low-fodmap meatballs

low-fodmap meatballs are comforting, delicious and safe for friends with IBS
Low-fodmap meatballs are comforting, delicious and safe for friends with IBS

One of my dearest friends is following the low-FODMAP diet to combat IBS, and it can be a little challenging to stick with the ‘no wheat, onion and garlic’ rule when you’re eating out. It’s not impossible, but I’ve seen the struggle – poring over menus, referencing the extensive list of prohibited foods and interrogating waiters as to the contents of a dish while your dining companions wait to order. A menu becomes a minefield and what should be a lovely, free and happy choice based purely on what you feel like eating becomes stressful, difficult and a little isolating.

Serve with rice or rice pasta for a FODMAP-friendly meal
Serve with rice or rice pasta for a FODMAP-friendly meal

So sometimes we eat in, and whenever I have her around I like to make something she can eat safely and share with everyone else. It’s maybe a little complicated, but with a bit of creativity and an understanding of good substitutions, everyone can tuck into the same dish.

The simple act of sharing – good food, a cheeky glass of wine and lots of laughter with friends – is a powerfully healing experience. I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend!

Low-FODMAP meatballs (makes 60)
For the meatballs:
500g beef mince
500g pork mince
2 bunches spring onions (green part only), finely diced
5 sprigs of parsley, finely diced
1 tbsp mixed herbs
1 tbsp garlic oil
4 tbsp parmesan
4 eggs
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp pepper
2 tsp baking soda
3-4 tbsp cornstarch

For the tomato sauce:
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
2 x 500g passata
1 bunch spring onions (green part only), finely diced
3 bay leaves
3 mozzarella balls, to bake

Put it in the oven to bake and go and join your friends for a chat.
Put it in the oven to bake and go and join your friends for a chat.

Mix all the ingredients except the cornstarch together with a fork.

The cornstarch is there to regulate the wetness of the mix, so start with 2 tablespoons, mix thoroughly and see how wet it is. You want it to be moist, but easy to handle.

Roll into small balls.

From here, there are a few ways to go about cooking the dish. The easiest is to place them directly into the sauce, top with mozzarella and bake the whole thing for 90 minutes in a 200 degree oven.

Alternatively, you can bake your meatballs separately for 30 minutes so they brown nicely, then place them into the sauce and bake for 30 minutes. This is also a good method if you like to drain the fat from your mince.

Finally, if you don’t have an oven, you can simmer them in the sauce. Don’t stir them at the start as they’ll break up – wait until the egg has cooked and will hold them together. Total cooking time is about 30 minutes, starting with a fast simmer for the first 15 minutes and coming back down to a low simmer.

Serve with brown rice or mashed potatoes.

FODMAP notes: I’ve included parmesan in the recipe, because even though lactose is a no-go, parmesan has very little lactose. I’m not quite sure what it is about the ageing process, but hard cheeses have far less lactose than soft cheeses and milk.

Having just said that, mozzarella is also on the safe list for FODMAP. Nevertheless, some people are super-sensitive to lactose, so leave it out if you have to.


turkey meatballs

Turkey meatballs - made for gobbling!
Turkey meatballs – made for gobbling!

I feel a bit ridiculous saying this when the memory of the chocolate hazelnut crepe I had for dessert last night is still fresh, but I’d like to be healthy. Wouldn’t we all?

Each day, we start out with the best of intentions and promise ourselves we’ll be good – and then, when confronted with the burger and fries we’ve wanted since time immemorial, our resistance crumbles like a honeycomb chocolate bar. Then the guilt sets in and the whole cycle begins again; the self-recrimination, the promise, the virtue of self-denial and sacrifice, and the inevitable ‘giving in’, generally a rather spectacular fall from grace involving a family-sized pizza and Sherlock DVDs.

Phew. How exhausting. I personally know of no quicker path to the ‘sharing’ bag of M&Ms.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if eating wasn’t a constant exercise in the ability to say no? Wouldn’t it fantastic if we weren’t continuously enslaved by the thought of indulgence, held captive by the mere scent of a splurge, paralysed by the fear of one food group or another? (Carbs. Hang on, fat. No, calories. Wait, sugar. Here, munch this piece of cardboard while I think about it.)

I think that like most things in life, eating well is about balance; generally making the right choices about what you eat, but also treating yourself occasionally and sensibly, without any of the insanity that goes along with being given rare and temporary freedom from the shackles of self-denial.

