Read an Excerpt
The Fast Diet Cookbook
THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF THE BOOK
Some of the recipes are gloriously simple, others are more complex; some are favorites adapted for the FastDiet, while others introduce new flavor combinations. Some will get you walking or gardening. Others will send you to the cupboard for a bunch of cans.
• The book includes both simple recipes and leisurely recipes, allowing you to spend as much or as little time as you please preparing your fast day food.
• Each recipe has a clear calorie count per portion, with calorie contents increasing as you go through each chapter. The idea is that you can choose a breakfast and a supper, in whatever combination you wish, to arrive at your 500- or 600-calorie budget for the day. For good pairings, refer to the examples in the Meal Plans.
• Some recipes serve two or more—simply because the cooking method works better that way (it’s difficult to make a sauce work for one)—but the calorie count is always for a single portion.
• Feel free to bump up the leafy vegetables in most of the recipes; it won’t make much difference to overall calorie intake, but will add bulk and welcome nutrients.
• Each recipe clearly shows its Nutritional Bonus (look for NB), together with the GI or GL score where useful.
Finding Flavor Without Fat
We all know that adding a generous slab of butter to almost anything will make it taste fantastic. Our job here is to fill the flavor vacuum with something other than saturated fat. In this race, the humble lemon is in pole position: Lemon juice is a remarkable flavor enhancer, capable of lending goodness to countless slow-cooked savory dishes. Roasted garlic is similarly delicious. You’ll discover that plenty of the recipes in this book depend on the “fantastic five”—lime juice, soy sauce, fresh ginger, garlic, and Asian fish sauce—which deliver mighty bursts of flavor with the merest suggestion of calories. Herbs and spices also feature heavily in fast day cooking. Cumin seeds, cardamom pods, sweet Spanish paprika, dense green basil, delicate tendrils of dill . . . they are not garnishes here, but central to the proceedings. Chiles, too, are worth their weight in gold. Do remember to wear gloves when you slice or chop them—your eyes will thank you later.
Here, then, are the basic ingredients for a fast day cupboard.
For an alternative to pasta or wheat noodles, try shirataki noodles. Made from a water-soluble, plant-based fiber called glucomannan, they have no fat, sugar, gluten, or starch. No flavor either, so call upon the fantastic five. If you need a bread substitute, have a thin rye crispbread. But as a rule, avoid white carbs on a fast day.
Though carbs are necessarily limited on a fast day, those you do eat should be whole grains, not refined ones—they have more fiber, B vitamins, and other nutrients, and take longer to digest. Quinoa is a great source of protein, as is bulgur, while the best fast day rice is brown basmati. Old-fashioned oatmeal outranks the rest: less processed, more bulky.
Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, split peas, and a whole world of beans are excellent sources of plant protein and fiber, and rank low on the GI scale. Toss cans of pintos, borlotti, or butter beans (experiment—you can’t really go wrong) into your shopping cart—you’ll find plenty of recipes here to turn a can into a dinner.
You won’t get far around here without a can of diced tomatoes, so always have one or two on hand (plus a tube of tomato paste to add bass-note depth to all manner of savory dishes). I particularly like fire-roasted tomatoes, which are especially tasty. A couple of cans of tuna (in spring water to minimize calories) and a jar or can of anchovy fillets? Vital.
Choose “smart fats” over saturated fats, which means butter must take a backseat. Instead, use
Olive oil A monounsaturated oil that is more resistant to the damaging effects of heat than polyunsaturated oils such as corn oil. A recent study from the University of Munich found that olive oil keeps you feeling fuller longer.1 You need expensive extra virgin olive oil only for salad dressings and drizzling; use standard olive oil for cooking.
Unrefined flaxseed oil Flaxseeds are rich in alpha linolenic acid (an omega-3 fat) and are a condensed source of antiviral, antioxidant lignans. Use cold-pressed flaxseed oil for salad dressings (don’t cook with it or you’ll annihilate the goodness).
Coconut oil Slower to oxidize and less damaged by heat than other cooking oils; a good source of heart-healthy fatty acids, and it shouldn’t your raise cholesterol.
Canola oil Only 7 percent saturated fat (butter is 51 percent), and unlike olive oil, it doesn’t degrade at high heat, so this is one for the wok.
Steer clear of heavy dairy on a fast day. Some recipes in this book call for crème fraîche or unflavored low-fat yogurt. It’s worth noting that certain cheeses are lower in calories than others: Feta, for example, is made from sheep’s milk and is a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin B12. Low-fat mozzarella is a handy staple in the fridge.
SEEDS AND NUTS
Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are nutritious additions to morning muesli and salad suppers, bringing good plant fats to your diet.
Nuts are satiating, full of fiber, and handy to have around when hunger calls. Though they are generally calorific, it’s worth keeping packets of pine nuts, almonds, pistachios, and walnuts (rich in omega-9s) to add to salads and oatmeal.
