Kokonda and learnings for a gluten and dairy free life
This new gluten free life has lead to a whole bunch of new things. Everyday it gets more and more obvious that my previous best friends gluten and dairy were stabbing me in the back all the while that we were swinging hands happily making bread and slathering them with herbed butter. Since I’ve turned my back on them, my allergies have all but disappeared, stomach ailments and breathing problems I have dealt with for a long time now are miraculously receding, skin texture has changed, hair is better and I’m losing weight. So it’s really not all bad at all.
Each day brings it’s ups and downs and everyday I feel differently about the new life. Days swing from hopefull, excited, happy to depressed and sometimes panicky. There’s a lot of relearning involved and if you know me a bit, you will know I’m bad at sticking to rules. I miss having a million options to cook and eat from but I like this new feeling of light and easiness much more than I thought I would..
Most importantly, I’m learning so much that new. And I thought I’d record some of that here for me to look back and also for those of you who are starting on a similar journey or considering it..
- Ingredients that my genes recognise are naturally dairy and gluten free. Of all cuisine the one that seems to have most food I can eat are.. surprise surprise.. from Kerala. For all my wanting to be community agnostic and a citizen of the world, finally its all coming back to my roots! That the food that most suits my body is that which my parents and ancestors have grown up on is at once limiting, annoying, thought-provoking and humbling.
- Everything (most things) has a gf version – Having discovered that I should probably be welcoming good old mallu food into my life, I’m still not ready to let go of all my old ways. The good news is that there’s a lot that can be replicated.. though not exactly. Milk can be replaced with rice milk, nut milk, coconut milk, soy milk.. and honestly I find all of these and especially the coconut milk far tastier than cow or buffalo milk. In many recipes butter is replacable by peanut and other nut butters or oils. And ofcourse there’s always lard, porkfat or worst of all – dalda. I still miss butter though. But it’s now less and less.
- Let go of familiar flavours and embrace new – While it’s possible to start replicating familiar gluten and dairy based food with versions made with substitutes, I’ve learnt it’s important to start looking for and embracing the new rather than just wanting to get the old back. To really get into this new way of things, I need to start thinking differently. Because replicas are always shadows. They have no identity of their own and you miss what the ingredients themselves have to offer even as you curse it for not being wheat flour or cream. Minimising replicating and instead trying to reinvent dishes is daunting but opens up a world of new flavours.
- Listening to my body - I listen to my body much more. Everytime I eat something I now know a little bit more about how my body reacts to it. And if I listen, my body responds in kind. Eating foods that make me feel light and fulfilled rather than stuffed and heavy is also making my mood better. I’m still as crabby as ever and moan all the time about what my life’s come to but I know the pay off is large enough to not feel tempted and go back to old ways. Even when those around me are gorging on ice cream, cake an pizza.
- Indian Restaurants, and food industry in general does not pay much heed to allergies – From my favourite Mumbai Resturant (Indigo Deli) to other packaged foods, most restaurants are now inaccessible to me. My wallets grateful for this but my social life isn’t so happy. And for the first time I understand and sympathise with what vegetarians feel like when they travel abroad. It SUCKS.
- Refusing to let panic take over - There’s food that I love that I can still eat. But especially when I cook for others (like the cinnamon rolls and the pies below that I cooked last few weeks), I sometimes slip up and end up with all the symptoms of allergy returning. Using gloves helps but I often need to taste so I can correct where the dish is going. And that’s where things start getting out of hand. Self restraint was never my strong suite and around food, my resolve falters as easily as butter used to melt in my mouth. It’s weird that the same consequences that I lived with and could ignore earlier, I can’t now bear to have to endure. These are my worst moments. So what I need to learn is a way around cooking that works with the new diet. Does that mean I completely stop cooking/baking food with gluten and dairy? Honestly, I still don’t know.
The last few weeks have seen me making a few gluten free dishes that I’ve been rather bad at shooting, recording or sharing. There’s been a chocolate souffle,
a sweet marshmallow fluff which I was hoping will make me miss whipped cream lesser
Sorghum pancakes because pancakes were the first thing I ever made in my life.
Chocolate chip cookies, muffins,
.A pudding with dark chocolate and walnut, a coconut, one with kaffir lime and rice, tapioca stew and mutton rendang and my favourite so far -
So here’s my favourite find so far, the popular Fijian raw fish salad. Absolutely lovely, fragrant and fresh this is not a dish apologising for being dairy and lactose free. It’s happy to be itself. Infact perfect as is. For a raw fish dish, this one is a great one to start with since the acid pretty much cooks the fish. I ‘ begin to tell you how much I loved the flavours and textures of this dish.The coconut milk adds a beautiful creamy nuttines and the ginger and chilli add a lovely spicey heat while the fresh vegetables bring plenty of crunch to this salad. I could easily eat this for lunch on a hot summer day and forget all about Caprese with its treacherous mozzarella. Wether you are on a gluten free/dairy free diet or not, I would recommend that you try this one out – easy, no fail and absolutely gorgeous. I promise you, you can’t go wrong here. Just make sure the fish is nice and fresh.
- 1 Surmai fish, filleted, cut into 1 cm cubes
- juice of 4 limes (I zested all and reserved the zest for later use)
- 1.5 cups fresh coconut milk
- ¼ tsp freshly grated ginger
- 2 green chillies, seedes, chopped fine
- 1 -2 tsp sugar
- 2 large pinches of lemon zest
- 2 stalks of spring onions, sliced
- 1 each of red and yellow bell peppers, cut into 1 cm cubes
- Salt to taste
- Half fill a pot of water and add enough salt for the water to taste salty like sea water. Add in the fish and let steep for 20 minutes. Drain
- Add the lime juice, ginger and chilies to the drained fish and let marinate for 20 minutes in the fridge. The fish will be opaque and firm by now.
- Add in the lemon zest, spring onions, bell peppers and coconut milk.
- Now add 1 tsp sugar, stir till dissolved, taste the sauce and adjust seasoning to have a good balance of sweet and salty.
- Let marinate for about 4-6 hours.
- Add in the chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, adjust seasoning once more and serve.