There must come a time when all cooks, having indulged in so many good things to eat, must reconcile their gastronomic pleasures with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
My personal aim is to cut down on salt and saturated fat and to eat more of the recommended healthy types of food. This is not a problem as I believe I have enough experience in the kitchen to overcome any barriers to the enjoyment of healthy food.
That is until I stopped eating butter and salt. My father always said that food tastes better with butter and salt. He was right – take a hot potato… what does it need? Butter and salt. Or cooking a steak? Butter and salt. Avocado on toast? Same answer. It seems we may have unwittingly developed a high dependency for both ingredients.
I struggled without salt on my avocado toast. Butter wasn’t the problem – indeed, the avocado is a natural fatty replacement for butter. But I couldn’t find a single salt-free condiment from my store cupboard that would immediately compensate for salt. Happily, just as we can learn to tolerate more salt, so we can learn to tolerate less salt. I got used to eating less salt.
Still, this is the story behind the ’20 things to put on toast’. Each idea stems from my specific challenge: what can I put on my toast if I cannot add butter or salt (or use saturated fat)? The fat conundrum is fully realised when hard cheeses are excluded – no doubt there must be 50 ways to leave your cheesy toastie…
However, in trying to find creative workarounds, as well as rediscover old favourites, I have developed a range of ideas that can be adapted for canapés, crostini or bruschetta. See the end of the post for low-fat and low-salt notes.
I’ve used my ‘Surbiton sourdough’ bread for the toasts. Use any kind of bread or crispbread.
1. Deconstructed Sundried tomato and Kalamata olive tapenade
The sundried tomato is from a supermarket branded jar. Kalamata olives are lower in salt than some processed forms, but still quite high. However, as each toast only has one and a half olives, we can discount the salt levels. Surprisingly, one and a half olives is all that is required to achieve a tapenade taste and texture (check ingredient lists to help work out proportions – one jar of tapenade has 21% olives to 16% tomato – probably the proportions of both ingredients on my toast).
Snacks can be made from proprietary jars of purees and pastes and various pates. Most tapenades are low in saturated fat, as are fish and vegetable pates. Meat pates are very high in saturated fat – so Ardennes pate with a fruity chutney, or any other meat pate is not included in this selection of snacks – sadly…
Method: Spread the sundried tomato puree on toast add olives and basil.
2. Carciofi (artichokes) and broad bean puree with shallots, green pepper and garlic
This has the taste of an Italian vingole or spring vegetable stew.
Method: Drain a jar (280g) of sliced artichoke hearts over a small saucepan. Retain a couple artichokes for a garnish. Heat the oil in the pan to a low temperature and confit 2 cloves of garlic, half a sliced green pepper and two small shallots until tender. Meanwhile, cook a small handful of small frozen broad beans in boiling (lightly salted) water until tender and drain. Put the artichokes into a small blender, drain the confit ingredients and add to the blender along with the beans and a large pinch of oregano. Blend to a rough paste. (I find using a small pan and stick blender easier for this task.) Adjust the seasoning to suit and add a squeeze of lemon and a little fresh virgin olive oil. Garnish with the reserved artichokes. Mint also works well with artichokes and beans.
3. Aubergine and mushroom puree with shallots and garlic and fried rosemary
This is inspired by baba ganoush, a roasted aubergine puree. I’ve retained the smokiness by charring the aubergine slices in a non-stick pan.
Method: Makes a small tub (about 300 ml). Skin the aubergine without cutting away too much of the flesh and cut into thick slices. Fry in a dry non-stick pan on a medium high heat until browned and slightly charred on both sides. Reduce the heat and cook until the aubergine is soft and cooked through. In light olive oil, confit (cook gently) 2 cloves of garlic, 2 small sliced shallots and 4 or 5 thinly sliced button mushrooms and drain well. Whizz the confit and aubergine in a small blender. Add seasoning and thinning agents to suit. I used fresh virgin olive oil and lemon. Alternatively, try tahini, or yoghurt and lemon. Herbs can be added to taste – try dried oregano, fresh basil, thyme or parsley. Decorate with fresh red pepper and raw sliced mushrooms and a fried sprig of rosemary (fry the sprig in a little oil and drain).
4. Romesco sauce with hazelnuts and parsley
This was inspired by Italian roasted peppers, an easy and delicious antipasto. But blending the peppers made me think of a Romesco sauce and Spanish flavours. Romesco is also full of cholesterol-friendly nuts.
