Chapter OneLow-Carb Comfort Food Cooking Guidelines
Low-carb cooking used to be mostly a matter of deprivation and restrictions. That was its main impact on the low-carb kitchen. You could not eat this; you could not eat that. It made cooking and eating boring but also fairly simple. Foods with high-carbohydrate concentrations were largely out. It is one thing to understand that you do not really need to eat much, if any, carbohydrate-laden foods to be healthy and quite another to live by that rule. No hearty sandwiches, no dinner rolls, no hamburger buns, no muffins, not to mention pasta, pizza, and tortillas. Well, now you are released from these restrictions. With the recipes you will find here, you can eat almost anything you have been missing (at least within reason) and still control your weight and maintain a great lipid profile. It's obviously not because carbohydrate foods are okay again; it is simply that in this cookbook your favorite foods are made to appear rich in carbs, even though the actual carb counts are quite low or kept to a tolerable minimum. And none of it happens at the expense of taste.
How do we do it? By eliminating the worst offenders, which are the starchy, high-carb grains (and all products made from them) along with that pure carbohydrate, sugar. Both must be exiled, except for small amounts. And that is all there is to it. Less simple, of course, is what to do about it. It has taken years to find substitutes for flour and sugar to create these workable recipes. Of the two, the sugar problem has been the easier one to deal with. Today, some acceptable artificial sweeteners that can also be used in baking are available and generally work fine. On occasion-when texture truly demands it-limited amounts of real sugar can be added to a recipe as well. (Sweeteners are discussed later in this chapter.)
The chief difficulty is finding a replacement for flour. What breads, cookies, rolls, crackers, cereal, pancakes, muffins, pizza, or pasta can you make without it? None, obviously. Flour supplies the bulk in all of these beloved foods. But at 92.0 grams of carb in a single cup of white flour and only slightly fewer in a cup of whole-wheat flour, flour is the number one enemy of the low-carb dieter. So the principal change in your new low-carb kitchen will revolve around what can be used in its place. Everything else remains pretty much the same.
Flour-that powdery, tasteless, valuable stuff-has no perfect match for baking. Impostors are hard to find. There are, however, substances that collectively can do a pretty good job of imitating the texture that comes from flour, and that's what we are after. So instead of using flour, you will be using one or more of these different ingredients. Piling these items into the mixing bowl to make a batch of bread, muffins, or rolls will quickly become routine.
Some of these new flour substitutes may already be familiar to you. The main ones are (1) almonds-usually ground into a meal or flour; (2) vital wheat gluten flour-a flour with most of the starch removed; (3) wheat bran-known to most of us as a good source of fiber, a flaky meal made from the outer layer or husk of the wheat kernel; (4) whey protein powder-a powdery substance made from the watery part of milk; and (5) soy protein powder-a powdery substance like whey protein but extracted from the soybean. These ingredients will help to make you believe that you are eating flour. You can usually find them in the health food section of your supermarket or in most health food stores. Prices vary, so you will want to comparison shop for the best deals. You also have the option to order all the items you need from one single source at fabulous prices and have them delivered directly to your door (see "Mail-Order Sources"). Let's check out the individual low-carb magicians.
Low-Carb Flour Pretenders
The almond is an excellent flour replacer. It is rich in monounsaturated oils, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and other beneficial nutrients but light on carbs. Ground almonds have just 3.0 grams of carb in 1/4 cup. By contrast, 1/4 cup of white flour has 23.0 grams and is close to a nutritional zero. With a food processor or good blender, it's easy to grind the nuts to a uniform meal. However, you can simply purchase a ready-made flour or meal made from whole or blanched almonds. (Never buy defatted or partially defatted meals or flours.) Most recipes call for whole almond meal. Blanched almond flour has a lighter texture and can be used interchangeably. Unlike whole nuts, which you can get in many places, you might need to order the meal. We have found it at prices that are likely to be lower than that of whole nuts you buy locally (see "Mail-Order Sources").
