Xanthan-Free Zone

Real food, incidentally gluten-free.

Quick Halloumi Curry with Tomatoes and Spring Onions

Halloumi is one of the great cheese of the world, and when I found a cheap, bulk source of it, I couldn’t wait to make Indian paneer curries with halloumi. Paneer is a cottage cheese which you can make by boiling milk and then adding acid (lemon or vinegar), draining and compressing it. My local supermarket stocks paneer but it’s very expensive and also I find it quite dry and chalky. What I usually do is buy ricotta, cut it into small pieces, coat it in a small amount of oil and bake in a moderate oven about half an hour.

But halloumi is much nicer – chewy, salty, flavoursome. Mine was a little too salty, but I just took it out of its brine and soaked it in plain water in the fridge for a few hours and that leached enough salt out. It can also leach out in the curry if it’s cooked for a bit, so it’s good to remember not to add salt.

This is another one adapted from Raghavan Iyer’s book. It makes use of a homemade spice mix which might seem troublesome but is really what makes it a cut above the rest. It’s the only part that’s not so quick, but once you’ve made it you can keep it and use it for other recipes.

Serves about four.

250g halloumi (pre-soak your halloumi in plain water for a few hours or overnight if very salty)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cummin seeds
250g finely chopped spring onions, including green tops (about 1 bunch)
250g nice ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1/4 tsp ground tumeric
2 fresh chillies
1 tsp Balti masala 

Balti masala spice mix:
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cardamon seeds
1/2 tsp nigella/kalonji seeds
3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and fry the spices for 1-2 minutes. Pay a lot of attention and be very careful not to burn them. The mustard seeds should start popping, the fennel should get brown-tinged and the coriander and cumin should get even browner. They should also smell overwhelmingly fantastic. I fried mine one at a time, so I could grind them separately in a mortar and pestle, which is easier because of the different sizes and hardnesses of the spices. Toasted spices, I found, are much easier to grind, and grinding the toasted cinnamon sticks and bay leaves is pretty fun. If you have a spice grinder or appropriate blender/food processor, you can use that. In any case, Raghavan recommends letting the spices cool before you grind them.

Making the curry

Slice the halloumi and fry in a little oil on medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Or you can cook it under the griller. Then slice into bite-sized pieces.

Combine all ingredients except oil and cumin in a bowl. Then heat oil in a wok or large frying pan, and fry the cumin seeds for 10 seconds, before chucking in everything else. Stir fry over a moderate heat until the spring onion greens have all collapsed and everything is well-combined. Then serve!




Cashew Curry

Who would have thought you could make a curry from cashews? It’s indulgent and delicious. This ridiculously easy recipe is from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer.

Serves six to eight, probably best served as part of a meal with a vegetable curry or something because it’s quite rich.

2 cups raw unsalted cashews
400g tin coconut milk (or slightly smaller tin coconut cream)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
12 curry leaves
6 cardamon pods
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Bring cashews to the boil in a saucepan of hot water, then take the pan off the stove and leave to soak for two or more hours.

Drain the cashews then combine all ingredients in the saucepan. Bring the the boil and cook on a medium heat for 30-40 minutes.

Vegetarian Chilli with Secret Ingredients


I have a general preference for not telling people what I’m making for dinner, and not telling them what all the ingredients are before they’ve eaten it and told me it was delicious. Then I feel clever when I explain that cocoa, millet and buckwheat groats are what makes it so good.

This recipe satisfies my penchant for Americana food. It’s adapted from “Pierce St Vegetarian Chili” from Heidi Swanson’s blog 101 Cookbooks, but of course my version is gluten-free, and has some other variations which are mostly the result of the ingredients I had on hand.

This recipe makes great leftovers. It’s carby enough to be eaten on it’s own, but not so carby that you can’t eat it wrapped up in some corn tortillas baked with cheese on top. Yum.

There’s so many elements to this recipe it’s hard for me to say what’s essential to its success. There’s certainly lots of room for experimentation, but I would suggest using only grains and pulses that are likely to hold their shape. If you’re concerned they might go mushy, you can toast them or lightly fry in oil before you add them to the pot and this is supposed to keep them whole.

Serves at least six.

