Healthy comfort food?

I read recently, that if you cut down the amount of salt you have in your diet, it takes 3 months before it makes any difference. So our rush each January to resolve to eat more healthily and for us to see a difference within a few weeks is probably unachievable. And why January. It’s a month when we need good warm comfort food.

Robin outside Books for Cooks after his recent book signing

Robin outside Books for Cooks after his recent book signing

But what happens when you simply have to change the way you eat, because if you carried on with your current diet, it could be life threatening? This happened to Robin Ellis 12 years ago. He was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Then, as now, he was living in South West France. If you’ve not visited that wonderful area, just let me tell you it is a land full of the richest foods including foie gras so quite a challenge.

I thoroughly enjoyed my call with Robin over Skype. I had a glimpse into his kitchen, his cat walked in front of the computer a few times and his wife Meredith was busying herself in the background. He described that after diagnosis, he took a pragmatic approach. He did some research and discovered Frenchman Michael Montignac who devised the Montignac method and began to understand how he might be able to control his diet.

Michel Montignac was the first person ever to propose (1980s) the use of glycemic indexes for people wanting to lose weight. At the time, glycemic indexes, which had only been experienced in diabetes, were an unknown factor in relation to weight control. Montignac is the top expert in both the theoretical development and practical applications of the GI concept to reduce and prevent metabolic disorders: obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

He also looked at his mother’s recipes (she was Type 1 diabetic) for inspiration. He worked out what he could and could not eat and, for six years, managed without any medication.

I can imagine  all the tempting Frenchfoods whilst tempting, do not constitute the ideal diet for someone diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Robin’s philosophy is to discover the foods you can eat and to find alternatives that you should avoid. He eats rye bread for example and very little meat but still thoroughly enjoys the lifestyle.

Robin's cookery workshop

Robin’s cookery workshop

The proof is in the eating

I’ve been really enjoying cooking from Robin’s second cookery book “Healthy Eating for Life”. I keep wanting to describe it as a little book, although it isn’t as it is stuffed with 100 recipes. I guess it is because I am finding it the sort of cook book that is ideal for everyday meals and I love the short anecdote at the start of each one.

Robin has drawn inspiration from chefs such as Ottolenghi and Australian Judy Vassallo. He uses ingredients that are easy to find and his dishes are all easy to prepare. And a big plus point, you don’t feel that you are being penalised in any way! It is comfort food at its best.

Robin has kindly shared his lemony lentil dish with me for you to try. It can be served as an accompaniment to fish or meat.

Robin’s Lemony Lentil Recipe

“Meredith tells me the first time she became aware of lentils was at the age of thirty-five. They had not been part of her experience growing up in suburban Chicago! Much has changed, Indian restaurants are commonplace now in the US. This recipe is hands-on for the first half hour or so, as it builds in the taste. Then it chugs along on a low heat for 50 minutes as the lentils dissolve and the dal forms. The finish involves sautéing a small amount of onion, garlic and dried red pepper to stir into the mix to lift it. We ate it recently as an accompaniment to the Spicy Grilled Chicken Breast (page 126). It is adapted from a recipe in Ismail Merchant’s excellent and quirky cookbook Indian Cuisine”.

My version of lemony lentils

My version of lemony lentils

1 small onion peeled and chopped
2 tbs olive  oil
8 oz red lentils rinsed until the water runs clear
Short stick of cinnamon
1 tsp fresh ginger grated
250 ml stock
250 ml hot water
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
juice and shell of a lemon

To finish
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 small onion chopped
1 small dried red chilli chopped
1 garlic clove peeled and chopped

  1. Cook the onion over a low heat in the oil until it is opaque – about 5 minutes
  2. Add the lentils, cinnamon and ginger and mix in, keeping the heat low and stirring from time to time to avoid them sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. A nutting aroma starts to rise from the darkening lentils as they cook.
  3. Add the stock and hot water, cayenne and salt. Bring to a simmer. Cook gently for a further 10 minutes, then add the lemon juice and empty lemon skins and stir together. Cover the pan and continue cooking on a very low heat for 45 minutes stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.
  4. In a small frying pan, heat the olive oil and add the slice onion. Let this colour for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Add the chilli and chopped garlic and continue cooking until the garlic begins to brown. Add this to the lentils and mix in.

Adaptation The second time I cooked this, I used different lentils and cooked them on their own before adding the other ingredients.

Cook with Robin

Robin is running a Cooking Workshop in the Tarn in May. It sounds wonderful. Just 7 people will spend 4 days with him discovering the local market and cooking dishes from both his books. He describes himself as a cook, not a chef and simply hopes to enthuse people to cook more healthily.

About Robin and his books

Robin Ellis is a British actor best known for playing the leading role in the BBC series, Poldarkbased on the novels of Winston Graham . He appeared in many other classic TV series and had a long career in British theatre, including a stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His most recent role was in the original Swedish version of the detective series, Wallander.

Healthy Eating For Life: Over 100 Simple and Tasty Recipes

Delicious Dishes for Diabetics

Robin Ellis on Facebook

Recipe and photographs are copyright Robin Ellis

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Food is my passion and in particular bread - I recently qualified as a professional bread baker after 5 months training in France. I am always curious about new foods, ingredients, suppliers, chefs, restaurants both in Scotland and further afield and love sharing my ideas

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