What We Eat - With Recipes!

When we first started the Specific Carbohydrate/Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet in 2010, I had a bookcase full of vegetarian recipes, a burgeoning career as a vegetarian chef…and not a clue how to cook (let alone eat) a chicken. The only thing I knew how to ferment was sourdough bread. And for many more reasons than the sheer cooking workload, I was completely overwhelmed.

Three years later, I have amassed a small collection of dietarily compatible recipes, while the old ones sit nostalgically and uselessly on top shelves. (I have barely any experience making this kind of food for crowds, so my career as a chef is on hold for now. But I tell myself that this is okay. I'm slowly gathering information, and a large priority is to improve my family's health. Later on maybe I'll figure out how to scale up hamburgers for 150 people.)

What follows is a non-comprehensive overview of our family's GAPS-style diet, which is very low in sugar and starch and nuts and beans, and very much emphasizes fermented foods. I do believe that eventually, no matter what protocol you follow, you will eventually have to tweak things to make the diet your own. We have definitely done this. You also need to give yourself lots of compassion along the way, as you attempt to cultivate a sense of intuition that may have been completely squashed due to ill-health, malnutrition, cravings, crises, or any number of other factors.

My intuition is only just beginning to emerge; for most of 2010, I had no idea how to even decide which recipes to test! Since then, I have shed many tears while dissecting chunks of dead animal flesh, composting tremendously labor-intensive and solidly-moldy ferments (not to mention meals that should have been delicious but weren't), and spilling/breaking slippery jars and precious containers of Food that I had so hoped to save for later. These are the recipes, techniques, and systems that I wish I'd known three years ago.

And also, this post is a bit of a selfish attempt to inspire myself. I want to remember that I make menus and go grocery shopping and spend hours and hours in the kitchen every day in order to nourish our family; and that solo, sorta-feels-like-drugery-type work is super important, even though our economic system, the business world, and greater American Culture barely acknowledges that it is even necessary at all. Someone's got to cook--and while ideally it would not be a bunch of isolated mamas (or papas) in slightly lonely kitchens, it doesn't seem like a good option to let Large Corporations take over the cooking for us. The Foods of Commerce are one reason we got into this mess in the first place!

And so, Here's What We Eat...


FERMENTED FOODS

We eat a lot of fermented vegetables, about a gallon per week or more (1/4-1/2 cup per person, per meal). Several things helped me streamline our kraut production recently, most particularly a fantastic blog post. Lea tested 18 different fermentation techniques (gold standard: no mold, lots of lactobacillus activity, and not super expensive). After reading her awesome home science notes, I ordered a bunch of 3- and 5-liter Fido jars (cheapest source I found). These jars allow for super easy, fail-proof (no mold even if the veggies aren't covered with brine), and delicious vegetables. I keep a constant rotation going, so that our krauts are at least a month old by the time we eat them. Once fermentation is completed, I transfer the kraut to 1- or 2-quart mason jars to store in the fridge.

Aside from plain fermented cabbage, I have been making a bunch of different combinations lately (I use a pricy but very effective culture starter when the ferment doesn't contain cabbage or radishes).

Some nice combinations:

  • Daikon radish and Golden Turnips, unpeeled and cut into large, flat chunks, covered with brine.
  • Carrot sticks with dill and garlic, with brine.
  • Watermelon and green meat radishes, napa cabbage, carrots, golden beets, scallions, garlic, and ginger (vegetables cut bite-size, aromatics minced), with brine.
  • Napa cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, scallions, garlic, ginger, and chiles (kimchi!), with brine.
  • Beets (sliced thin), ginger and garlic (small amount, minced, or larger amount if large, thin slices) (definitely need a starter with this one, because of the sugar in the beets) with brine.
  • Beet kvass.
  • Cabbage with wakeme seaweed.
  • Cucumber pickles are my absolute favorite.
  • Lacto-fermented roasted tomato salsa.
  • Dilly Beans.
  • Millie's Cultured Autumn Salad, which includes apple.
  • Dilled Cauliflower Pickles (cauliflower is also great with just fresh dill, garlic, and brine).
  • I often add extra whole garlic cloves to my ferments; once these are done, they keep for a long time in the fridge (in brine) and can be added to all sorts of soups and stews (and minced or pressed into salad dressings).
  • Spiced Apples, an interesting fruit/sweet ferment.

Fermented Dairy

The only meals at which we don't eat fermented vegetables are those where we drink a cup or more of dairy ferments.

  • Kefir is incredible. It has not only probiotic bacteria but also probiotic yeasts, and it can take awhile to work up to being able to drink it by the cup. (We started with 1/4 tsp. daily doses!)
  • Yogurt is delicious as well. The best starter I've found so far is our neighbor's homemade yogurt, but pretty much any live cultured yogurt will do, and you can obtain all sorts of specialty starters (google and ye shall find).

Other ferments:

  • Apple Cider Vinegar is the simplest ferment of all, and since I use it all the time, it's economical and dead easy to make our own.

  • Coconut Water Kefir. This stuff is delicious; if you make it with store-bought, aseptically packaged coconut water it will not be as good, but is definitely still edible. You can use a starter from Body Ecology, but I prefer to use water kefir grains to culture watery beverages like this.

