When I tell most people we are on a low carb diet- i.e. less than 50g per DAY, they first ask me if I’m crazy. Yes. Yes I am. Second, they say that they could never do it, they love bread, fruit, -insert carby thing here- too much. I also love bread (see Oh Hello Sour Dough, parts one and deux) and carby things (see all of the other recipes on here). With our recent experiments in low carb cooking, I’ve learned some very valuable cooking lessons.
Low carb cooking is not for the faint of heart. It requires integrating new techniques and ingredients into your repertoire that you may not have expected.
1. The more spices or seasonings you add, the better
In regular cooking, you can rely on the regular ingredients to contribute to the dish. Pasta, rice, bread, etc all add a certain subtle flavor that you’ll miss if you don’t crank up the flavor dial. For instance, if you are making a lasagna: use vertically sliced zucchini layered with grated smoked mozzarella and pungent pecorinos and some asiago, home-made tomato sauce with lots of basil and balsamic. Using the best dried spices you can find also helps, use your schnoz. If you can barely smell it, the flavor won’t be so bright either. Visit a Penzy’s, ethnic market, or bulk foods store so you can pick them out. Think about the ingredients you use before you use them and what they could add to the dish if they were slightly different.
2. If you are adapting recipes, lower your expectations
Don’t expect artificial sweeteners to act like sugar, nothing else acts exactly like potatoes do, don’t expect Shiraki noodles to have the same consistency as pasta. You’re just setting yourself up for failure. Aim low. They’ll be close, and will probably satisfy your craving, but as Marvin and Tammi say “Ain’t nothing like the real thing baby”. If you’re really jonesin’, indulge, don’t beat yourself up about it, and get back on track asap.
Oh and if you are using Shiraki noodles, rinse the crap out of them, microwave them, then rinse them again i.e. follow the directions on the pack. It’ll get rid of the feet smell the noodles normally have.
3. Bob and his Red Mill are your new best friends
Bob’s Red Mill will make just about everything you need for baking. Here’s what I like to keep around: Almond meal, Coconut flour, Flax meal, Vital wheat gluten- unless you are gluten free, xanthan gum or powdered arrowroot, and soy flour. Maybe throw in a chia seed if you’re feeling adventurous, I sure am. The wheat gluten helps make things chewy rather than sandy, if you’re going for sandy cookies or crumbly muffins, great. Have a blast. If not, add the wheat gluten, xanthan gum, or arrowroot. Oh, and Xanthan gum is something that comes from evil corn, not something Martian children chew. Just thought I’d clear that up.
4. Think about textures
Using breadcrumbs is required for many recipes from coating fish to pan-fry to mixing into a casserole to add bulk and texture. Last time I checked, bread crumbs are made from bread, so they are off limits. Almond meal and flax seed meal crisp up almost as well, plus they add fiber and nutrients to an otherwise unhealthy coating. Flax meal will thicken up just as well as any breadcrumb within the casserole, and a mix of almond meal and finely grated Parmesan, toast up for a crunchy topping. Almost anything you can think of will have a low-carb equivalent or close match. I make a creamed spinach/kale/chard casserole and you could probably never tell the difference in mine and my mom’s. Except mine is better..tasting and nutritionally. If you are going for a custard-type feel, get to know unflavored gelatin.
5. Extracts give the best-acts– boooo.
In the place of fruits, their extracts will give you the closest thing to their flavor that you’ll get. If you plan on keeping some kind of sweet things in your diet, keep the flavor but nix the carbs by using extracts or edible essential oils in their place. When making low carb pancakes for instance, melt together a half tbsp of butter, 3 tbsp granulated splenda or artificial sweetener of your choice, a splash or two of almond milk, and 1/4 tsp maple extract as your syrup. If you like a stronger maple flavor, add more extract.
6. Use Soy flour SPARINGLY
Pretty straightforward. If you get a little overzealous the whole thing will taste like a wet cardboard box. Always cut soy flour with something else. Or better yet, don’t use it at all, go for a flavorless protein powder.
7. Manipulate vegetables to use as substitutes
Turnips or rutabaga make a pretty close substitute for mashed potatoes, chayote squash makes a pretty decent apple sub- with added spices, summer squashes make decent pasta subs- grated into noodles or sliced thin, cauliflower can be grated into rice, Spaghetti squash- pretty obvious,use seedless cuke slices or celery sticks with your dips
8. Cheeses and Dairy are your friends– sorry vegans.
You should keep with you some Ricotta, ground parm, mascarpone, cream cheese, and other shredded cheeses that are aged- your faves. Ricotta, mascarpone, and cream cheese can go savory or sweet. Keep these to a minimum, though, there are hidden carbs in cow’s milk, and less fermented or aged cheeses. Try alternative milks like goat or sheep products. Just about all of the barnyard animals make things that you can and should use.
9. Don’t be afraid to experiment and/or fail.
How will you know how the flavors will interact or the textures will act in different situations if you don’t give it a go? Give peas a chance. Try different produce to get the same effect. If it doesn’t work out? Take mental or real notes, analyze what you could do different, adjust for next time. If it does? Yep, you totally meant that to happen the whole time. You’re a genius.
10. Have the right tools to make it happen
This is a basic idea that can apply to all cooking, but having a few items help make this diet easier. A mandoline, a grater that can do strips or strings, a hand masher, an immersion blender, and a food processor can make your life alot easier.
Since Mardi Gras and Valentines Day are both coming close, and sweets are encouraged- I leave you with a low carb truffle recipe so you can have your valentine’s and eat it too.
4 oz unsweetened chocolate- Dagoba
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 c coconut milk- unsweetened
1 tbsp coconut oil or butter
1/2 tsp instant coffee granules
3-4 tbsp splenda or other granulated sweetener
1 tsp vanilla extract
for decoration and flavor: Chopped nuts or unsweetened, toasted coconut flakes, unsweetened cocoa powder and a pinch or cinnamon- mixed
Add the unsweetened chocolate, cocoa powder, coconut milk, coconut oil, and coffee granules in a small saucepan. Heat over low fire, and stir until it becomes a smooth. Remove from heat and add the spenda and vanilla. Transfer to a deep plate or a shallow bowl. Refridgerate until slightly firm. Scoop by the teaspoon and roll between palms to form a ball. Roll in desired decoration like nuts, coconut, or cocoa mixture. Place in individual cups in a pretty container and give it to someone special.
Alternate flavor options:
Berry truffle- Raspberry or Strawberry extract, add after mixture is removed from the heat- 3/4 tsp, roll in crushed freeze dried strawberries or chopped almonds
Tropical orange- Orange extract- add with vanilla-1/2 tsp- roll in coconut
Pecan pie- Rum extract- 1/2 tsp add with vanilla in recipe, roll in chopped pecans
Peanut butter banana- banana extract, 1/2 tsp added with vanilla- roll in chopped peanuts
Maple bacon truffle- add 1/2 tsp maple extract and roll in salted bacon bits