Vital Wheat Gluten Flour
Think of this flour as the reverse of white flour, which is what it is. Regular white flour has 23.0 grams of carb in 1/4 cup. Vital wheat gluten flour, in contrast, has just 5.6 grams of carb in 1/4 cup. Also, white flour has 3.0 grams of protein in 1/4 cup, whereas vital wheat gluten has 26.0 grams. Vital wheat gluten flour looks and feels a lot like flour, which makes it exceptionally handy in baking.
Some folks have an allergy to gluten, the name given to certain proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Affected individuals cannot eat foods containing gluten. This takes wheat and the other grains off the table for them. Fortunately, there are many gluten-free recipes in this book-waffles, pancakes, crepes, certain quick breads, cookies, bread crumbs, croutons, and more. So if you happen to have this problem, it will still be possible for you to enjoy many low-carb treats.
Unprocessed (crude) Wheat Bran
You know it as a good source of fiber, but wheat bran is also low in carbs. There are 3.0 grams of carb, 2.0 grams of protein, and 6.0 grams of fiber in 1/4 cup of crude wheat bran, so it is helpful in many ways, especially in replacing the bulk that comes from traditional flours in baking. When you buy crude wheat bran, especially in bulk quantities, make sure it is not stale-it should have almost no smell. You can improve the flavor of bran slightly by toasting it. Just put 3 or 4 cups in a large, shallow baking pan and toast the bran for about 25 to 30 minutes at 3000F. You can also buy Kretschmer's Toasted Wheat Bran, which is ready to go.
Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder appears in the recipes here in small amounts and mainly for its terrific value as a usable protein and its beneficial effect on the immune system. Baked goods made with it tend to be slightly fragile or delicate, and as a practical matter, whey does not work quite as well as some other products in replacing flour. In health food stores, you will usually find whey protein next to soy protein powder and other proteins. Look for a whey powder that says it is ultra- or microfiltered. It comes in several flavors as well as plain. For cooking and baking it's best to use plain (natural or unflavored) whey to avoid adding unintended flavors. Whey protein can also become the base for terrific high-protein shakes and smoothies that make wonderful power breakfasts (or anytime meals). For that purpose, choose from the fun flavors-chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, mocha-you can purchase besides the plain variety. Or, if you like, you can simply add flavor to the natural whey with fresh or frozen fruits or flavor extracts. The carb count for whey protein varies with the product, so check labels when you buy it. In this cookbook we have assigned whey an average value of 3.0 grams of carb per 1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) and 20.0 grams of protein for the same amount.
Soy Protein Powder
Unlike whey protein, pure soy protein powder has no carbs. It has both a neutral flavor and a texture that make it useful as a flour substitute. It is extremely helpful in low-carb cooking. If you want to reduce carbs dramatically, soy protein powder is the ingredient of choice. Soy protein powder is used in many commercial soy-based foods.
Some newer research suggests that the manufacturing processes used to make these soy protein isolates (found not only in soy protein powders but in some forms of tofu, soy milk products, texturized vegetable protein, and other soy products) may damage the proteins and produce possibly harmful substances. Despite its growing reputation as a health food-and there certainly seems to be some evidence for health benefits from naturally fermented soy products in certain conditions -the jury is still out on the health benefits, or, more importantly, the health risks of eating large amounts of processed soy. Until more definitive information becomes available, soy protein powder is used slightly more sparingly in the recipes in this book than it might have been otherwise. Since soy protein powder is never the main ingredient in any recipe, you will not be eating large amounts. If the use of processed soy concerns you, however, you can substitute whey protein powder for soy protein powder in a ratio of 1/3 cup whey protein powder for every 1/4 cup of soy protein powder, with a slight gain in carb, and, depending on the whey protein you use, a slight loss in texture.
Another choice is to substitute equal amounts of soy protein powder with equal amounts of full-fat roasted or full-fat raw soy flour. Soy flour has 5.5 grams of carb in 1/4 cup and 7.4 grams of protein. Unlike soy protein powder, it has a pronounced flavor, which will come through if you use the flour in all but small amounts. Not everyone likes this particular taste. Soy flour is available in most health food stores and in many supermarkets.