2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 onion, finely slicesd
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbsp grated ginger
3 dried chillies, finely chopped, with seeds
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cocoa
1 tsp ground up cumin seeds
2/3 cup puy lentils
1/3 cup yellow split peas
1/4 cup brown rice
1/4 cup polenta (not instant)
1/4 cup buckwheat groats
1/4 cup millet
400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 nice ripe tomatoes
dessert spoon molasses 
stock or water
1 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (or 1 tin)
salt, to taste (quite a lot)

To serve:
Any of sour cream, yoghurt, feta, labna, olive oil or other fancy oil, chopped coriander, squeeze of lime or lemon juice

Fry onions, garlic and ginger in oil in a stockpot – at least 10 minutes. You can put this on and then get all the other ingredients out of the cupboard (assuming you’re not going to be arranging a tableau for a photo). Add chilli, paprika, cocoa and cumin, and stir. You can then add the lentils and grains, or you can pre-fry them in a little oil, or in a dry pan, just for a couple of minutes beforehand. Once you’ve fully combined the lentils and grains with the onions and spices, add the tinned and fresh tomatoes, the molasses and stock or water to cover.

That’s pretty much it. Now you just cook it on a low-medium heat, essentially indefinitely, but at least for 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and add extra water if it’s getting too thick. Ten or 20 minutes before you’re ready to serve it, add the beans and begin checking for salt. Pulses and grains always require a lot of salt, so it can take quite a while to get the salt right and it’s pretty important. Pulses without enough salt = super bland. If you’ve used tinned beans or bought stock, it will probably already have salt, but you’ll still need to add more. This is also the time to raise the heat and boil off some water if you’ve added too much. It’s supposed to be wet, but not a soup.

Add whatever optional extras you have, and enjoy!

Caramel Bananas

This is an example of taking a perfectly good healthy fruit and making into a decadent treat. Or you can see it as a quick easy dessert, just add icecream, cream, custard or a fancy creamy yoghurt. It’s so basic it hardly counts as a recipe, but it’s so tasty I thought people might want to try it.

This is per person.

1-3 bananas, depending on size (ie. one cavendish but 2-3 ladyfingers depending on size). They should ideally be a touch overripe – if they are at all underripe it will be unpleasantly astringent.
2-4 tsp brown sugar (2 is what I would use, but others may want it sweeter)
squeeze lemon juice
2-4 tsp butter (depending on decadence level required)
pinch nutmeg
few drops vanilla

Slice bananas into stylish diagonal slices, sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice. Melt butter in a frypan, add banana/sugar mix, then add vanilla and nutmeg. Cook on a medium-high heat until  you get a bit of browning on the bananas, then turn down a bit and cook until the bananas are soft.


Eggplant and Split Pea Dhal

This recipe is adapted from a new cookbook I bought – 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. I had an eggplant, I wanted to make dhal, and the index supplied me with this recipe. It is delicious.

One thing you will need is a mechanism for grinding up spices and a tablespoon of raw lentils. I use my mortar and pestle, which is a large heavy one made of what I guess is granite. If you have a good sort of blender or food processor that will probably work, or a spice grinder, but one of those small ceramic mortar and pestles will just not cut it.

1 cup and 1 tbsp yellow split peas
2 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 or more dried chillis, depending on your taste
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
12 curry leaves
1 large eggplant
salt to taste

Rinse the 1 cup of split peas in cold water then bring to the boil in a medium-sized saucepan with 3 cups of water. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for half an hour.

While it’s boiling, chop dried chilli and remove the seeds unless you want it very hot. Heat oil in a small frypan or saucepan and add chillies, coriander seeds and the tbsp of split peas. Fry until the coriander seeds are browned, maybe 1-2 minutes – be careful not to burn them. Remove the stuff from the pan with a slotted spoon or (my preference) strain the oil through a metal sieve into a larger frypan (which you will use in a minute). Put the spice-pea-chilli mix aside to cool.

Chop the onion and garlic, heat the oil from before and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. When the mustard seeds are popping, add the onion and garlic and fry on a low heat. When the onions are soft and have lost that raw smell, add cubed eggplant and fry until it collapses. You can keep it on a low heat for a while, and just add a spash of water if it catches.

While this is all cooking, grind up your spice-pea-chilli mix. This takes 5-10 minutes in a good mortar and pestle and is quite fun.It should end up a gravelly paste consistency. Add to the split peas, then combine this with the eggplant and onion. Cook another 10 minutes, boiling down to a thick consistency. Add salt to taste. If you’re not ready to eat it right away, you can keep it on a low simmer for ages. It will get even more mooshed up and soft.

