sopra. Under the circumstances they were my best options.

Limitations of the Slow-Carb Diet (for me)
Tim admits that 'meat isn't necessary, but it does make the job easier'. I have found that it is difficult to come up tasty, nutritious ideas for meal after meal with eggs and tempeh as my principal sources of protein. And that is the weakness of all these low-carb approaches to weight loss: they suck for vegetarians. Not that I'm a full-blown vegetarian any more as I eat fish and chicken every week, but I don't eat them every day and I don't want to.

I try to be guided by my values (don't always succeed, of course) and one of my values is not to eat meat. I won't go into the complex reasons why now, but for me the ethics of what I eat is as germane to my choices as the nutrient profile.

Of course, some diets are totally plant-based and not the least concerned with animal welfare or environmental destruction. That's the Esslestyn no-meat/no-oil/no-dairy approach. Tim provides a thoughtful rebuttal to this approach on his website that I have thoughtfully linked for you. I find this a fascinating response to our malaise around food and eating (check out the healthy librarian for an devotee's perspective), but what I dislike about it is that it is plant-based but not vegan. It's not about animals but cholesterol and heart attacks. Obdurately anthropocentric.

This is not a rant
Time to sign off because I'm getting earnest. More on all this anon. Perhaps the conclusion I'm grasping towards is that in some crucial respects I can't slow-carb in a purist sense because of my values. And so I have to find other ways to lose more than a few grams.

Monday, 7 November 2011

What it takes to create a successful lentil business

'I love lentils but . . . I don't know what to do with them.'

Sharna, one of the women who set up the business Lentilicious, was at the Brisbane Food & Wine Expo last week and told me that is the lament she hears the most often. She said their stall was often 3 people deep, who again and again observed that a lentil dish in a packet is such a clever idea because it solves the problem of - what do you with them?

Lentil entrepreneurs
Lentils are something of a singular enthusiasm. I asked Sharna how she became a lentil entrepreneur. The story is that she and her friend Anthea worked together as carers of people with intellectual and physical handicaps until the company they worked for went out of business. They both loved cooking, loved dal, and the idea to start a lentil empire expanded from their common interest. They'd throw in different ingredients and refine their creations until they finally employed a chef to round off the recipes and make them commercially viable - without losing the heart of the enterprise.

Then Anthea and Sharna would go to markets with their lentil combinations for sale in low key paper bags with small windows. They'd take several cooked batches and serve them up in sugar cane cups with wooden teaspoons to let people sample their wares. And slowly, and with very little investment, the business began to grow.

Now, 3 years later, their product is sold in plastic pouches that allows for distribution and display, plus the printing of a statutory nutrition panel. They distribute all over the land and are developing new flavour combinations and recipe ideas. They cook in a converted room in Anthea's house. They proudly use only Australian red lentils and their values are as visible as that nutrition panel on every packet.

Lentils are good for digestion
Sharna was not aware of the mighty Tim or the slow-carb diet that has revolutionised my world (if not my waistline just yet). I didn't get the feeling she regularly eats lentils for breakfast herself. But she told me the Lime Time mix is a popular breakfast with a few coeliacs she knows. She has also been told that a good vegan breakfast is the Mediterranean and the Chilli mix combined and served on toast. Sounds like breakfast to me.

In India, according to Sharna, mung dal is favoured by the elderly and people who are convalescing because it is soft to digest. I can appreciate that. I find red lentils (similar to mung dal) so much more easier to stomach in the morning that firm little Puy pellets.

Lentils are versatile
The beautiful Lentilicious website features several recipes and ideas for using the packets as a base for a meal as much as a complete meal. Sharna said that they make a great base for vegetable soup with organic stock and extra vegetables. She also described a kind of lentil lasagne that is right up my alley because it features sweet potato and spinach and . . . pastry. Too divine. I plan to try that one and I'll post the recipe - especially now that I know that Lentilicious has made it to a local providore that we visit frequently and I can stock up.

I really enjoyed talking with Sharna and I came away from the conversation excited about all the wonderful things to make with lentils and keen to try a few new recipes. I'll keep you posted! In the meantime, look out for their attractive packets (buy them online) and let me know your favourite Lentilicious concoctions!