This particular episode had its origins in an article in The Age’s Taste section many moons ago. Various reporters had taken on one popular current diet each and reported back on what it was like.
I was interested because I had gone on the 5:2 (intermittent fasting) for some months and lost quite a few necessary kilos without too much pain. I’ve kept most that weight off since by more or less following it when it suited (which means not on holidays). It’s not exactly easy, but we got used to it without much drama. These days, one fasting day a week is fairly routine.
But the thing that got me really going was that the reporter – for Taste, so presumably someone who knows their food – said it was a terrible diet because sitting down with a few carrots for lunch and some steamed veg for tea was so boring.
Talk about a complete lack of imagination! There are so many ways to eat deliciously with not many calories, particularly if it’s only a night or two a week. When I’m fasting, I skip breakfast, have a really small lunch (a poached egg on tiny, skinny, home-sliced bit of toast) and keep the bulk of the total daily allowance of 500 calories for dinner. I want a hearty evening meal. I hate going to bed feeling hungry.
This dish below is my current favourite, and I would eat it any time, not just on fasting days.
The inspiration came from reading about dry-fried mushrooms, and how it was a way to really intensify their mushroomy flavour in a delicious way. I tried it, and they were right. Cooking them on a griddle also makes them look great with those seared dark lines across them.
And then I started grilling a few other vegetables, a few of them obvious, a few less so. All of them sliced and just placed on the griddle without any fat. Zucchini. Eggplant. Red pepper. Pumpkin. Cauliflower. Celeriac. Fennel. Whole cherry tomatoes. Asparagus.
The quantities of vegetables I’m giving here are pretty flexible. When I first started, I weighed everything and carefully noted down the calories. I realised fairly soon that I could make something with roughly 300 calories per person without having to be too fussy. I don’t use any really starchy vegetables, and the rest are forgiving – it’s really hard to eat too much in watery vegetables. The only carefully measured quantities are the grain: if you choose to use quinoa, stick to 50g uncooked weight (for two), and the protein, which is between 60 and 80g each depending on what it is.
All the vegetables are sliced (except where noted) and cooked on a dry griddle pan. I usually give it a quick oil spray at the start, but that’s it. There is no dressing, but I do always put in a good handful or two of herbs.
Warm salad of grilled veg and smoked salmon (for 2)
Small bunch of asparagus (120g) (whole)
1 medium eggplant (280g)
1 medium to large zucchini (today just 150g)
350g mushrooms, the meatier the better, but a mix is good (I had more than usual today)
Few large florets of cauliflower sliced (140g)
80g red pepper
50g cherry tomatoes (whole)
120g corn kernels sliced off the cob, either grilled or fresh (I add this instead of a grain element, like quinoa)
Grill everything, chop it up and put it in a covered bowl to keep warm while you finish grilling.
In a serving bowl, throw in a solid handful or two of chopped herbs – basil, coriander, oregano, thyme, chives, parsley – whatever you have in whatever mix appeals. Add some sliced greens. I’ve used spinach, radicchio, lettuce, chard – just whatever was to hand. Some chopped spring or red onion is good too.
Mix it all together while the veg is still warm. Add a little salt and pepper.
Total weight of veg (pre-cooked): just over 1.33kg. And no, we couldn’t eat it all.
Total calories of finished dish: 390
We had ours with about 60g of smoked salmon each – the Tasmanian brand Huon’s wood-smoked version (with sweet chili) is absolutely delicious and is about 125 calories for that amount.
For the record: There was probably 20% of the veg left. Which means we ate as much as we wanted of a delicious meal and came in at about 280 calories each – and that’s including the salmon.
A really pretty spring variation I made last week was similar but had a higher proportion of steamed veg. Orange, yellow and purple carrot. I cooked the purple carrot separately with some sweet small beetroot to stoop the purple colouring everything. Cauli, eggplant, red pepper (raw this time), purple onion. It was bursting with colour and flavour. I added quinoa to this one.