The Slow-Carb Diet need not be boring.
Moreover, it doesn’t take much to jump from repetitive to inventive. In my case, even as a grass-fed beef aficionado, I grew weary of flank with nothing more than salt and pepper. Game meats made things more interesting, but the real gold was struck when I began experimenting with Montreal steak rub and, separately, a mixture I remembered as “CPR”: cumin, paprika, and rosemary.
Delicious, not to mention biochemically kick-ass for your heart and anti-inflammation.
The point being: for many people (in particular, cooking-inept bachelors like myself), Slow-Carb meals sometimes become an exercise in culinary déjà vu. This is often paired with common beginner frustrations:
- How do I drink coffee without milk?!? (Answer: cinnamon and/or vanilla extract)
- What can I put on my eggs? (Answer: read this post)
The solutions need not be complicated. In this post, Jules Clancy will focus on primarily spices and include: beginner tips, a starter recipe experiment, and a shopping list for the fundamentals.
Jules is a qualified food scientist who was introduced to me by the minimalist maestro himself, Leo Babauta…
As you’d expect from someone who blogs about food for a living, I dove straight into the Slow-Carb Diet chapter after picking up my copy of The 4-Hour Body. (Actually, it was right after checking out the chapter on 15-minute female orgasms. What’s a girl to do?)
The one thing that bothered me about the Slow-Carb Diet, though, was the assumption that it would be boring for most people. Simplicity does not have to equal boredom. The Slow-Carb Diet can, and should, be both fun and delicious.
If you are willing to learn the basics of seasoning, a world of variety and amazing food can be yours with minimal effort.
5 Tips for Overcoming Boredom on the Slow-Carb Diet
1. Lay the foundation with salt & pepper
One of the oldest but best tricks in the book. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get your basic seasoning right to maximize flavor. Forget what you’ve been told about the perils of a high sodium diet; the amount you’ll be adding will be minuscule compared to what’s put in by food manufacturers. For slow-cooked dishes, it’s a good idea to add some salt in early so it can spread through the whole dish over time. For other dishes, seasoning at the end is the best way to go.
2. Harness the power of acid
While the warm and wonderful Thai people mastered the balance between sweet, sour, salty, and heat ages ago, it’s actually something I learned to appreciate during my wayward years as a winemaker.
At winemaking school, we did many experiments where we would ‘doctor’ a wine with different types and amounts of acid. We’d then taste the different samples to see which ones were best. It was incredibly enlightening to see the difference that sourness played in the wine. At the optimal acid level, the wine would be more bright and alive on the taste buds. It would sing.
I’ve since learned to apply this to my cooking. When something doesn’t taste as fresh as I’d like and I’ve already given it a bit of salt, my next step is to add a little vinegar or a squeeze of lemon. Test this on some steamed veg or wilted spinach, and you’ll see how dramatic the difference can be.
3. Unleash umami (a flavor explosion) with humble soy sauce
The Japanese were the first to recognize the fifth taste, umami (also called “savoriness”). Foods that are high in umami components are delicious tasting things like beef, tomatoes, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese.
It is said that soy sauce was invented by Buddhist monks to make vegetarian food taste more like meat. Soy is all about the umami, and a little bit can turn almost any food (not just Asian dishes) into a flavor explosion.
4. Add depth with chili
It’s hard to beat the wonderful warming feeling you get from a bit of chili. While I like it hot, it’s more about feeling the warmth and still being able to taste what you’re eating, rather than having your mouth burst into flame. For one suggested brand, check out Dave’s 6-chili pepper flakes shaker for a variety of heat levels.
5. Spice & herbs – the accessories of the kitchen
Using herbs and spices is where you can really start to have fun breathing variety into an old faithful dish. A little curry powder can have your taste buds on a passage to India, whereas the same dish treated to some chili, lime, and fresh cilantro will transport you to Acapulco. See the suggested variations on the recipe below for more ideas on how herbs and spices can work for you.
Suggested Starter Experiments to Try
Beef & broccoli stir-fry with beans
[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
Feel free to play around with the seasoning on this one. I like to use dried chili flakes because they look nice, but by all means use whole dried chilies or chili powder.
If you’d prefer to use fresh broccoli, substitute in 1 or 2 heads chopped into florettes. I used white cannellini beans but black beans, pinto, etc. are all equally delicious.
1lb (450g) ground beef, preferably grass-fed
1lb (450g) bag frozen broccoli
1-2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 can beans (14oz / 400g), well drained
- Preheat a large frying pan or wok over high heat. Add a few tablespoons of macadamia or peanut oil, then add the beef.
- Fry the beef for a few minutes, stirring constantly to break up the chunks and to get the beef browned evenly all over.
