Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Free-From Food Awards Shortlist (and Slim Noodles and Zero Noodles)

Layout 1

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 and Zero Noodles

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!

Asian-fish Zero Noodles

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Marinade:

  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Torta di Riso (Italian Rice Cake)

Rice cake

Rice dishes are very common in Italy, especially in the northern areas, because rice was so plentiful (rice has been grown in Italy since the 15th century). Traditionally Torta di Riso was served as a celebration cake – for weddings, baptisms, Christmas and Easter. A particular favourite in Tuscany, apparently, it’s a flourless cake that uses risotto rice instead of flour, and can also be eaten as a dessert.

It’s lovely to make a cake without the usual flour-combination-method. Not for those on a low-carb diet(!), this cake is mouthful after mouthful of sweet, substantial comfort. The risotto rice is simmered in flavoured milk (I’ve used dairy-free, of course) until soft and creamy, then mixed with lots of beaten eggs and the remaining ingredients, before being baked in the oven. The vanilla and cinnamon imbue the cake with sweet tones, and the lemon zest gives a citrusy kick. Make sure you don’t overcook the rice in the first stage (take it off the hob while it still has some bite) and use really good quality eggs, preferably organic.

gluten-free, dairy-free, yeast-free, seed-free

Serves 4     Preparation time 15 minutes plus cooling time     Cooking time 1 hour 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 50g/1¾oz dairy-free margarine, plus extra for greasing
  • 150g/5½oz/⅔ cup fruit sugar or caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • 1.25l/44 fl oz/5 cups dairy-free milk
  • 250g/9oz/heaped 1 cup arborio or risotto rice
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • grated zest of ½ lemon
  • 2 large eggs, plus 5 large egg yolks
  • 25g/1oz/scant ¼ cup ground almonds
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • ½ tsp xanthan gum
  • icing sugar, to serve
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4 and lightly grease a deep, springform 20cm/8in cake tin with dairy-free margarine and line the base with baking parchment.
  2. Put the margarine, sugar, vanilla pod and milk in a large, heavy-based saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over a medium heat. Add the rice and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is creamy and soft, but still has a slight bite. Remove from the heat and scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add, then add the cinnamon and lemon zest and stir in thoroughly. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and leave to cool completely.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and egg yolks until pale and thick. Fold the ground almonds, gluten-free baking powder and xanthan gum into the mixture. Make sure the mixture is well mixed but take care not to overmix it.
  4. Remove the vanilla pod from the rice mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the rice and stir gently until combined. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the surface with the back of a spoon.
  5. Bake for about 60 minutes until firm to the touch and cooked through. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin, transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Once cooled, sprinkle icing sugar over and serve.

Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Roasted Aubergine with Amaranth & Harissa

Stuffed aubergine

I’ve had a bag of amaranth sitting in my kitchen cupboard for a while now, so I thought it was time to use it. Like quinoa, amaranth is a true superfood, but unlike quinoa, it hasn’t started to become mainstream – people generally haven’t heard of it and don’t know how to use it. Amaranth dates back about 8,000 years and was a staple part of the diet for the Aztecs in Mexico. Although it’s a grain, it’s a fantastic source of non-meat, complete protein (it is about 15% protein), along with complex carbs and fibre. Packed with nutrients, too, especially calcium and iron, as well as vitamins A, B6, C, folate and riboflavin, and phytochemicals that are great for boosting the immune system and reducing blood pressure and high cholesterol.

