One of the last things said to me by the discharging doctor last November, was, “I want you to see the dietician about a low fat diet.” Several hours later a smiling young woman appeared by my bed and handed over a leaflet. The first half was entitled, “Foods you can eat” and the second was “Forbidden foods”. The word, ‘forbidden’ had been crossed out and replaced with ‘foods to eat sparingly or avoid’.
So out of my life went cream, cheese, hummus, deep fried foods, nuts, seeds and most things containing fats. I could have half a pint of semi-skimmed milk or a pint of skimmed. Oily fish was a no-no but I could have salmon once a week.
I soon realised I was brought up on a low fat diet. My mother couldn’t tolerate fat with her duodenal ulcer, so we weren’t exposed to it. It’s probably why my gall bladder has never functioned properly and why I was ill every time I went away to a conference!
She never made a roux, she added a flour and milk paste to boiling milk to thicken a sauce, so that’s the way I’ve always done it. She taught me to remove all the fat from meat juices before making gravy so that’s what we do. The leaflet told me to make gravy from vegetable water, which I do, but to throw away meat juices. Blow that for a game of solders! (as my mother would say!)
I’ve always used good fats and know they’re important for my overall health. I don’t want my joints creaking because I’ve ceased to oil them! Now I just use less of them and notice when there are consequences to eating something which means I should pay attention. I still spread butter on my toast or bread but in sparing amounts. There’s no way I’m using industrial low fat spreads, thank you very much!
Mushrooms cooked in milk and butter in the microwave, which used to be a staple lunch for us, is not a good idea but I can tolerate mushrooms fried in a small amount of sunflower oil with grilled bacon either for lunch or as part of a “full English” breakfast. I still fry onions and red peppers, garlic and ginger as the basis of most of my cooking (soups, stews, bolognaise sauce etc.). When you make ten pints of something at a time, a tablespoon of oil is not a huge amount and can easily be tolerated.
Spices are not a problem, so I’ve used them and low fat coconut milk or yoghurt and tomatoes to make tagines, curries or just to spice things up a bit. When you don’t have fat to provide flavour or umami, you have to search elsewhere. Now I’ve got access to fresh herbs in my garden again, I’m also throwing large amounts of marjoram, lovage and mint into most of my cooking when I want a lighter and delicious flavour.
Here are three recipes I’ve adapted to keep my gall bladder happy.
Nettle Impossible Quiche
1cup semi-skimmed milk
1 red pepper
2/3 cloves garlic
1 drained small can of tuna or 2 slices of cooked ham cut into small cubes.
2 large handfuls of young nettle tops and leaves or spinach/kale/other greens
Large handful of herbs (parsley, basil or a mint/marjoram/lovage mix)
Grease a large round dish. Dice the onion, red pepper and garlic and sweat in a small amount of oil in a small frying pan. Wilt the nettles on top of the onion mix for about five minutes by putting a lid over the frying pan. Drain any liquid from the pan before adding to the batter. Dice the cooked ham or strain the tuna and break up into flakes. Whisk the eggs with the milk then add the flour and season well to make a batter consistency. Chop the herbs finely then add all the other ingredients to the egg batter so everything is well mixed. Pour into the prepared dish and cook in a moderately hot oven for around thirty minutes until well risen and set. It will flatten after you take it out of the oven. Serve with salad and crusty bread hot or cold or with vegetables for a main meal. This freezes really well and can be cut up into single portions before freezing.
Ham and Sweetcorn Soup
8oz cooked ham cut into small pieces
4 large potatoes peeled and diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 red pepper, de-seeded and diced
2/3 garlic cloves crushed or peeled and sliced
1 small chilli or 1 inch root ginger, peeled and diced.
1 tin sweetcorn, drained
2 tblsps Worcestershire sauce
Handful of herbs (parsley or marjoram and lovage) finely chopped
Sweat the onions, red pepper, garlic and chilli or ginger until soft. Add the potatoes, herbs and ham and cover with water and season well. Bring to the boil and simmer until potatoes are cooked. Add the strained sweetcorn and heat through.
This is a substantial soup which can be enjoyed with or without bread.
2 large potatoes
2 celery stems
Wash and slice the mushrooms. Peel and chop the potatoes, carrots and celery. Peel and dice the onion.
Sweat the onion in a small amount of oil until soft, add all the other ingredients and cover with water. Season well. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour until everything is cooked. Blend and serve. This makes a delicious creamy soup without the need for a white sauce.