- When the beef is no longer pink, add in the broccoli. Cover with a lid, baking sheet, or foil, and cook for 2 – 3 minutes, still on high heat.
- Stir and test broccoli. It should be bright green and no longer frozen in the middle. If it’s still cold, continue cooking with the lid on for another minute or so.
- Add chili and soy sauce. Stir and taste. If you think it needs a flavor boost, add more soy or some salt. Likewise with the heat level and the chili.
- Add drained beans. Stir until beans are warm.
Here is a video version of the above recipe to guide you through the steps:
Alternate Serving Suggestions:
Once you’ve mastered the basic version above, you can really mix things up by modifying the way you prepare the meal. It’s amazing how different this dish can taste with a few simple tweaks.
Option #1: Beef & broccoli on a bed of mashed beans
Instead of adding the beans at step 6, crush the drained beans with a fork and stir in a little olive oil. Serve beef and broccoli on top of the mash. The heat from the stir-fry will warm up the beans.
Option #2: Beef & beans with steamed broccoli on the side
This is a good option for people who are a bit shy when it comes to eating greens. Just nuke the broccoli for 4-5 minutes on high, or boil for 3 minutes and drain. Cook the beef and beans as per the recipe above, skipping steps 4 and 5.
Option #3: Beef on a bed of mashed beans with steamed broccoli on the side
Crush the drained beans with a fork and stir in a little olive oil. Microwave the broccoli separately for 4-5 minutes on high or boil for 3 minutes. Cook beef as directions state above, skipping steps 4 & 5. Serve beef on a bed of mash with broccoli on the side.
Bonus: Essentials for the Perfect Pantry
If you’re just getting started with building out your pantry, the below list will give you a solid foundation of seasonings you can use for any occasion.
Salt. I prefer salt flakes (such as Maldon) that have a nice large flake structure, making them perfect for crushing over meals at the last minute. Iodized salt is great for people who don’t get any seafood in their diet and can help combat hypothyroidism. Plain kosher salt is also an excellent, tasty option.
Pepper. If you don’t own a pepper grinder, a disposable bottle of peppercorns from the supermarket will suffice. However, there truly is no substitute for the fragrance of freshly ground pepper. I prefer black peppercorns because I find that white pepper has a nasty odor.
Sauces. I highly recommend starting out with a bottle of soy sauce. Don’t only have it with Asian-inspired dishes; use it instead of salt whenever you crave a more intense, savory flavor. If you like spicy foods, a bottle of Cholula or Sriracha will be indispensable. Oyster sauce is great for lovers of Thai food.
Spices. Take it slow. Start with dried chili flakes, chili powder, or whole chilies, then add 1-2 of the following to your pantry at a time:
- Ground cumin. Combine a tablespoon of this with an equal amount of olive oil, then use it to marinate your steak before cooking. A pinch of cumin will also add a new dimension of flavor to a tub of hummus.
- Ground coriander. Sprinkle some over cooked fish or pork. It’s also brilliant when added to your spinach before microwaving.
- Curry powder. Add a few teaspoons to your lentils before heating them for lunch. I love to add a little to my scrambled eggs.
- Smoked paprika. Use as a dry rub on chicken before grilling. It’s also wonderful with tomato-based dishes.
Acids. Vinegar is easiest because it lasts for ages. Go for either balsamic, red wine, or sherry vinegar. Try combining 1 part vinegar with 2 parts olive oil for an instant sugar-free salad dressing. Also, a tablespoon of vinegar stirred through warm canned lentils really brings them to life.
It’s hard to beat the freshening flavor properties of citrus juice and, as Tim’s experiments showed, lemon juice helps to lower glycemic response. I always keep a few lemons in the fridge for drizzling over cooked spinach. Limes can be lovely as well for creating a more Mexican feel.
Herbs. Dried herbs tend to just make everything taste like stale weed. Stay away from herbs until you’re ready to either handle them fresh or start growing your own in a window box. When you are ready to give them a shot, start with basil (great with anything tomato-based) or cilantro (coriander) for its wonderful freshness.
Anything else? I always have some canned tomatoes or tomato paste in my pantry, along with a jar of roasted red peppers. While not strictly seasonings, they are great for adding variety and a bit of instant veg. A jar of pesto can be a great flavor hit, as well.
Jules Clancy is a qualified food scientist. She blogs about her commitment to cooking recipes with only five ingredients at Stonesoup.com. She also runs an online cooking class, Reclaim Your Waistline, featuring recipes that take 10 minutes or less to cook.
Question of the Day (QOD): Do you have an awesome, non-boring Slow-Carb recipe you want others to try? Submit it here to potentially have it featured in the next version of the Slow-Carb Diet Cookbook!
Posted on: February 16, 2011.