  • Natto. This is a stinky, traditional Japanese soy ferment that is supposed to do great things for gut dysbiosis, once a person can tolerate it (not GAPS/SCD legal, at least in the earliest stages, and depending upon which beans you use). I tend to use beans other than soy for our natto.

  • Raw Butter. I think that raw cream from cows that eat grass is some of the most magical food there is. Butter made from it is really amazing; sometimes we eat it with a spoon.

  • Pickled hardboiled eggs: just plop some peeled hard-cooked eggs into leftover pickle brine, making sure that the eggs are totally submerged (a cabbage leaf works nicely), and allow to ferment in the fridge for 1-4 weeks. These get slightly firm, nicely seasoned, and are deliciously convenient. They're gorgeous if you use leftover brine from pickled beets.


BREAKFAST

My dear friend jokes that when she writes her best-selling book someday, about healing her family with food, she's going to call it "Cauliflower for Breakfast." She's referring to the ways (when one isn't eating grains or most other "breakfast foods") one tends to eat the same sorts of food for breakfast as for lunch and dinner. Our family generally consumes many hamburgers in the morning (1/2 lb. burger per person, plus pickles or kraut, avocado, etc.), or big bowls of meaty stew. I find that for the boys especially, a lot of meat is pretty important if they're going to be filled and happy until lunch.

On Sundays lately (stew is our go-to breakfast most weekdays), I'll double a recipe (such as this one for fantastic beef stew) and make a boatload of stew. A sixteen-quart stockpot with a heavy bottom is very useful for this. Once it's cooled, I pack it into four or five half-gallon jars (funnels like this one are fantastic), so each morning we can dump a jar into a pot, heat, and eat with a vegetable ferment.

The same sort of stew can be adapted to use burger meat (6-8 lbs. for four or five weekdays' worth of stew), or chicken parts, or occasionally lamb. It takes about a solid hour of prep work to get a large pot of stew going, not including time spent making the broth, etc., and then there's the time you need to finish cooking and seasoning it, followed by packing it into jars, washing everything up, cooling, and storing. I think it's still a time-saver…at least, stew breakfasts save time in the mornings, when time often counts the most.


SNACKS

We don't do snacks. Back in my vegetarian days, when I had to eat every two hours in order to avoid a hypoglycemic meltdown, I couldn't conceive of such a thing! But now, both for my sanity as a cook and because I think it's good to give the digestive system regular break (once a person's blood sugar is under control and s/he has found a personally balanced way of eating), we don't eat in between meals. This is an extremely liberating practice, and since most everything else about GAPS is NOT liberating at all, I count my blessings where I can! I am so happy that our children are satiated and not generally hungry between meals (and if they are, I know they didn't eat enough at the last meal).


LUNCH

For two years, we had several-course meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, never the same meal twice in a row. I believe this was an important tool for helping our child recover from a serious eating disorder.

Mercifully, we no longer have three course lunches. We usually have a cup or two of dairy kefir, maybe with some berries in the summertime, or sometimes yogurt instead (or in addition). When fruit isn't happening (due to seasonality or trying to keep sugars low), we'll have pickled eggs, or leftover burger, or other leftover meat, or vegetables. I am still unclear whether it matters or not, but I try not to serve meat with raw fruit (and since lunch is the only meal where we sometimes eat raw fruit, it is the only meal that sometimes doesn't contain meat).

A tasty, dairy-free lunch is a huge salad (with some vegetable ferments incorporated in), topped with four eggs fried in coconut oil. The rest of my family doesn't do too well with salads, but I love them. I chop, wash, and spin-dry a head of lettuce when I get it home from the grocery store, and then I have prepared salad greens ready whenever I want them.


MAIN DISH RECIPES/DINNER

We eat a lot of soups and stews; these are a painless way to consume bone broths as well as vegetables-all-in-one-pot. These are some of our favorite recipes for dinner, in no particular order, some of which can be made ahead or in a crockpot (these are marked with an asterisk); it probably goes without saying, but we take great pains to source our meat locally, from small family farms where animals are pastured and treated well:


TO COMPLETE A MEAL

Sometimes, when dinner is going to star some simply-cooked roast or fish, there's more time to spend on whatever goes with it. When I'm not making a stew that has lots of vegetables in it already, I might make some of these "side" dishes, which are more complicated than steamed broccoli but not a whole lot more.