The black soybean is not much of a flour substitute, but it possesses marvelous and unusual qualities. Unlike its cousins, black beans, garbanzo beans, navy beans, kidney beans, and so on, which weigh in at about 20.0 grams of carb in 1/2 cup and are pretty nearly off limits on a low-carb diet, this precious little legume has only 3.2 grams of carb, 6.9 grams of protein, and 3.8 grams of fiber in 1/2 cup. Black soybeans will help satisfy your craving for the legumes you cannot eat or can eat only sparingly. Beyond doing "bean duty," though, the black soybean's fairly neutral flavor and mealy texture makes it useful in unexpected places, even in some cookies and candies. The beans also come in quite handy as an unobtrusive thickener. Black soybeans (Eden Organic Soybeans and Shari's, to name two brands) are available in most health food stores and many supermarkets.
Before you read anything about sweeteners-natural or artificial-bear in mind that the best course of all is to use sweeteners as little as possible. Less really is better.
"Beat butter and sugar until thick and creamy; add eggs, one at a time"-how many great cookie recipes begin this way? The result is cookies with a divine texture. Well, you can never follow that dictate again. That cup of sugar you are asked to add to the butter in traditional cookie recipes clocks in at 198.0 grams of carb. But do not feel too disappointed. With just a few exceptions, you can mimic the sugar-butter-egg combo successfully with the recipes here. Only the rare recipe needs a small boost from real sugar. Most of the time the substitute sweetener works well-and does so for just a fraction of the carb cost of real sugar.
Artificial sweeteners that you can use not only in beverages but also in cooking and baking-sweeteners that taste good, do not deteriorate in heat, and are not, at this time, known to be harmful-are limited. The sweetener of choice in this book is sucralose (trade name: Splenda). It has been around for over a decade in several countries, including Canada, and received FDA approval in the United States in 2000. Sucralose is made from table sugar that has been chemically and ingeniously altered so that your body has no idea that this is sugar and thus allows it to pass through with insulin asleep at the switch. You, on the other hand, can enjoy the pleasant sweetening powers it possesses. Still, there are drawbacks.
The compound is said to be 600 times sweeter than the sugar from which it is derived. To make it a substance-one that is visible, that is-it needs to be packed with a carrier. At the time of this writing, you can buy Splenda (in the United States) as small packets or as a granular powder that can be used as if it were real sugar. Both forms are available in most supermarkets. The bulking or carrying agents for Splenda are maltodextrin and dextrose. They are what you "see" when you open a box or packet. Both are sugars. This diminishes the effect of the sugar-free sucralose. Two teaspoons of the loose powder (or one packet, the equivalent of 2 teaspoons) contain 1.0 gram of carb or a bit less. Count either as 1.0 gram. In subjective taste tests-you can do this yourself-the packets appear to sweeten a little better than equivalent amounts of the granular powder. So the recipes in this book suggest using Splenda packets, but feel free to use the granular form. You can reduce or increase the amount of sweetener in any recipe. Use as little as needed to satisfy your taste buds. (As a reference point, a cup of sugar is equivalent to about 24 packets of Splenda.)
The sweetener is also manufactured in tablet form in 200-count dispensers (like the Equal tablets that are made from aspartame). Tablets are superior to other forms of the Splenda sweetener because the pills carry little in the way of bulk. Ten tablets equal 5 packets of Splenda and have only 1.0 gram of carb. They are easy to crush to a powder with a mortar and pestle. The downside is that the tablets are not currently available in the United States. It is to be hoped that this will change. You may want to check the www.Splenda.com website or the Drs. Eades's website, www.eatprotein.com, for new information on tablet availability.
Although not featured in recipes in this book, you can substitute other
sweeteners. One is stevia, a product coaxed from the leaves of the
Stevia rebaudiana plant and sold as a bulk powder, in packets, or as a
liquid in health food stores. The compound isn't advertised as a
sweetener, because, despite its safety and potent sweetness, the Food
and Drug Administration hasn't given permission for this product to
be labeled as such. Look for it alongside vitamin supplements instead
of with the sugars. Stevia is stable in liquids, heat-stable for baking,
and appears to have little effect on blood sugar. It can be a useful
addition to the low-carb kitchen, but be cautious with it; if you use too
much, it tends to taste bitter.