Category Archives: Food

Notes On Eating More Vegetables

Epistemic status: Seems to be working so far, but I’m in the honeymoon period.

Content note: Food, diet, weight loss, etc.

I’m currently attempting to change my diet a bit. My goal is some mix of fat loss, energy levels, general health, and an irrational indoctrinated belief that eating healthily is a moral good that it is easier to succumb to than feel guilty about.

I pretty much treat most nutrition research and reporting on it as pure noise – it’s not that I disbelieve its conclusions per se, it’s just that the problem is so hard, the incentives so poor, and my level of expertise in the area so weak, that I’m not sure of my ability to extract signal from it. I mostly trust the information on, but am still pretty default sceptical even there.

Nevertheless, I believe the following two radical nutritional principles:

  1. Eating more vegetables is probably good for me.
  2. Eating less refined sugar is unlikely to be bad for me and maybe good for me.

(Doubtless there are people for whom either or both of these are false. e.g. if you have some major digestive problems then increasing the amount of fibre in your diet may be something you desperately need to avoid. Nevertheless I think these are true for me, and probably for most people)

I currently don’t feel like I get enough vegetables in my diet and, particularly in this hot weather, have a bit of an ice cream habit, so those are the two obvious things to address.

The vegetables issue is complicated – when I cook “properly” it tends to have a lot of vegetables in it. The issue is not that I don’t know how to cook with vegetables, it’s that my default cooking for myself is not especially proper and tends to involve a relatively low investment of effort. Thus the question is not “What can I cook with vegetables?” but “How can I make sure as many of my meals as possible have a large vegetable content?”.

The answer is not “try harder”. Trying to change behaviour on the strength of willpower alone is a mug’s game. Life inevitably settles into a local optimum, where you use the resources (time, energy, cognitive capacity, emotional cope, etc) to achieve the best outcome available to you (in terms of happiness, satisfaction, ethics, etc) with the resources available to you (skills, knowledge, possessions, people you can rely on, etc) – over time habits gradually erode and your life basically performs a hill climbing algorithm to put you in something close to the optimal configuration available to you. Trying to change your behaviour on the strength of willpower alone is constantly fighting against this process, and as a result eroding your capacity and generally making your life worse.

The thing to do instead is to change where the local optimum is. There are roughly three ways to do this, in order of increasing difficulty:

  1. Add new capabilities which change the cost of achieving various improvements.
  2. Change your value function so that what you are optimising for becomes different.
  3. Find a new local optimum that is globally better.

My current diet changing strategy is mostly option 1 with a little bit of option 2.

The little bit of option 2 is roughly that I’m attempting to change my conception of what the correct proportion of vegetables in a meal is. I wrote about my standard meta-recipe a while back, and its proportions are roughly 3 : 2 : 1 carbs, vegetables, protein. I’m attempting to convince myself that the correct proportions are something closer to 2 : 1 : 1 vegetables, carbs, protein – i.e. vegetables should make up the bulk of the dish.

The easiest way to make this change is to just do it until it becomes natural. This is something where running on “just try harder” does work, because it’s not much harder (the difficulty is remembering to do it, not forcing myself to) and it’s for a bounded amount of time – after a while either this will become natural and I’ll stop having to remind myself, or I will turn out to have been wrong about there being a local optimum in this area and have to try something else.

The bigger part of the diet change though is to find ways to make it easier to include vegetables in my diet.

The easiest way of doing this is to have vegetables that I will basically always have to hand and can easily and happily add to everything:

  1. Frozen vegetables are great. In particular frozen peas, green beans, and corn are all easy to find, cheap, and tasty. Frozen vegetables seem to be about as good as fresh (or rather “it’s complicated”), but even if they’re not you can solve that by just eating more of them and if they’re substituting for something like rice, pasta, potatoes etc then they’re going to be strictly an improvement.
  2. Pickled things. I have big jars of sauerkraut and pickled beetroot. Both are tasty and go well with most things. I am unclear on the interaction between pickling and nutrition (the answer seems to be “mostly worse than fresh veg but does some things better. Also, again, this is not substituting for fresh veg but instead for other parts of the meal.
  3. “Snacking” cucumbers – the small ones – are tastier than regular sized cucumbers, keep better, and you can just chop one up and put it on the top of a dish and that’s some extra veg right there (this isn’t much different from making a side salad, but the problem is that I don’t like most of the vegetables that people put in salads – I think leaves are a pointless vegetable, and tomatoes that have ever seen the inside of a fridge are a thing of sadness).

The nice thing about all of the above as a solution is that they work even for meals where I have zero energy. If I’m tired at the end of the day and have absolutely no motivation to cook then I might be inclined to do something lazy – fresh supermarket pasta, rice with eggs, mac and cheese, etc. I can still do that, but I can also just cut the portions in half and add a pile of veg to provide the other half with not substantially more effort.

