This year, we’ve a big focus on healthy eating on the Edinburgh Foody blog. When you’ve been diagnosed as diabetic, its not just about a desire to eat healthily it’s a necessity.
Two years ago we relished Robin Ellis’ (the original Poldark) recipes in his book Healthy Eating. Now he’s back with a new book Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics. Diagnosed with diabetes and faced with the rich cuisine of the region where he lives, Robin had to find meals he could eat, so he started creating his own recipes. Not only full of recipes, this book has an evocative selection of photographs. They made me want to head straight off to the south west of France to join him.
I asked two of our readers who cook for diabetics to test a recipe or two from the book. How did they get on? And to tempt you, we include a recipe from the book.
At the start of each recipe Robin Ellis gives a little introduction in which he credits the source of dish he has adapted or reproduced. Names include Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater, Marcella Hazan and the River Café Cook book so his influences certainly come from a tasty stable. The recipes are in the main simple and easy to follow, accompanied with photographs which reassuringly my attempts did resemble.
My favourite was Broccoli Pasta which is a dish that can be done in less than 30 minutes and really delivers a flavoursome result. The combination of chili, garlic anchovies and parmesan in the sauce worked like a dream giving an umami richness coating the pasta and broccoli. Quite simple, and cheap, ingredients were transformed into what will undoubtedly become one of my regular quick mid-week dinners.
My partner’s, who is diabetic, favourite dish, was the lamb tagine. As you would expect this had quite a long cooking time, about 2 and a half hours in all, but it is not a labour intensive dish and well worth the wait. Robin’s tagine uses lamb, flageolet beans, apricot, garlic, cumin and coriander, resulting in a great sauce that had us spooning every last drop from the cooking pot. When I cooked this I did not have flageolet beans so substituted cannellini beans and this looks set to become a regular in our house.
There were a couple of recipes that did not work quite as well, the Spinach and Red Onion Frittata was just too oily for our taste. Robin advises that patience is handy for his Simple Salmon dish, indeed this was the case with a cooking time of 50 minutes as opposed to the 30 prescribed. Some people may also want to reduce the garlic clove count in some dishes. These are however minor issues that are easily overcome.
Other successes from the book included Smoky Cauliflower Soup, Spicy Cauliflower, Humus, Green Beans Tomatoes and Anchovies, and Pork Chops with White Beans in Orange Juice.
Even if you do not have diabetes this collection of recipes from Robin Ellis is well worth a look as the dishes sampled from it were delicious. Coupled with the fact they are healthy and could help prevent type 2 diabetes and you are on to a winner. Aimed at diabetics, its main focus is a savoury one with some very interesting vegetable servings, typically adding garlic and herbs and spices that are easily incorporated into everyday meals making them just that little bit yummier.
Instead of harping on about fastidious regimes and theories the main thrust of Ellis’ book is empowerment and enjoyment, as he believes that the best way to change your habits is to embrace cooking and learn to live with any restrictions by opting for cuisine with lots of flavours and high enjoyment. Mediterranean cuisine delivers on both these counts and is generally considered as healthy way of eating if you don’t just focus on the pizzas and pastas. The book piqued my interest as my dad has recently been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Coming from a family of foodies I thought it was worth a look to see if we could be doing anything differently to help manage his condition.
Whilst I totally agree with Robin’s philosophy this book doesn’t deliver on the elements that a lot of us want from a book about cooking for a diabetic – the ability to identify our dietary issues and plan/cook around them. He briefly talks about substitutions (e.g. using wholewheat pasta rather than ‘white’ pasta) and skirts over terms such as GI and GL but that’s about as far as the science goes. Personally I find that frustrating as I do not feel any further on in helping my parents adapt their eating habits. To this end I think it would benefit with a little information on the glycaemic load to allow better day-to-day planning, but maybe I am being hypercritical?
However, whilst I have my issues with the dietary content of this book I am happy to say that the culinary content is far more pleasing! The selection of recipes is truly Mediterranean as there is influence from North Africa as well as the more traditional French, Italian and Spanish fare that one would expect. For every common recipe there is also one that is a little bit different and I found myself flicking through the book with interest and noting dishes that sounded a bit different from those in other similar books.
One such recipe was Pork Chops and White Beans Baked in Orange Juice. It seemed like a perfect dish for a cold February evening, especially since I was trying to get dinner going whilst feeding and bathing my two-year old! It turned out that this was the ideal dish for my situation as the preparation couldn’t have been easier and most of the effort was waiting for the one-pot dish to bake. Two hours later, the wee one was fast asleep and I sat down with my parents to a simple but surprisingly satisfying dish that instantly transported us back to family holidays in France. Since then I have attempted a couple more dishes and, so far, they have been easy to follow, easy to cook and the results have been consistently good.
Overall I am slightly conflicted on Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics. On one hand Ellis’ recipes are interesting, well written and easy to follow but it doesn’t really deliver on substantiating itself as a diabetics’ book. That said if you are someone who loves food and is concerned about managing or trying to avoid diabetes through your diet this may be a good place to start the change as the recipes are interesting, varied and, most importantly easy to cook. On reflection Ellis’ mission seems to be to keep enjoying what he eats whilst managing his medical condition and I can wholeheartedly applaud this so maybe I should just look past my preconceptions about diet cookbooks and relish in his delicious jaunt through Mediterranean fare.
Recipe: Aubergine Slices with Walnut and Garlic Spread
- 2 large aubergines
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
- 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with a little salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 50 gr walnuts
- Handful of chopped parsley
- Wash the aubergines and cut lengthways into 1 cm slices. Salt them lightly and place in a colander for an hour or so to drain off the bitter juices.
- Preheat oven to 240C, 475F, Gas Mark 9
- Dry the aubergines thoroughly and brush with olive oil on both sides.
- Put the aubergines on well-oiled foil in a shallow tray. Cook on the top shelf of the oven for about 20 minutes to brown them, turning after 10 minutes. (Mine took 16 minutes)
- Whilst the aubergines are in the oven, make the sauce. Mix the crushed garlic with a tablespoon of olive oil. Chop the walnuts in a processor or pound them in a pestle and mortar.
- Combine the garlic, olive oil and walnuts with the parsley in a bowl and add another tablespoon of oil. Mix well and check the seasoning.
- Take the aubergines out of the oven, put them in a serving plate, brush with the wine vinegar and spread the delicious sauce on top.
- Serve cold
Find out More
Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics is available now from all good book shops and online.
The British Diabetic Association has a very useful guide to Healthy Eating
Follow Robin Ellis on Twitter
Many thanks to Caroline and Richard for taking the time to test the recipes and write the reviews.