Your own tastes will dictate exactly what you keep on this shelf (in the cupboard and in the fridge).
Bouillon cubes and powders, including Vegeta
As many spices as you can usefully own without anyone complaining
Red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika
Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces
Garlic, lots of it, preferably fresh, but also pureed or chopped (in a jar) to keep in the fridge
Fresh ginger to slice into pretty much anything, from stir-fries to tea
Mustard of any and all varieties; they do different jobs: spiky yellow English; ochre, rounded Dijon; grainy Dijon for mellow bite and texture
Onions, shallots, green onions or scallions—the last gives you onion flavor with minimum fuss
Asian fish sauce, soy sauce (choose a low-sodium version), and mirin
White wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, cider vinegar, and rice vinegar: like mustard, vinegars have subtly different roles to play
Canned diced green chiles, for days when you can’t be bothered to chop
Avoid refined sugar on a fast day. Honey, though natural, will spike your blood sugar. Rather than using lab-developed sugar substitutes, try adding a sprinkling of coconut to breakfast porridge, or use a touch of raw agave nectar: known in Mexico as aguamiel, or “honey water,” agave is a low-GI sweetener produced from a cactus-like plant.
Salt and Pepper
I would always use glittering coarse sea salt or flaky salt, and peppercorns to grind fresh in a grinder, all of which have a glorious fragrance and texture.
Ten Things Slim People Keep in the Fridge
2. Free-range eggs
3. Reduced-fat hummus
4. Nonstarchy vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, radishes, cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumber, mushrooms, lettuce, sugar snaps, snow peas, and a bag of young spinach)
5. Feta, cottage cheese, and low-fat mozzarella
6. Sprouts (alfalfa, mung, soy, and all their friends)
7. Pickled guindillas, jalapeños, and cornichons (or small dill pickles)
8. Fresh strawberries
9. Fresh chiles
10. Unflavored low-fat yogurt
And in the Freezer . . .
1. Ginger; easier to grate from the frozen root
2. Sofritto, aka mirepoix (finely diced onion, carrot, and celery in a 2:1:1 ratio), to save time and energy when cooking any number of recipes
3. Homemade vegetable, chicken, and fish stock, frozen in ice cube trays and transferred to heavy-duty plastic bags, and in 1- and 2-cup plastic containers
4. Fresh herbs, frozen with a little water in ice cube trays
5. Soups: double the recipe and freeze for another day. Thick soups freeze best; you may want to loosen with more stock once thawed.
6. Frozen peas, edamame, and fava beans. Toss them into soups, stews, and (after blanching) salads
7. Frozen blueberries, for a cool little snack (strawberries do not freeze well without added sugar)
The Fast Day Kitchen, Equipped
The recipes here require little expertise and even less equipment. You may, however, find it handy to have the following stashed somewhere in the kitchen.
• Stick blender or canister blender for pureeing
• Food processor
• Multilevel steamer (bamboo or stainless steel), a saucepan with a steamer insert, or a steamer basket
• A mandoline or julienne peeler for shredding vegetables
• Mortar and pestle or mini food processor for grinding spices
• A cast-iron grill pan, to allow fat to run off meat
• Nonstick cookware, including a nonstick wok and nonstick foil (such as Release) to reduce the need for oil
• Silicone brush for oiling
• Parchment paper for lining pans and for steaming foods “en papillote”
• A zester and/or a grater, such as a Microplane
• A kitchen scale; many of the recipes here call for you to weigh ingredients. Don’t worry; it’s easy and you’ll soon get the hang of it.
How to Cook Fast: Tips, Swaps, and Shortcuts
OILS AND FATS
• Whichever cooking oil you choose (for your best options), a spray will reduce your use. Some brands of olive oil spray, for example, have less than 1 calorie per spray.
• Alternatively, use a silicone brush to apply oil to the pan and dab away excess with a paper towel.
• To stop ingredients from sticking, add a little water to the pan rather than a slug of oil.
• Boiling or poaching means you are not adding any fast day calories.
• A perfectly poached egg has a lovely rounded shape, a soft yet firm white, and a deliciously runny yolk. A good trick to achieve poached perfection is to place the whole (very fresh) egg, in its shell, in boiling water for 15 seconds prior to breaking and poaching as normal.
• Time is, of course, of the essence when it comes to poaching eggs—though you can poach them up to a day in advance. Simply slip the cooked eggs into a bowl of cold water, cover, and refrigerate. To reheat, drain, cover with boiling water, and leave for 2 to 3 minutes, draining well on paper towels.
• Cooking poultry with its skin on will maximize flavor and prevent drying out, but don’t eat the skin. Much of the fat lies there.
• Roast on a rack over a baking pan to allow excess fat to drip away.
• Similarly, a cast-iron grill pan channels fat into the grooves and away from your plate—as a bonus, you also get a tasty grill-mark effect.
• Whenever possible, cook meat and fish on a barbecue—it’s your fat-free summer standby.
