Recipes low in histamine don’t draw anywhere near the attention that those for other restricted diets attract — ie gluten free or vegan — but are arguably much more needed, given that low-histamine ready meals are unheard of.
New veggies or recently diagnosed coeliacs may be able to get away with minimal cooking if they really wish to, but what are histamine sensitive individuals to do but prepare safe and healthy meals for themselves?
Enter Histamine Intolerance: The Cookbook, by my friend and colleague Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, a companion volume to Dr Janice Joneja’s The Beginner’s Guide to Histamine Intolerance (which I reviewed here), also published by Michelle’s new publishing venture, Curlew Books.
HI:TC is a collection of 95 original recipes spanning soups, pastas, fish, meats, vegetables, salads, desserts and more, and for anyone on a low-histamine diet who is tired of eating blandly, albeit safely, this collection will serve as a new gateway to flavour. It’s a real treat.
For the uninitiated, histamine is essential to the body, not least to the immune system. We produce it. We consume it. Surplus histamine is broken down by enzymes. But if we produce or consume too much, or our enzyme production can’t cope, then the surplus lingers. And that means symptoms — allergy-like itches, hives, headaches, tachycardia, runny nose and more.
The theory is a low-histamine diet helps keep levels low, or at least low enough. But it can be bland, or difficult, especially if you have other dietary restrictions …
So … what solutions does the book offer us? And, for those unfamiliar, what is Michelle’s free from cooking actually like?
Well, she loves English produce and is faithful to seasonal fare — gooseberries, kale, celeriac, greengages, asparagus, beetroot — and into this mix she likes to blend ‘free from’ and allergy-friendly imports — coconut, quinoa, water chestnuts, exotic rices, teff — often on a base of her own preferred signature flavours — ginger, garlic, leek, any alliums actually, and, normally …. anchovies. She loves anchovies.
But anchovies are forbidden. Indeed, some of the most flavoursome ingredients and foods are off the low-histamine menu — red tomatoes, pickled foods, many condiments, charcuterie, rich cheeses, chocolate, wines, beers, olives and olive oil … I’m not entirely sure how this Italian would cope were I to be diagnosed, and frankly the tachycardia is kicking off at the mere thought of it.
You see, it’s those matured, ripened, fermented, umami-ish flavours that typically come with a hefty side-order of histamine …
A less adventurous cook might over-rely on carrots and potatoes and chicken and other safe histamine-safe staples, and while these make occasional appearances, Michelle likes to be bolder in her use of ingredients, especially where you might not expect them. Her ‘Nomato Sauce‘, which includes beetroot, cabbage and sea vegetables, being a case in point. She likes to champion the under-appreciated — vegetables especially, such as Jerusalem artichokes and okra. I can barely recall a time I’ve seen a spud in Michelle’s kitchen during the decade-plus I’ve been visiting and occasionally cooking in it, but it would be an odd day to find it free of fridge-hogging shrubs of Swiss chard or cavolo nero.
An anchovy-free variation of one of my favourites — what I’ve always cheekily called ploughed field lentils — makes a welcome appearance as Puy Lentils with Coriander. I have never been able to match hers, but will persist. When autumn draws in I will also retry the most memorable meal I’ve ever eaten at Michelle’s, Flageolet, Chestnut and Cardamom Stew, my sole subsequent attempt at which was a disaster (not least because the flageolets refused to yield, the stubborn little bâtards), but if you can replicate the magic I promise you wet eyes and shivers of joy.
In the Fish section you’ll find clarity on the seafood you can and can’t eat, and why. Fish degrades quickly once caught, and while the bacteria that can multiply on it is killed by heat, the histamine those bacteria produce is not. Just-caught fish is fine, but in practice the pescatarian must mostly stick with canned or frozen. Tinned sardines, mercifully, are safe, then, and crop up in Bean and Sardine Salad, and Beets with Cavolo Nero and Sardines. I enjoyed the description of tuna as “sufficiently vigorous in both taste and texture” to cope with cabbage, a vegetable I’d never have considered pairing with it, and am duly looking forward to trying Tuna Matchsticks with Celery and Savoy.
Many of the recipes are GF and DF, or easily adaptable to be so, and while the low FODMAP-er may be occasionally frustrated by the onion and garlic, there is plenty to keep coeliacs and milk allergics jolly. These are not complicated recipes, I might add. Methods rarely stretch to over ten steps. Lists of ingredients are generally short. Even the cook who feels their skills limited in the kitchen ought not feel intimidated. It’s all really doable.
What I’d have loved to see are some savoury polenta recipes, but I am told there is the prospect of a gluten-free Italian book on the horizon, co-authored with the culinary legend who is Anna del Conte, so I’ll be keeping fingers crossed for that while I cast threatening glances towards the simmering flageolets …