I’ve become one of those people that no one wants to cook for. When I first went dairy and gluten free, it was okay because I could eat everything else, and my family happily cooked chicken and sweet potatoes for me. Then I went SCD, and I took my own food everywhere and my family happily boiled eggs for me.
Now, on the autoimmune paleo diet, my family and my girlfriend have basically thrown their hands in the air. They could deal with no dairy. They could deal with no grains. They could even deal with no sugar. But no nightshades?! NO TOMATO?! *hands fly up into the air. What do we feed you?!
I concede that a diet void of tomatoes is… devastating. It’s not only difficult to cook for, but also difficult to live with. The AIP diet calls for the elimination of all nightshade vegetables – the edible members of the solanaceae family – which include potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, chili, paprika, eggplant and various others. See a full list of nightshades as well as an explanation of why they’re problematic for people with autoimmune disease here.
Saying goodbye to nightshades
For the most part, for most people, nightshades aren’t all that hard to give up – except for the tomatoes. Many of us already limit or restrict our intake of potatoes. Lots of people don’t like peppers and they’re pretty easy to avoid too. The same can be said for eggplant. Chilies and paprika is admittedly harder to kick – especially if you like your food to have a bit of kick itself – and also, paprika is found in many pre-made spice mixes.
But here’s the real catch: tomatoes. Just for a moment think of how many tomato-based or tomato-enhanced dishes you eat. Salads, soups, stews, sauces, curries, casseroles, bakes, bolognaises and so much more. Tomatoes are used for colour, flavour, thickness and tang, and they’re used because they’re delicious.
It’s been less than a week but I’ve already found myself up against some pretty tenacious tomatoes. There are some still loitering in my fridge; there were some gorgeous baby ones in my restaurant salad last night, and I had to deftly avoid slurping up some of their seeds with my lunch today (close call!).
When it comes down to it, there’s nothing that easily replaces tomato. It’s not like switching shallots for onions or replacing sweet potato with butternut. NOTHING is like a tomato, which means that one must get creative and think laterally!
The tomato paste bait-and-switch
A few nights ago I decided to make my SCD burgers – one of my absolute favourite meals. But – panic! – I knew that omitting the tomato paste would completely dull the taste of the patties: due to its tartness, tomato paste adds a unique depth of flavour that is very difficult to mimic with anything else.
After plenty of Googling, I finally came across the answer: substituting tamarind paste for tomato paste. Who’d have thought?!
And even luckier: I bought a large packet of tamarind paste while I was in Malaysia recently. I’d used it during my cooking course in Kuala Lampur and I was eager to bring it home and try it in my own cooking.
What is tamarind paste – and is it paleo?
Tamarind is a very sticky, tart brown pulp that comes from the pods of the tamarind tree. Often, the seeds – roughly the size of a cherry pit – are left in the paste and you need to remove them before using the paste.
To make the substitution, use roughly half the amount of tamarind paste as you would tomato paste. It’s very tangy with a touch of sweet, just like tomato paste but more intense. Put a little on your finger and give it a taste.
Where to get tamarind paste and what to use instead of it
You’re most likely to find tamarind paste at Asian, Chinese or Indian food suppliers. Or, you can do what I do and Google it, as this will help you to find a supplier in your area or perhaps an online retailer that sells it.
If you can’t find it, some people use pomegranate molasses instead. Accordingly to Nigella Lawson’s site, you can also mix equal parts of lime juice, white wine or rice vinegar with sugar. I haven’t tried this myself, but it is apparently only effective if just a small quantity is required, as tamarind has a very unique flavour (in the same way, this is why it works well as a substitute for tomato paste, because the latter is usually only used in small amounts).
Recipes using tamarind paste
Tamarind paste is mostly used in Indian and Asian dishes. Here’s an awesome recipe for paleo pad Thai using tamarind paste, taken from Against All Grain – an amazing site if you haven’t checked it out yet. Or you can give it a bash my paleo/SCD burger recipe 🙂
Give it a try and see what you think!