You can cook amaranth exactly like quinoa (simmer in boiling water or stock until tender and the water has been absorbed, or toast the grains and then simmer). And, just like quinoa, it’s incredibly easy to incorporate into your diet – use it instead of couscous or rice and add fruit, nuts, herbs or spices to flavour it. Here I’ve used it to make the stuffing for the aubergines – and I’ve made a dish with layers of flavours. You can take it back by leaving out the fruity bit (the sultanas) and/or the cheesy bit, leaving just the harissa, lemon and herbs, or you can add the whole caboodle. Either way, it’s delicious!

gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, seed-free

Serves 4     Preparation time 15 minutes     Cooking time 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 aubergines, halved lengthways
  • 2 tbsp harissa paste
  • 300g/10½oz/1½ cups amaranth
  • 100g/3½oz/heaped ¾ cup sultanas (optional)
  • 600ml/21fl oz/scant 2½ cups gluten-free and dairy-free vegetable stock
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 handfuls finely chopped mint leaves
  • 2 large handfuls finely chopped coriander leaves
  • 8 spring onions, white part finely sliced
  • 200g/7oz dairy-free cheese, crumbled or grated (optional)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • salad, to serve
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Using a sharp knife, score the flesh of the aubergines with a diagonal crisscross pattern, making sure not to pierce the skin. Put the aubergine halves on baking trays and spread the harissa paste evenly over. Bake for 40 minutes until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, put the amaranth in a fine sieve and rinse well under cold running water. Transfer to a saucepan, add the sultanas, if using, and pour over the stock. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down, cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 15–20 minutes until the amaranth is tender and the water has been absorbed.
  3. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add the lemon juice, herbs, spring onions, and add the dairy-free cheese, if using. Mix together thoroughly and season lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. When the aubergines have cooked, remove from the oven and carefully scoop most of the flesh out of the aubergines, leaving a layer of flesh next to the skins. Mash the flesh, then add to the amaranth mixture, and mix in thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into the aubergine cases and bake for a further 10 minutes. Serve hot with salad, if you like.

Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Cannellini Bean, Beetroot & Carrot Soup

Beetroot soup

This soup came about because of a pile of root veggies sitting in my veggie box. When I have beetroot, I usually bake it and make a salad with avocado, nuts, seeds, that sort of thing. Or steam it and serve it as a veggie. But I wanted to do something different, and this was the result.

This is a really delicious soup – and fantastically good for you, too. A combination of sweet, earthy beetroot and carrot, with the creamy cannellini beans and herby parsley make a great flavour combination. What’s more, this soup is great for cleansing and boosting your immune system. Beetroot has powerful detoxing qualities (mainly from the antioxidant betacyanin) as well as being rich in iron and folic acid (which help prevent anaemia and fatigue). The humble carrot is one of the richest sources of beta-carotene which helps fight infection and colds, as well as enhancing vision, skin and digestive function. Carrots and beetroots are also fantastic sources of fibre – as cannellini beans are, too. And this is a great example of how you don’t need to spend tons of money on ingredients to eat nutrient-dense food. Excellent!

gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, seed-free

Serves 4     Preparation time 10 minutes, plus soaking the beans     Cooking time 1½ hours

Ingredients:

  • 200g/7oz/1 cup dried cannellini beans
  • ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 4 beetroots, peeled and diced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1.25l/44fl oz/5 cups gluten-free and dairy-free vegetable Stock, boiling, plus extra if needed
  • 1 handful parsley leaves
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • dairy-free yogurt, to serve (optional)
  • coriander leaves, to serve (optional)
  1. Put the cannellini beans in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, cover with warm water and leave to soak, covered, for 12 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain and rinse the beans and put in a large saucepan. Cover with 1.2l/40fl oz/4¾ cups water and bring to the boil over a high heat. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes, skimming any scum that rises to the surface, then turn the heat down to low and leave to simmer for 1 hour, until the beans are tender. Drain and leave to one side.
  3. When the beans are nearly cooked, heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat until hot. Add the onion and fry for 2–3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until starting to turn golden, then stir in the garlic. Add the celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2–3 minutes, then add the carrots and beetroot. Pour in the stock and season lightly with salt. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered, for 15–20 minutes until the carrots and beetroot are soft.
  4. Add the cooked beans and parsley, then blend the soup until smooth and add more salt, to taste, and pepper. Serve hot with a spoonful of yogurt drizzled over and some coriander leaves sprinkled on top, if you like.