• Replace ground beef with mushrooms, textured vegetable protein (TVP), or Quorn to lessen your calorie cost.
• If you do eat beef or lamb, choose grass-fed or pasture-raised meat. It has less fat and more omega-3s than grain-fed meat (and grass or pasture feeding also implies that the animal was humanely raised).
• Extend your meat choices to include lean game. Venison, for example, has a fraction of the fat found in beef.
• Scrub vegetables rather than peel them, as many nutrients are found close to the skin. Eating the skins will add fiber to your diet.
• Steam vegetables instead of boiling them, or use the microwave; that way their nutrients are more likely to remain intact.
• If you do boil vegetables, use as little water as possible and do not overcook them. Overcooking degrades their flavor and nutritional benefit.
• When browning and caramelizing vegetables, put them in a hot dry pan, then spray with oil, rather than putting the oil in the pan first. This will reduce the amount of oil absorbed during cooking.
• To skin tomatoes, cut an X in the bottom, dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds, cool briefly in ice water, and peel with a sharp knife or a thumbnail.
• To peel garlic, bash the clove with the heel of your hand or immerse first in warm water for 30 seconds.
• To skin roasted peppers, place the blackened peppers in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes, then peel.
• Don’t salt lentils during cooking; it will toughen them. Season when ready to serve.
• As a rule, use fresh herbs rather than dried, as they tend to have more flavor and nutrients. Grow them on a windowsill, or keep cut herbs in jars of water in the fridge like bouquets. Alternatively, wrap fresh herbs in just-damp paper towels and keep them in the crisper.
• A good stock is the foundation of countless savory dishes. You can buy ready-made stock in boxes and cans, but making your own is good for the belly and, it has to be said, good for the soul.
• Have stock handy in the freezer; simply heat it up and add frozen vegetables or herbs, warm through, and you’ve got yourself a bowl of fast day flavor.
• Roasting bones before adding them to the stockpot will boost color and flavor; a roasted chicken carcass is ideal.
• Don’t chuck lone bones: freeze them and make a stock when you have a decent pile.
• Add a bouquet of herbs for more flavor; make your own by tying a bunch of garden herbs with string, making them easy to fish out when they’ve done their work.
• Adding a teaspoon of vinegar to a stock will aid the extraction of minerals without unduly influencing the flavor.
• Simmer slowly—a good stock should not be rushed—and top up with water to ensure the pot doesn’t boil dry.
• Skim off any fat and froth that rise to the top of the pot. Place paper towels on the surface to absorb fat, or chill first to make skimming easier. If keeping stock for later use, retain the layer of fat on top to protect it in the fridge. Simply skim when you’re ready to use.
• Thicken soup with legumes instead of potatoes. A handful of lentils will do the trick.
• Gravitate toward clear vegetable broths. Miso soup and pho are lower in calories than dense chowders, bisques, and cream soups.
• Vegetable stock generally has a lower fat content than chicken stock.
• If it suits the recipe, leave vegetables whole or in large chunks, rather than pureeing them.
• Make soup in generous batches and freeze; smooth, thick soups perform best. And remember that soups, like stews, often taste better the next day.
• Add miso or bouillon cubes or powder to intensify taste.
• When making a soup base, don’t sweat vegetables in butter; use water or a spray of oil.
• If you’re not adding fat, you do need to add flavor. Red pepper flakes, cumin, star anise, cloves, a squeeze of lemon, handfuls of herbs—these will all make your soup bowl sing.
• A pinch of sugar will bring out the flavor in tomato-based soups.
• Use a piece of Parmesan rind to impart a dense, savory richness to your soup stock at negligible calorie cost.
And Finally: The Really Lazy Fast Day Diet
If all this cooking sounds like too much of a commitment on a day when you really don’t want to think about food, there are options so simple that you barely need to be conscious to get them into your mouth. These include
• Raw vegetables—baby carrots in a bag will do—plus a mini container of hummus
• Low-GI fruit such as strawberries, cherries, apples, and pears (eat the core)
• Unsweetened muesli with skimmed milk
• Weight Watchers Baked Beans
• A cup of bouillon or clear broth
• A hard-boiled egg
• A grab of salad leaves from a bag; thawed shrimp from the freezer; a good squeeze of lemon; salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes
• A pile of lightly steamed vegetables—anything you may find in the fridge—with lots of black pepper and a good grating of Parmesan or pecorino
• A few slices of fat-free ham with a ripe, sliced beefsteak tomato
• Soup from a shop, preferably a light vegetable soup, not a thick cream soup or pasta soup
• Microwavable low-calorie meals. They’re an expensive way to get a fast day fix, but the labels are clear and the nutrition should be balanced.
• Other store-bought quickies: if you are nipping out of the office on a fast day, there are good options available, as long as you choose wisely and check the calorie counts.
But, of course, it’s so much better to make your own fast day food . . .