Method: Makes a large tub (about 500 ml). In hot water, soak either two large cascabel dried chillies, one large ancho chilli or two small nora peppers. Before soaking take off the stem and remove the seeds. After 5 minutes drain the peppers and reserve the liquid. In light olive oil, confit (cook gently) 4 cloves of garlic, two small shallots. Drain a small jar of roasted peppers (175 drained), retain the liquid and put the peppers into a blender with the soaked chilli/pepper. Add 3 tablespoons sundried tomato puree, 1 tablespoon of ground almonds, 2 tablespoons white bread crumbs, 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, half a teaspoon hot smoked paprika and pepper. Blend, adding either the liquid from the peppers or chilli, or fresh virgin olive oil. Adjust seasoning to suit. Garnish with chopped hazelnuts and parsley. This sauce is a brilliant condiment to have in the fridge. Put it on a warm Spanish tortilla omelette, or add to a tomato sauce with tinned salmon or tuna for a Mediterranean pasta sauce.
5. Avocado toast
This is a standard go-to idea. Avocado is not low in fat, but it is low in saturated fats. Don’t mess with the basic recipe – it’s avocado and toast. Season with pepper -and salt if you are allowed – and a good squeeze of lemon. Add olive oil for extra indulgence.
6. Cottage cheese and chives
Cottage cheese is unfortunately associated with dieting and crispbread. But the good news is that cottage cheese tastes brilliant. It’s fresh tang and satisfying texture more than make up for the loss of butter or salt. The only additional seasoning necessary is pepper and chives.
7. Lox and cream cheese
Lox (smoked salmon) and cream cheese is a classic Jewish combination, most often seen in a bagel. We should not fight a tried and tested combination – this works because it tastes so good. Use a low-fat cream cheese for less fat. Smoked salmon comes with 3% salt. But like the olives above, the salmon is more of a seasoning than main ingredient. It’s a yin and yang thing – let the bread and cream cheese be the main conduit and use the salmon as a flavouring.
8. De-constructed guacamole
Everybody likes a good guac. But it’s a fuss to make. This simple version is made by adding bits of tomato, chilli and cilantro. You could add some finely chopped spring onion. A squeeze of lime (or lemon) is essential.
9. Homemade houmous
This is a no-brainer. The additional effort of making houmous at home turns this everyday puree into something special.
Method: in olive oil, confit (cook gently) 3 cloves of garlic until tender, drain well. Drain a tin of chick peas, retain the liquid and put the pulses into a small blender. Add a couple tablespoons of tahini, the juice of half a lemon a good glug of virgin olive oil and the confit garlic. Add (a little) salt and (loads of) pepper.
10. Cottage cheese, sardines and chilli
Don’t scoff. This is really good – and it’s good for you! (Think of all that omega-3…) I found a tin of ‘picante’ sardines (sardines canned with chillies). The chilli makes a great garnish and believe me, you will not miss the butter or salt after this. But do add a large squeeze of lemon. If you cannot find picante sardines, use normal and add shichimi Japanese chilli seasoning, schirarchi chilli sauce, cholula chilli sauce, hot smoked paprika (you get the idea…) NB: chilli sauces are very good for dieters – they help you to forget all those lovely salty, buttery things you could be eating!
11. Salmon, cucumber and dill
Another classic combo. Imagine a banquet table – centre stage, a whole poached salmon immaculately decorated with mayonnaise, cucumber and dill. Well, this is the same – just on a smaller scale. Poach your own salmon, or used tinned, spread on low-fat cream cheese (or lite mayo), garnish with cucumber and dill.
12. Japanese avocado on toast
This elevates simple avocado on toast to a whole new level. But you will need to go to the Japanese store. In particular you will need yuzu koshu, a pepper and citrus paste. If they’re out of stock, use sansho pepper or shichimi and yuzu juice. You also need some shiso leaves and kewpie (optional) mayonnaise. Spread the mayo on the toast, mash the avocado on top and mix with small dabs of yuzu koshu. Garnish with chopped shiso leaves and white sesame seeds.
13. Egg mayonnaise
Our fondness for mashed soft or hard-boiled eggs starts in the nursery and continues with egg mayonnaise and cress sarnies for a working lunch – or a picnic in the park – and continues with the guilty pleasure of the ubiquitous ‘deviled’ eggs at the buffet table or barbecue. Here I’ve simply mixed chopped egg with low-fat cream cheese (and/or lite mayonnaise) topped with cress. Simply perfect.
