March is Nutrition Month! The theme for this year is “Simply Cook and Enjoy!” Research shows that as people are leading busier and busier lives, they are spending less time in the kitchen. This has led to a loss of cooking skills among Canadians of all ages – jeesh! If you’re avoiding various things for digestive health, you know cooking from scratch is the best way to ensure you know exactly what you are putting in your body! Food that comes in a box or package most likely contains ingredients that cause symptoms. Healthy eating doesn’t have to mean bland or boring meals – let me tell you! There are so many ways to build flavour that don’t require adding a lot of salt, butter, and sugar. If you are new to a low FODMAP, gluten free, and/or lactose free diet or even new to cooking in general, here are some great tips to help you create delicious, healthy meals!
1. Alternative Aromatics
Onion and garlic are common ingredients in many styles of cooking and various dishes including soups, sauces, stir-fries, salads, and stews – oh my! These ingredients help to create a base flavour and used in a mirepoix (in French cuisine), or a soffrito (in Italian cuisine). However, if you have IBS or digestive distress these foods can cause uncomfortable symptoms like gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. Luckily, there are a variety of other aromatic vegetables that we can use to build flavour and won’t cause digestive distress! One of my favourites is the fennel bulb and I use it all the time in place of onion. Combining diced fennel with carrot and just a little celery can build the base of a delicious dish! Another option to avoid the discomfort caused by garlic, but to still enjoy the flavour is to use a garlic-infused olive oil. You can also start your recipe by adding a couple whole cloves of garlic to 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, allow them to cook for a few minutes and then remove the cloves.
2. Herbs and Spices
Adding fresh or dried herbs and spices is a great way to add flavour to a dish without adding salt or fat. Most herbs and spices are gluten free and low FODMAP. However, spice blends may contain ingredients that cause digestive distress so be sure to check the label first! Garlic powder and onion powder do contain FODMAPs and should be avoided. When it comes to substituting fresh and dried herbs, it depends on the type of herb. Hearty herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary, and oregano retain their flavour when dried so you should have good results substituting about half the amount of dried herbs for fresh. Delicate herbs like parsley, chives, cilantro, and basil add freshness to the dish and don’t have the same flavour when dried so you’re better off using fresh.
3. Browning and Deglazing
When you’re cooking meat, allowing it to brown on the pan is a great way to build a richer, deeper more complex flavour. This technique can be used for pretty much any type of meat or protein, including chicken, pork, beef, ground meats, tempeh, or tofu. Start out by patting the meat or other protein dry with a paper towel; if using ground meat, flatten it out. Then heat 1 to 2 tsp of olive oil in a metal skillet and add the meat. DO NOT use a non-stick skillet or the meat will not stick! Allow the meat to stick to the pan, do not touch, flip, or poke! The underside of the meat will start to brown – this will take around 2-4 minutes. Once the meat releases from the pan, flip over and brown the other side. Once the meat is cooked through, add a bit of liquid such as wine (mmm delicious!), stock, or water (booooo-ring), to deglaze the pan. Using tongs or a wooden spoon, scrape all the little brown bits from the bottom of the pan, this will create someone of a sauce … add this to your dish to savour all the delicious flavours.
Much love and good eating,