The second category of thing is to have a repertoire of vegetable dishes that make for good leftovers. The ones I have right now are:

  1. Cauliflower cheese (which also fits into a side goal of mine of getting my body better able to deal well with brassicas again. Also frozen cauliflower florets make this a much easier dish).
  2. Cooked lentils with onions (I tend to do this in a home made chicken stock, but this could easily be made vegetarian)
  3. Coleslaw.
  4. Roast carrots.

The other thing to do is to identify specific habits that I would like to change and figure out replacement habits for them.

  1. I’ve discovered that frozen cherries are tasty and cheap and work entirely well as a substitute for ice cream cravings – rather than having ice cream I just pour out half a mug of frozen cherries and eat them directly. Not a 100% healthy habit, but a hell of a lot better than ice cream. Also yes I am aware that cherries are a fruit and not a vegetable, thank you.
  2. Often when I am feeling very very lazy my fallback meal is some sort of filled fresh supermarket pasta. I can just cut these packets in half (they’re already slightly too much food for one meal) and top it up with a large quantity of frozen peas and corn. As well as being healthier, the result is actually more interesting.

It’s also good to have easy dishes I can just lazily throw together. I’ve been using sweet potatoes with cheese on top for this (sweet potatoes totally count).

So far all of these seem to be pretty good – they’re mostly habits that I don’t think I’ll have any trouble sustaining, as long as I don’t forget they’re an option, so after a month of two of deliberately sticking with this I think my diet should slip into the new equilibrium rapidly.

Like I said, this is early days, I’ve only really been keeping this up for a week or so so I’m not really sure how well I will be able to sustain it, but it seems promising. Certainly parts of it seem like things I’ll have no trouble keeping up – preparing dishes in advance is the only one that becomes energy constrained during bad periods. The rest are largely a matter of changing my defaults to something that really I like just as much.

Is it helping? Well, hard to say. Changes from improving your diet don’t really show up that quickly, so I can’t say that this new vegetable heavy diet feels amazing and wonderful, but at the least it doesn’t feel bad – I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything and it still feels like I’m getting enough food – and it’s helping in the sense that I feel much happier about what I’m eating.

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Cooking on Easy Mode

Attention conservation notice: this is a food post. If you’re not here for the food posts, maybe go reread Stargate Physics 101 instead or something.

Content note: Aggressively non-vegan food.

The other evening I had zero energy but felt like I should at least make some token effort at real cooking so I just flipped all the dials to easy mode:

  • lots of salt
  • more butter than you are willing to admit to
  • caramelised onions
  • a single strong spice or herb (e.g. chilli, black pepper, rosemary)
  • meat
  • a pressure cooker

Pretty much all of these dial up the tasty to effort ratio of everything you cook. None of them are essential (I want to emphasise that it is possible to make extremely tasty vegan food. Meat and butter are just easy mode).

Here’s the specific combination I deployed:

  1. Slice a lot of red onions. Put them in the pressure cooker with lots of butter, lots of salt, and a dollop of smoked chilli paste.
  2. Cook on high heat until the pressure cooker whistles, then low heat for another 20 minutes. The onions should be slightly caramelised and very juicy when you take the lid off.
  3. Add shredded chicken (about 3 times by volume of what I used for the red onions. I had a bunch in the freezer that I’d made previously).
  4. Stir it all up until well mixed. Same drill as before with the pressure cooker.
  5. Serve on corn talcos

I don’t know if I get to count this as properly Mexican food. I tend to get in trouble with my sister-in-law when I do that. But it was tasty and definitely in that direction.

The result was frankly almost offensively tasty. I had a sore throat which made eating painful and I still ate way too much of this.

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My standard dinner meta-recipe

This is a recipe style I cook a lot for myself a lot. It’s very easy, balanced and healthy, and with only a little bit of effort can be made to be extremely tasty.

It’s… lets call it “Japanese inspired”. It’s not Japanese, but that’s probably the closest regional cuisine in its heritage and it tends to use a number of Japanese ingredients.

It consists of 3-4 parts:

  • A base. For me this is almost always brown rice, sometimes with a bit of red rice added to it to give it a little more variety. I’m obsessed with Tree of Life short grain brown rice at the moment. It’s really tasty. You could certainly use other rices here though. It also works well with quinoa, and it probably works well with most other grains too.
  • Vegetables, raw or steamed. Depends on what I have to hand, but most things work here. Blanched green beans are great for this. Cucumber and avocado are both good raw. Carrots are good raw or steamed. If I’m feeling super lazy then sometimes I just use a cup of frozen peas stuck in the microwave.
  • A topping (this is either one or two parts)

I typically serve this with soy sauce, brown rice vinegar and sesame as seasonings people can add to their dish. Crushed chillies or Shichimi would also likely work well for that

The topping is of course where most of the work goes in, and also what tends to make the difference between this being a lazy but acceptable dish and all of it mysteriously vanishing.