Serve with basmati rice. Serves about 4.

Rice Porridge from Cooked Rice

Rice Porridge with Apple

Replacing oat porridge for my breakfast was one of the main challenges for me adopting a gluten-free diet. I approached all of its possible replacements with some trepidation, but I ended up really liking this version, and it’s a good way to use up leftover rice. It has spices and honey, so it makes me feel like I’m eating a chai. If you added a teabag it could be a complete breakfast, but at the time of writing I still prefer my tea in a cup.

The choice of spices is a very individual thing. Cardamon is a classic flavour to have with milk and rice, but some people may not like the fennel seeds (which I love). Obvious alternatives would include nutmeg or cinnamon.


2/3 cup leftover cooked rice
1/2 cup milk
3 cardamon pods
Pinch fennel seeds
Dessert spoon of honey
Fruit to serve with (apple, pear, stonefruit, strawberries, etc) 

Place the rice, milk and spices in a saucepan and boil on a low-medium heat for about 10 minutes, until quite thick, stirring (very) occasionally. Chop your fruit and put into bowl. Take your favourite breakfast-eating spoon and stick it into your honey jar, then stick it into your porridge pot. Stir around until fully combined, then pour and scrape the porridge over  your fruit. Watch out for the cardamon pods and don’t actually eat them, but the fennel seeds are fine to eat (and delicious).

Minestrone with Rice

I always thought minestrone had to have pasta in it to be minestrone, but the recipe from which mine is adapted, from Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cookbook, doesn’t even mention pasta. Instead, it’s served with rice in it, to make it more substantial. Or you can just have as is.

This soup is very delicious — it’s hard to believe something that only has vegetables in it could taste so rich and complex.


4 tbsp olive oil
20g butter
1-2 onions, sliced
2 carrots
1 stick celery
1 large or two small potatoes
1 zucchini
Handful green beans
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage (preferably savoy)
2-3 ripe tomatoes
400g tin cannellini or borlotti beans, or 1 1/2 cups of home-cooked beans
2 stock cubes or a carton of stock (optional)
Random vegetables for stock (optional)
Salt and pepper 

To serve:
Arborio rice
Parmesan cheese, basil leaves, pine nuts OR

Get two saucepans, a stockpot and a medium-sized saucepan. Boil water in the medium-sized saucepan. I use this for making stock as I cook. Just add any celery leaves, carrot tops/peel, ends of beans, outer leaves of cabbage, as you go, and then when it comes time to add stock to the vegetables, you’ll have it ready. You can supplement with any other radish leaves, crusty silverbeet stems, excess onions, tops of leeks and spring onions, whatever you might have in the fridge. You could even chuck a few chunks of beef in there if you were that way inclined.

In the stockpot, heat the oil and butter. Slice the onions and fry, with the lid on, on medium heat, until the onions are translucent and have lost that raw onion smell, but aren’t heavily browned. This can take 10 or 15 minutes, and shouldn’t be hurried, because well-cooked onions make a lot of difference to the flavour. While you’re waiting, dice the carrots. In this recipe, each ingredient is added in turn, in the order listed, so each gets cooked as you are dicing up the next one. So, you can dice in a leisurely manner, enjoy a cup of tea, chat on the phone, wash a couple of dishes as you’re going, there’s no hurry. If the vegetables start to stick or the saucepan seems to hot, just add a little of the stock you’re boiling on the side and turn down the element a fraction.

Once the tomatoes have cooked down a little, you can add the stock you’ve been making on the side, and any bought stock or cubes. The stock should completely cover the soup, and come another inch up the saucepan. This is the point where you add the beans, and once they have heated through, you can actually eat the soup. I kind of like this early-minestrone phase, where the tomatoes have just collapsed and you can taste all the individual vegetables, but for the real deal you should keep boiling it for a while, however long until you get hungry. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve with rice, I heat another saucepan (you can use the one you were using for the stock), then add a cup of minestrone and a quarter cup of water per person, plus a handful of arborio rice per person. Bring to the boil, then cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the rice is soft. The reason for using a second saucepan, is that I would generally assume a batch of minestrone leads to leftovers, and you don’t want any rice in the leftovers, because it will go all weird and gluggy.

Toast the pine nuts if you’re having then, cut basil leaves, grate parmesan. Check salt again, and serve out. If having pesto, about one teaspoon per person dropped in the middle of the bowl is nice. If other things, just a sprinkle of each.