Cooking for the Sensitive Gut

Recipes from the Ilkley Literature Festival

We have so many preconceptions about what makes food taste good. One is that curry 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, kaffir lime and coconut.

Onions, you will remember,  contain a lot of fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPS) which can trigger the production of gas, pain and bloating in some people with IBS.

Chilli is low in FODMAPs but it does contain 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 need chilli if there are other flavours to compensate.

Malaysian curry dishes tend to be milder than Indian ones because they contain less chilli and different mix of gentler spices. So I set about recreating a milder tasting fish curry (you could substitute chicken) using easily available ingredients but without the use of onions or chilli. Just to see if it could be achieved.

Garlic oil and the green tops of salad onions or young leeks provide a very good savoury base to a ‘curry’ like sauce and they are both low in FODMAPS.

To this base I added 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 together with a couple of kaffir lime leaves if you have them. I keep my fresh kaffir lime leaves in the freezer.

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 splash of water 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 my point that a delicate, spicy dish can taste great without using onions or chilli.

Fish curry with coconut, lemongrass and kaffir lime

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, 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 about 12 minutes to cook).

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

Finally add the fish and spinach to the curry sauce and cook at a simmer for 7 minutes. Add a little hot water if you like your curry a little more moist.

Serve your curry with rice, strewn with a little chopped  coriander.

Chocolate and aubergine cake with white chocolate icing

Makes 15 slices 


  • 1 large aubergine (weighing roughly 400g)
  • 300 g/10 oz dark chocolate, (60% minimum cocoa solids), broken into squares
  • 50 g/ 2 oz cocoa powder
  • 50 g/2 oz ground almonds
  • 3 medium free range eggs
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • zest 1 orange
  • 200 g/7 oz golden syrup
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 100 g/ 4 oz fresh or frozen raspberries and a few blueberries
  • edible flowers to garnish such as borage, lavender or rose petals

For the icing

  • 350 g/12 oz icing sugar
  • 20 g/ ¾ oz butter
  • 100 g/3 ½ oz white chocolate, melted and cooled a little
  • 1-2 tbsp lactose free milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°C/gas 4. To make one cake you will need a square loose bottomed cake tin measuring 23 cm/ 9 in across and 7 cm/3 in deep

Line the cake tin with non stick baking parchment and brush lightly with oil.

Puncture the aubergine all over with a skewer, place in a bowl, cover with Clingfilm and cook in a microwave on high for 5 minutes until soft. Throw away any liquid that has accumulated and leave the aubergine to cool a little.

Skin the aubergine and puree with a stick blender or liquidiser. Add the broken up chocolate which will melt in the warmth of the aubergine.

Place the remaining ingredients apart from the raspberries and caster sugar in a large bowl and mix together thoroughly. Stir in the aubergine and melted chocolate and half the cranberries.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 40 minutes until firm to touch.

Remove the cake (s) from the oven and cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a cooling tray.

For the icing: beat the icing sugar, butter, vanilla essence and melted white chocolate until you have a thick icing. Add a little milk if you need to loosen the icing.

Spread the icing over the cake and cut into 2cm squares. Decorate each with a raspberry or blueberry and the odd edible flower.

The lemon and cardamom polenta cake I arranged for tasting is on page 154 of the book Cooking for the Sensitive Gut which can be bought on Amazon

Cover for the book from Pavilion


If you would like more information on how to look after your sensitive gut or IBS  the IBS Network may be able to help.

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This entry was written by Joan Ransley and published on October 6, 2016 at 10:32 am. It’s filed under Cake, Dinner and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Recipes from the Ilkley Literature Festival

  1. The curry recipe is the one you made at IBS Conference in Sheffield. I need to give this one a go but with chicken. I have missed curry.

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