14. Avocado and egg
This is a sop to fast moving Instagram food trends. The combination of poached eggs and avocado seems counter-intuitive and just as odd as cooking an avocado or making a soup from avocado (either hot or cold). I suppose people imagine that with such a marvelous raw ingredient, there must be more that can be done with it. (Resist – less is more…) However, in the interest of not wanting to be seen as an avocado killjoy, I offer semi-hard boiled eggs on avocado – not an unhappy pairing. To add some spice and crunch, I’ve sprinkled dukkah and nigella seeds over the eggs.
15. Poached egg
There is a misconception that since eggs contain cholesterol, we should not eat them if we want to lower our cholesterol. Apparently, the logic does not hold out and moderate consumption of eggs is encouraged. The important thing is not to cook eggs in saturated fat i.e. butter. Poaching is clearly a healthier way to cook an egg. The trick to eating a poached egg on non-buttered toast is to imagine the yolk as fatty butter and to make do with the salt from the bread. This simple idea was a revelation – we often use eggs as a means to some other end, but eggs are delicious in themselves. Poach your egg to perfection, put it on some tasty toast, season with pepper and enjoy!
16. Asian omelette
This is an Asian way of cooking egg to add to a stir fry. Butter is not needed because oil works better. Slice 2 or 3 button mushrooms very thinly, chop a spring onion into thin slices and fry in a little ground nut oil in a large non-stick pan for a couple of minutes. Spread out the mushrooms and onion evenly. Whisk the egg and add to the pan, turning and tilting the pan so the egg covers the base in an even layer. Wait for the top to dry out then pull up with a spatula and carefully turn over. Cook for a few moments more and remove from the heat. Tip the omelette onto a surface, when cool, roll it up and slice. Add to the toast, sprinkle over sesame seeds, add a little (low-salt) soy and toasted sesame oil.
Not necessarily advisable as part of a calorie-controlled diet, but at least the sugar content is natural. Just eat in moderation.
17. Cream cheese, date and almond
This is canapé idea came from my sister. She put the cream cheese in the date and then the almond. Dates are very high in sugar (mainly fructose), so we should eat dates responsibly (perhaps this toast would be better with one and a half dates rather than three!) In any event it is a combo worth knowing.
18. Pear, walnut, cream cheese and honey
This is inspired by the Spanish way of serving cheese with honey (orange blossom) and nuts. It’s also a great combination. The recipe is in the name.
19. Peanut butter and cacao nibs
Peanut butter is used in two of the world’s great taste combinations: peanut butter and jelly; and peanut butter and chocolate (especially in the form of a Reese’s peanut butter cup). Raw natural cacao nibs are high in fibre and deemed healthier than processed chocolate. Of course, there is fat in all chocolate, but it is reported to be neutral as far as cholesterol is concerned. Even so, we should eat in moderation. On the other hand, we should never deny ourselves something as good as this toast. The texture of the nibs and peanut butter is particularly satisfying, and we are rewarded with a sweet and pleasant aftertaste which lingers on the palate…
20. Peanut butter, banana and honey
Peanut butter aficionados will know of the desiccating effect the paste can have on the palate. Eat a rounded spoonful and it is likely to be cemented in the mouth for several minutes. That’s why it needs extra lubrication – hence peanut butter and jelly or even chocolate, as in the above toast. Here we are spared our puckerings through the addition of banana and honey.
Notes: For low-saturated fat and low-salt snacks check all labels for fat content and salt – aim to keep lower than 10% total fat and much less saturated. Aim for 1.5% salt or lower – this is surprisingly difficult when you start to look. On salt, my advice is to simply watch your intake and limit consumption of high-salt items (i.e. anything preserved in brine or salted – such as olives, capers and anchovies) don’t avoid ‘cooking’ with salt (i.e. do add salt in home-baked bread, it’s inedible otherwise). In some cases I have seasoned the deli-purees below with very small amounts of salt as they were made (i.e. houmous requires some salt, but not as much as we would like to add). But otherwise do not add salt if it does not need it (i.e. the Romesco sauce is zinging with flavour and does not need added salt.) Olive oil is used in many of the snacks, it’s a fat, but a mono-saturated fat, so generally regarded as a beneficial (i.e better than saturated).