Carbo embargo

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There’s nothing like a host of perky daffodils to alert oneself to the fact that it will soon be time to peel off those winter layers and expose bits of one’s less than perky body to the world. It’s no coincidence then that it’s at precisely this time of year that I find myself dabbling in a spot of dietary faddism.

I know, I know. Diets don’t work and the more faddy the diet, the higher the failure rate. Eliminate stuff that you love from your diet and you will crave it with magnified intensity. Ergo the Teen who declared he was going custard cream-free for Lent is faring rather less well than his brother who is avoiding brussel sprouts. No shit.

Still, despite my better judgement I decided about a month ago, upon catching sight of my mottled purple (yes, purple) flesh in the mirror, to forego all carbs – refined or otherwise. I’m not talking old-school low carbing popular in the early Noughties: fry-up for breakfast; steak and cheese for lunch; a cup or two of double cream for tea; a cardiac arrest for supper. No mine’s more like the Mediterranean diet, just without the croissants… or baguettes… or pasta… or fruit. *sighs*

The science bit goes that the body, starved of access to its most readily available fuel – carbohydrate – will turn to stores of body fat to burn for energy. Or something like that. Not sure I really care as long as it works.

Trouble is, it isn’t, or at least not very quickly. So far I’ve shifted a measly few pounds, which I probably would’ve lost anyway due to the fact that Spring has sprung and there are no more Christmas chocolates to be had. But while such slow progress would normally have me diving off the wagon face first into a bowl of fettuccine, I’ve decided to stick with this way of eating for the time being, simply because I feel better for it: no surging sugar highs or post-lunch slumps, fewer mood swings and crucially, no hunger pangs. There’s no faffing with separate meals – I just leave the carbs off my plate and replace with more salad or veg. And I’m not really missing them (although oddly it’s beans and pulses I miss the most) – if anything meals taste better without being diluted by carb’s inherent blandness.

I still don’t think extreme elimination diets are sustainable or even healthy in the long term (unless there is a medical reason to follow one) so I intend to knock myself out with the odd chickpea once I have reached my target weight, but in the meantime it’s meat, fish, cheese, nuts, veg and eggs. A great many eggs.

Shakshuka

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Shakshuka is the Middle Eastern equivalent of Mexican huevos rancheros, eggs poached in a spicy tomato pepper stew. It’s great any time of the day and goes particularly well with merguez sausages, chorizo or fried halloumi. This is the way I do it.

Serves 4 (approx 14g carbs per portion, in case you were wondering)

  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 banana shallots or 1 red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and finely sliced
  • 1 medium aubergine, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (sweet or hot)
  • 1 tsp harissa
  • 1 tbsp Turkish red pepper paste or tomato puree
  • 2 400g tins plum tomatoes
  • 4-8 eggs depending on appetite
  • 50g feta cheese
  • handful of chopped parsley or coriander
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof frying pan over a medium flame and fry the caraway and cumin seeds for 1 minute, then add the shallots, pepper and aubergine and fry gently for 15 minutes until all the vegetables are softened.
  2. Add the garlic and fry for another minute, then the spices and fry for a further minute.
  3. Add the harissa and paste and stir to coat all the veg. Cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes. Crush the tomatoes with a potato masher or fork, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the sauce is thick and rich. Taste and season. (You can make the stew in advance to this stage – it will keep for a week in the fridge. Simply heat through when you need it and continue to next step).
  4. Preheat the oven to 200°C (fan). Make indentations in the sauce and crack an egg into each one. Sprinkle over the feta cheese and bake in the oven until the whites of the eggs are set, leaving the yolks runny. This always takes longer than you think – at least 15 minutes. (You can also continue to cook on the hob if you prefer. Cover the pan once you have added the eggs (the feta will not melt if you use this method)).
  5. Remove pan from oven, scatter over the herbs and serve with crusty bread or pittas, that is presuming you are not on some silly fad diet.
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Can be made in individual portions (I did not eat this bread)
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