  • Squash and Seaweed: we love this! It's way more than the sum of its parts. Saute a large onion in coconut oil until it begins to brown; add a bunch of soaked and chopped wakame seaweed, along with some diced butternut squash, salt, and pepper. Cook over low heat, adding small amounts of broth as necessary, for as long as it takes to soften the seaweed and squash into a delightfully tasty hash.
  • Butternut Squash Fries: cut a butternut squash into French-fry shapes, set them on a rimmed baking sheet, and dot them with a couple tbsp. of coconut oil (no need to spread it around). Sprinkle generously with salt, and bake for about 20-30 minutes at 450f.
  • Sunny Side Up Eggs, fried till crispy in coconut oil, are really delicious (and it's supposed to be good to have less-cooked yolks, to preserve the choline content, etc.).
  • Crispy Green Beans: cook whole, stemmed beans in a couple tbsp. of beef tallow, in a heavy cast iron pan with a lid. Cook for ten minutes (covered) over medium heat, then turn and stir the beans, cover again, and cook for another ten minutes. These are so delicious! Salt to taste.
  • Salad: this is not digested well by most in my family, except for me. And I love salad, with oil and vinegar and salt and pepper (and maybe some garlic or shallot macerated in the vinegar/salt). Salad is so delicious!
  • Steamed Brussels Sprouts with a LOT of Raw Butter and salt and pepper are just super fantastically good.
  • The nicest way to cook beets, I think
  • Spring Vegetable Soup
  • Broccoli Cheddar Soup
  • Indian-spiced Turnips
  • Creamy Summer Squash Soup
  • Minestrone Style Soup
  • Barbecue Sauce, fruit sweetened
  • My Favorite Pesto recipe
  • Zucchini Latkes
  • Sunflower Seed Patties (good when you have vegetarians visiting at dinner)
  • Scramburger: the boys love this, even though it's so simple--just saute an onion or shallot in some sort of fat, and add some crumbled ground beef, salt, and pepper. Cook till done, and insert into hungry children's mouths...
  • I generally try not to replicate "bread" products in our grain-free home, but these scone-type morsels are really good!

DESSERTS

I have been very, very shy of desserts, and pretty much never made any at all for our first two years on GAPS. Now that we're eating fruit, I've allowed myself to experiment a bit (in another universe, in which sugar and refined flour is healthy, I would right now be a pastry chef). I try to sweeten most things with fruit, and the tiny bit of honey I ever use I prefer not to heat above 105f to preserve enzymatic activity. And the stuff I've made is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself:


NOTES CONCERNING OTHER KITCHEN STUFF

There are some days during which it feels like I do nothing but cook…and at the end, "all" I have to show for it is that we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I sometimes forget the enormous number of incidental tasks that eating involves: chopping vegetables, unwrapping meat, bringing things to a boil, cleaning up spilled solids and liquids, preparing kefir, boiling milk for yogurt, cooling milk for yogurt, making yogurt, feeding kefir grains, soaking beans, brining meat, thawing meat so that it will be ready to cook on the right day (but not too far ahead that it spoils), rearranging the fridge, cleaning the counters and cutting board, emptying the drain rack, doing meal dishes, washing produce, par-cooking, making sauces, cleaning prep dishes, planning menus and grocery shopping lists, preparing any make-ahead meals if we're going anywhere, prepping vegetables for kraut, consolidating foods from big jars to little ones (this takes SO much longer than I wish!), washing the bigger jars to use them again, organizing the freezer so that we can continue to find things even after removing a large roast, making butter, making natto, juicing, etc. etc. etc. (and this is not even counting the mountains of dishes that Jeff washes…)

There is such a huge world of food out there that one can be utterly lost in it for nearly forever. Here are just a few more random notes:

  • Tea: I'm not a huge fan, but lately I really enjoy making tea from dandelion root, milk thistle, nettles, and oatstraw. I make gallons of this and find it very refreshing when it's cold. This is a delicious cinnamon/sweet-style tea .

  • Broth: this has to be made so frequently (to have on hand for soup- and stew-making) that I sometimes forget how essential it is:

  • Soaked Nuts: if you eat any nuts, I highly recommend that you do a lot of googling on the topic, because it seems that at the very least, in general, they should be soaked before eating them.

  • Brined Beans: if you eat beans, I recommend that you google a bunch on this topic as well, and try Cook's Illustrated's technique for soaking and brining beans before cooking, and explore sprouting as well as fermentation (please let me know if you figure out a way to make them super digestible!).

  • I think that coconut is one of the most amazing foods, and therefore every so often I am crazy enough to make our own coconut milk and cream from fresh coconuts:

  • In general, beans do not agree with us very well. Except for when I make dosas, which are highly delicious and seem more digestible, perhaps because the lentils are soaked and fermented for so long before they are fried with lots of fat: (making them is a pain in the neck, but they're really a delicious treat.)

  • Here's how we Eat Raw Liver

  • Baby food: Eliza eats basically according to the "New Baby" feeding plan that Dr. Natasha lays out in the GAPS book.

  • For the first year and a half of GAPS, I made us Green Juice to drink every day. I used 3 or 4 cucumbers, 2 heads of celery, a head or two of lettuce, and sometimes a bit of cabbage, dandelion greens, pea shoots, or kale. And every so often, some carrots.

  • A note about fats: If you can find pork fatback, or unrendered lamb or beef fat, you can easily render it in a crockpot. Just cut the fat into 1-inch pieces, and cook on low for many hours, carefully pouring off the fat every so often until you are left with the rich and delicious cracklings.

  • A note about coconut oil: "virgin" coconut oil is very coconutty-tasting. "Refined" oil is flavorless and exceptionally versatile, and as far as I can figure out, the refining process is harmless to the oil and its nutrition, at least if you're going to be cooking with it anyway.