Ow, My Gallbladder

My wife is due to give birth to our daughter at the end of May. She's feeling better than she did during the first trimester of her pregnancy, but she's been getting progressively more uncomfortable over the last few weeks.

I believe this is largely due to the fact that her womb contains a five pound human who, like her father, enjoys displaying a sense of rhythm by tapping her hands and feet on things. “Things” in this context include her mother's internal organs.

In addition to the tiny Keith Moon residing in her belly, a few weeks ago my wife began complaining of sharp pain in her sides, sometimes severe enough to make breathing difficult. Not to over-share, but we put it down to gas, and hoped it would pass. (I am so sorry.)

Her doctor, however, told her that the more likely cause of the problem was her gallbladder. The internet tells me that the gallbladder stores bile, which helps our digestive systems break down fatty foods. Certain hormones which are found in greater abundance in women during pregnancy can inhibit the release of bile and lead to the formation of gallstones. It appears that some of those hormones can speed the formation of stones in the gall bladder, and our doctor's advice was to try to reduce the amount of fat in her diet.

I cook a lot, and while I don't overdo things where fat is concerned, once I started consciously trying to cook low-fat meals, I was a bit surprised just how much fat goes into the things I cook on a regular basis. One of my standards is to pan-fry a piece of meat or poultry, then finish it in the oven. I use stock and some sort of alcoholic and/or acidic liquid to deglaze the pan and make a sauce. All of which is fine, except that when I finish the sauce, I typically “mount” it with butter. A lot of butter. Because butter tastes good.

I like to cook meats that are rich in fat; pork butt, chuck roasts, brisket and the like. I sear them, then braise them with vegetables, wine and stock. I finish the dishes by putting the braising liquid through a food mill or a sieve and reducing it. I don't add fat to that sauce, usually, but typically the meat has produced enough that it would be superfluous anyway.

Even recipes that would otherwise be pretty low-fat aren't when I cooked them. I have a standard recipe for cooking yellow or orange lentils that's flavored with toasted ground cumin seed. It's a hearty dish that would be vegetarian but for the chicken stock I usually employ, and vegan were it not for the butter. Lots of butter. I like butter.

When my wife began to suffer pain, I decided to try to modify my cooking to cut back on the fat, but still make things that we'd find appetizing. More importantly, things our kids would find appetizing. Turns out it's not that hard.

The lentil recipe was never a hit with the kids, but Eve and I found it pretty good without the added butter. I took a chance that the kids would eat fish soup, because for some odd reason I had a childhood memory of enjoying red snapper soup at the old Masson's restaurant. The soup I made was closer to the dish I've enjoyed at Jamila's restaurant. I bought a whole black drum and after I filleted it, I made stock with the bones and head. I used lime, cilantro and bulgur wheat in the soup, as well as the standard onion/carrot/celery. The kids both liked it, and it didn't set Eve's gallbladder off, which these days counts as a victory.

I've made a few different versions of steamed tofu, and that's been as much a revelation as anything I've ever cooked. I've always liked tofu, but generally when it's been fried. Steamed? Not so much. But with a simple dressing made of soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sesame oil over steamed rice, it's pretty damn good. Even better with a bit of black-bean-chile sauce into the mix.

I've also made meatballs with turkey that, as God is my witness, were almost as good as the meatballs I generally make with ground veal and pork. Instead of soaking bread crumbs in heavy cream, I used a little skim milk, and for seasoning I used a good bit of lemon-parsley pesto made by my friend Paul, who sells his wares at the Crescent City Farmer's Market. The meatballs were too loose to pan-fry, but when I baked them, they turned out well. The turkey-based tortilla soup I made most recently was a hit too; it was helped by some incredibly sweet carrots I picked up at the Hollygrove Market.

These are a few of the things I've cooked recently; what are your go-to low-fat recipes?

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