But thankfully, it isn’t all about salads versus burgers (or crepes, if you like). A lot of the time, you can make everyday meals healthier by having a look at what goes into them. Once you understand the ingredients, you can start tweaking recipes here and there to make them better for you.

With all that in mind, I’m having a look at turkey mince this week. It depends on the cuts used to make the mince and the fat content, but in general, pound for pound, turkey mince is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol than beef, pork, lamb and chicken. You can find turkey breast mince which is even leaner and is perfectly fine to use for this particular dish.

Because of its low fat content, turkey mince can tend towards being dry and tasteless, so it does take a little more love to get it to taste good. This recipe’s not for the weekday; leave it til the weekend when you’ve got the time to spend on cooking!

A healthy and satisfying pot of heart-friendly love.
A healthy and satisfying pot of heart-friendly love.

Turkey meatballs (makes 42)
For the meatballs
500g turkey breast mince
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato sauce
5 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tbsp mild chilli powder
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 chicken stock cube
1 egg
1 carrot, grated

For the sauce
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 x 400g cans peeled plum tomatoes
2 bay leaves
50g red lentils

Start by caramelising both onions. Basically, that means you put them into a non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat and stir occasionally as they go through the process from raw to soft to sticky, which should take around 30 minutes. You don’t want to fuss over them too much, and after about 10 minutes you can add a small splash of balsamic vinegar or sugar to help them along.

Once they’re caramelised, remove half and place into a large pot.

Back to the saucepan. Crumble in the stock cube with a little water, and add the garlic. Cook for a further 2 minutes and then remove from heat, allowing to cool completely.

Place the cool sticky onion mixture in a large bowl with the turkey mince, egg, spices, grated carrot and tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

Shape the meatballs with your hands. My mix made exactly 42 small meatballs, which I think are nicer than the big ones, but cook as you like.

While you’re getting ready to brown the turkey meatballs, get the sauce started. The large pot with the remaining caramelised onions can go back on the stove with the rest of the ingredients for the sauce. Cover and bring to a boil, adding a little water if the lentils soak up too much liquid.

Brown the turkey meatballs in batches and add to the pot. Simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Serve with wholemeal pasta, brown rice or greens.

no-bake cottage pie

When the temperature begins to drop and the first frost is felt in the air, warm, comforting food becomes almost irresistible; rich, meaty stews brimming with wine and herbs, a fat roast chicken with crispy potatoes, simmering pots of thick, spicy soup, lasagne served in steaming, heaped mountains of starchy goodness. Oh, my.

Who am I to resist the call of winter goodies, even if it is only September? Without an oven it can be difficult to embrace winter food in all of its glory, but it’s not impossible. You just need to be a little open-minded and relax some of those stringent aesthetic standards you have. Take courage. Have faith. Trust me, the finished product might look a little strange, but it’s going to taste just wonderful.

The no-bake cottage pie
500g extra lean beef mince
1 onion, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup vegetables (optional)
1 beef stock cube
A few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
Mashed potato, to serve

Brown the mince in a pan with the onion and garlic. If you’ve bought extra lean beef mince, you won’t need to worry about draining it, but if you’re concerned about fat content or if you’ve bought a mince with a fat percentage of 12% or higher, you can drain it and return it to the pan.

Add the thyme and bay leaves to the pan and crumble in the stock cube.

Cube the vegetables and add to the pan. Cover with a lid and allow to cook for ten minutes. Make sure you have a little taste before you turn off the heat. It should be full of meaty flavour, rounded off by herbs and vegetables.

This would ordinarily be the point at which you would scoop it into a baking dish, cover with mashed potato and drag a fork across the top to create beautiful designs. Instead, the no-bake cottage pie is assembled as follows: scoop it onto a plate, freeform, and top with piping hot mashed potato. If you’re worried about how it looks, try using small individual dishes and cover the meat with the potato. If you’re game, try topping it with cauliflower mash instead.

I know, I know, I know that it doesn’t really look like your traditional cottage pie. But at the end of a long day and a freezing trudge home in the rain, this is simply a plateful of warm, loving goodness that reassures you that everything will be all right.

It might not win any beauty contests, but to me this pie is just gorgeous.

A note about vegetables: One of the nicest things about cottage pie is that it’s very forgiving in terms of ingredients. Traditionally, it was made with leftover roasted meat and sometimes appeared with no vegetables at all. These days you often see it with cubed carrot and potato, which you can absolutely use if you prefer, but for me it generally depends on what I have left in the fridge at the end of a week. Be adventurous! Mince can take almost anything you throw at it!