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Back to basics
AT first glance, Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans is a poster boy for good health - tall and fit, complete with blue eyes, bronze skin, and boyish good looks. But it's not just about good genes and pure luck, it's also a lifestyle choice - namely the paleo diet that he believes in.
'Paleo' basically means old, says the 42-year-old. "Really simply, it's about eliminating any foods that can cause inflammation, like dairy and gluten... and about celebrating meat, vegetables, fruits, seafoods, spices, and herbs. It's pre-agriculture, back to hunter-gatherer times with roots, berries, and shrubs. It's going back to basic foods without the fillers," he explains.
In the context of daily life, that means avoiding cream, butter, noodles, pasta, and grains like rice and barley.
It seems like a lot to ask of someone used to the typical Asian diet, since our communal style of dining involves eating a lot of rice with dishes. That's why it would be interesting to find out what was the typical diet of someone living in Singapore 1,000 years ago, says chef Evans, who was in Singapore earlier this week. He was in town to meet with people from Frasers Hospitality, with whom he is developing training programmes and working to open restaurants in their properties around the world.
While in Singapore, chef Evans had dinner at Newton Circus and picked sambal stingray with sambal kangkong, while forgoing the rice that usually goes with it. Breakfast the next day followed a similar thread - just duck meat, vegetables, and century eggs at a coffeeshop in Tiong Bahru.
Although he has always been personally interested in nutrition, chef Evans first started exploring paleo after his daughter was born with a tumour. The medical treatments compromised her immune system, and they also found out that she was gluten and dairy intolerant. That was the trigger for him to change the way his family ate.
Now, a typical meal he cooks at home for his kids can be as simple as a chicken or vegetable soup, a roast, curry, a stir-fry using coconut oil, or thowing some items on the barbecue.
When asked if he had any tips for home cooks who might want to learn how to cook healthy meals, chef Evans has one word to say: Broth.
"You just need a small amount of meat or seafood, and lots of green vegetables. Broth is one of the best forms because you're getting all the nutrients from the bones, from the animals. So you get the collagen, the gelatin, the minerals, the calcium. All of that gets extracted into the water, so you're getting a multi-vitamin in that broth."
He has some good news for the sweet-toothed who might want to eat healthier too - paleo diets do not require dessert to be taken off the menu. It's all about knowing what to use as an alternative. For instance, instead of using regular cheese, you can use cashew cheese, while refined sugar can be replaced with honey.
So at his two restaurants in Australia, he still serves desserts such as panna cotta but made with coconut cream or coconut milk instead of cow's milk, set using gelatin and sweetened with honey, or chocolate mousse made with avocado fat to achieve the rich and creamy texture.
Don't just take his word for it though, says chef Evans, who's particularly wary about telling people what to eat. He says: "We write cookbooks and put food in the restaurants that are part of our philosophy. We offer an alternative if people want to try it out for themselves and understand it. I just talk about this as a potential way that you might want to investigate for your family's health."
His advice instead? Read a book and find out for yourself. He says: "I'd say invest 8 to 10 hours to read a well-researched book. Because I think everything comes down to being informed. Once you understand why, you can make better choices. I don't want this to be about me pushing paleo. I never want to push it on anyone."
Paleo Nasi Goreng
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
600g cauliflower, outer leaves removed, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons coconut oil
350g chicken thigh fillets, skin on and cut into 2cm pieces
150g bacon, cut into 2cm pieces
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 long red chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste
80g Chinese cabbage (wong bok), finely shredded
150g shelled, deveined and cooked baby prawns
80g bean sprouts
4 tablespoons fried shallots or garlic
3 tablespoons tamari or coconut aminos
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
4 free-range organic eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lime wedges, to serve
4 tablespoons cultured vegetables or krauts or your choice
Place the cauliflower in a food processor and pulse until it forms the size of small, rice grain-like granules. Set aside.
Heat a large wok or deep frying pan over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil and heat until just smoking. Add half the chicken and stir-fry for 3 minutes, or until brown and just cooked. Transfer to a bowl, then stir-fry the remaining chicken in another tablespoon of oil and transfer to the bowl.
Add the bacon to the pan and stir-fry for 3 minutes until golden and crispy. Transfer to the bowl with the cooked chicken. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the spring onion, chilli and garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the carrot and celery and stir-fry for a further 3 minutes.
Return the chicken and bacon to the pan, then add the shrimp paste, cabbage and prawns and stir-fry for 2 minutes, or until the cabbage wilts. Add the cauliflower rice, bean sprouts, 2 tablespoons of fried shallots, tamari or coconut aminos, honey (if using), fish sauce and tamarind. Stir-fry for 2 minutes until heated through. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.
Heat half of the remaining oil or fat in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Crack two eggs into the pan and fry until the whites set and the yolks begin to harden. Transfer the eggs to a plate and repeat with the remaining eggs and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the nasi goreng into four serving bowls, top each one with a fried egg and the remaining fried shallots and serve with lime wedges. Spoon 1 tablespoon of cultured vegetables or kraut on each plate. Serve.
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