Cooking for the Sensitive Gut

How to make curry taste good without onions and chilli

taste good wi

If you ask a cross section of people with a sensitive gut and symptoms of IBS  which dishes they are keen to avoid a large proportion of them will say eating ‘curry’ is a nightmare because it triggers symptoms. There are good reasons for this because most curries do contain ingredients which can upset the gut such as fats and oils, chilli (capsaicin) and onions and garlic. What many people do not realise is that it is still possible to make tasty curries using ingredients which are calming and soothing to the gut and without triggering symptoms..

Curry does needs to contain lots of onions, garlic and chilli to taste authentic. In fact there are many superb tasting authentic ‘curry’ dishes that rely on an interesting synergy of gentler flavours. These include turmeric, ginger, lemongrass and coconut.

Onions and garlic, you will remember,  contain a type of fermentable carbohydrate (FODMAPs) which can cause pain, discomfort and bloating in some people with IBS. The way to get the flavour of onion without triggering symptoms is to use the part of the plant that does not contain the pesky FODMAPs. The green tops of spring onions or young leeks are low in FODMAPs and can be sweated in a little oil to provide a good savoury base to a ‘curry’ like sauce.

The way to obtain the flavour of garlic without including  FODMAPs is to fry a couple of cloves of sliced garlic in oil and then discard the cooked garlic slices. FODMAPs in garlic are soluble in water, whereas the allicin and other volatile compounds that give garlic its distinctive aroma are soluble in oil.  Interesting if you do taste the garlic which has been cooked in the oil it tastes rather bitter.

Chilli contains capsaisin which is a gut irritant for some people so it is best to limit this in the dishes you cook. But in truth a well flavoured curry does not have to have chilli if other strong flavours can compensate.

So the best way to make a curry without triggering symptoms is to make some garlic oil, add the green part of salad onions or leeks and then add grated fresh ginger and a generous mix of freshly ground cumin, coriander and turmeric. If you have lemongrass, chop it up very finely at this point and throw it into the sauce.  You could also add kaffir lime leaves if you have them.

Cherry tomatoes add moisture, texture, sweetness and colour to the sauce which is finished with a small can of coconut milk let down with a little water and then seasoned well with salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice before adding fish, prawns or chicken to cook through.

I loved this recipe and it proved really popular at the Allergy and Free From show and other cookery demonstrations. It proved my point that a delicate, spicy dish can taste great without using onions or chilli.

Fish curry with coconut and lemongrass

Serves 4


  • Drizzle of vegetable oil – about  2 tbsp
  • 1 clove of garlic, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and very thin slices – cut lengthways
  • green parts of 4 spring onions/leeks, finely sliced
  • 2 tsp whole coriander seeds, roasted lightly and then ground
  • 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds, roasted lightly and then, ground
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 walnut sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, roughly cut into quarters
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves*
  • 1 stick of lemongrass, very finely chopped*
  • 165 mls coconut milk (a small can)
  • add fresh lemon to taste
  • 1 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 1- 2 tsp soy sauce for added flavour (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • 600 g white fish, remove skin and cut into small chunks
  • a handful of fresh baby spinach leaves

To serve

  • 1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

*if you do not have lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves you can leave them out. The curry will still taste good.


Drizzle the vegetable oil in a wok or large frying pan and gently fry the garlic slices until they begin to brown and then discard. 

Add the sliced red pepper and the sliced green spring onion leaves to the garlic flavoured oil and sweat these until they are soft but not discoloured.

Add the ground coriander, cumin and turmeric and ginger to the pan and cook gently for a minute.

Add the chopped tomatoes, (lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, if using) followed by the coconut milk.

Mix the ingredients together well and allow to simmer gently for about 10 minutes (during which time you can cook some Basmati rice which takes 12 minutes to cook).

Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning by adding a little lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add a splash of fish sauce if you want to add more flavour to the curry. If your curry needs a little more flavour add a little soy sauce.

Add fish and spinach to the sauce and cook at a simmer for 7 minutes..

Serve your curry with rice, strewn with a little chopped  coriander and spices to decorate the rice.

Low FODMAP curry-4

A copy of our book – Cooking for the Sensitive Gut is available form Amazon and all good book shops.

Cover for the book from Pavilion


If you would like more information about managing your sensitive gut see The IBS Network

IBSLogowithstrap March 2011

This entry was written by Joan Ransley and published on April 18, 2016 at 8:20 pm. It’s filed under Dinner and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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