Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Primal Pasta?

When people ask me about my diet and they hear that I don't eat grains, that's when the slightly horrified (or not so slightly horrified) looks register on their faces and they exclaim "I could never give up grains/bread/pasta etc."

Well, I was just as into my grains as anyone, so it's doable, people! Further into this article, I am going to show you that it's not a spartan lifestyle of white-knuckled deprivation. I love food too much to live like that (but I also love my good health enough to make some adjustments!)

Why are grains worth cutting from your diet? As humans, we haven't been eating them for all that long and the mineral-depleting antinutrients, as well as starches and gluten they contain can function as troublemakers in our bodies.

Some things are obvious: Celiac disease, Crohn's Disease, IBS, etc. Some are less obvious: GERD, skin issues like eczema and acne, inflammation in joints and other parts of the body (I discovered that my excruciating monthly symptoms of cramps and IBS just up and disappeared
after cutting the grains from my diet) and even mental/emotional symptoms like anxiety can all be rooted in grain and gluten consumption. Here's a little more info on why grains aren't so awesome for us and here's a great article on how to quit them.

Now, on to the fun stuff: Pasta!
Are Primal and pasta mutually exclusive? No! Am I going to give you recipes for spiralized zucchini and tell you to pretend it's pasta (Rose likes zucchini "pasta" but I'm not a fan)? HECK NO! I'm going to give you a decent spaghetti alternative from a land far, far away: Japan! Meet the wonderful shirataki noodle!

Shiratake noodles are made from a tuber called konjac root (also called "yam" or "elephant yam"- not to be confused with regular yams. There is also a different version made with soy called "tofu shiratke". I don't use that form.) and they have nearly zero calories and carbohydrates. They also have no taste, so they can be used in a wide variety of dishes. I simply rinse off the sea-weedy smelling water they come packed in and boil them for a bit in generously salted water or broth to infuse them with a bit of flavor.

Shiratake can be found in the Japanese section of any Asian grocer and will be refrigerated. Some brands have a softer texture than others, which I prefer (shiratake can be a bit "springy" feeling when you eat it), so experiment with different brands to find your favorite.

While I don't have specific recipes to give you, I'll tell you about the two dishes pictured. The top pic is bison marinara- I used a low sugar organic marinara sauce (since I'm too lazy to make my own!) and added lots of ground bison and grated parmigiano reggiano (one of the world's great cheeses and not to be confused with parmesan!) Since the noodles themselves have almost no calories, it's important that the toppings are more calorically dense and nutrient rich.

The dish pictured below is pasta with an asiago cream sauce, sauteed morels and ramps, asparagus and baked salmon. It would also be wonderful with other veggies (summer squash, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, etc).

Shiratake is fantastic in Asian noodle soups (it was made for this purpose and can be found in sukiyaki in Japanese restaurants.) and in Asian noodle dishes. I also pulse it in a food processor to "rice" it and serve with Thai coconut milk-based curries. It's great like that and my husband was pretty impressed with it!

I hope this opens up a whole new world of pasta possibilities for everyone. Mangia, mangia!!

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