The idea of the topping is that it’s mostly a protein source + flavour. It’s either the something simple like eggs or chopped tofu and an accompanying sauce, or it’s a more integrated dish.

Quantity wise, there should be lots of rice and vegetables and a modest amount of topping. I’d say by volume the bowl should be about 3 : 2 : 1 rice, vegetables and topping. The topping is the center piece of the dish, but the body of it is the rice and the vegetables, with the topping there to provide flavour and a bit of extra substance with the protein.

Here are some toppings I’ve done recently that I think are really good and would recommend trying:

 Spicy Tofu

This is a simple and tasty vegan topping.

  • One medium red onion, chopped into thin slices
  • Three packs of Taifun smoked tofu (I really recommend their tofu, it’s great), cut up into rough cubes
  • Three small red chillies, deseeded
  • A couple large carrots, julienned (cut into thin strips)

This served five people in these quantities.

I then then just fried these for a while in peanut oil – starting with the onions, carrots and chillies, then adding the tofu once they were cooked.

Miso and Ginger Chicken

This is loosely based on this recipe from the New York times.

I didn’t do the ingredients for this very precisely, but it was roughly:

  • 250g white miso
  • 100g butter, softened and partially melted in a microwave
  • Clearspring brown rice vinegar
  • A squeeze of honey (probably 1-2tbsp)
  • A fairly sizable chunk of peeled ginger
  • One egg
  • Some quantity of deboned chicken breasts (it was actually offcuts from a previous meal, so I don’t really know how much. Not more than 500g), chopped into small (2cm ish) pieces.

This served five people in these quantities.

I then put everything except the chicken in a food processor and blended until completely smooth. Afterwards I coated the chicken in it and left it in the fridge for a few hours (I don’t actually think this step is necessary and suspect it would have been fine without, but it was convenient to make this in the morning and then just throw it in the oven later). Finally, I spread it on a baking tray and baked it in the oven at 200C, stirring occasionally and stopping once it’s crispy and slightly blackened on the outside.

This was really tasty and I probably could have made twice as much as I did and it would still have all been eaten.

Peanut Sauce

The inspiration for this comes from Gado-Gado, but this is not Gado Gado sauce (it resembles it, but lacks some of the key ingredients).

Here is my peanut sauce recipe. I recently did this served with boiled eggs, but it also goes well with chopped smoked tofu if you want it to be vegan:

  • A couple peeled garlic cloves
  • A couple red chillies (seeds included depending on how spicy the chillies are and how spicy you want the result)
  • Peanut butter (just use the cheap stuff, no need to be fancy here)
  • Lots of limes, squeezed
  • A little bit of soy sauce

I fry the garlic and chillies in oil until they’re reasonably well cooked then add everything to the food processor and blend until smooth.

There are no standard quantities for this. Once it’s blended I then taste it and see how it is and adjust the quantities if it doesn’t taste right. If it’s not liquid enough, I either add more lime or a little bit of hot water.

“Japanese” chicken livers

I have no idea how close this is to anything that would actually be made in Japan. I suspect not very. It’s loosely based on some googling for Japanese recipes for chicken liver and most closely resembles this recipe, adapted to what I had to hand.

  • A small pot of chicken livers (I think these are 150g? I didn’t measure)
  • One small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp brown rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Butter (50g or so?)

This served two people in these quantities.

I mixed all the liquid ingredients together to form a sauce.

I then fried the onion in the butter on high heat until it was caramelised, added the liver and continued frying until it was brown (this took about 30 seconds to a minute), then added the sauce on top and continued cooking until the sauce was thick and reduced, at which point I added the sesame seeds and cooked for another minute or so.

Anything else

The great thing about this style of dish is that it’s suitable for almost endless improvising on because the only core ingredients are ones that keep more or less indefinitely in your cupboard. As long as you’ve got a base and the seasonings, everything else can just be done based on whatever is in the fridge.

e.g. last night’s dinner was the liver topping above, steamed carrots, raw cucumber and avocado as the vegetables on top of a base of brown and red rice. I didn’t start with any plan to do that – I had bought the liver with an intention to do liver one night this week, but didn’t really know what I was going to do with it. Once I decided to do it in this style I googled a bit for Japanese chicken liver recipes on the off chance that I’d find something appropriate, and improvised it into this. The vegetables were then just what we had available.

It also tends to keep quite well: When I’m on my own and short on time I will often batch make a topping (particularly just boiling a carton of eggs and making a large batch of peanut sauce, but this works well with most other toppings too) and some brown rice. The topping and rice can just be heated up in the microwave and fresh vegetables can be done each day to keep it varied.

Anyway, that was a lot of words to basically just say “Hey did you know you can serve things with rice and vegetables and it’s pretty great?”, but you can and it is, and I don’t really see people doing it enough, so maybe you should give it a try?

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Definitely not a Mexican recipe

I feel it’s important to state that this is totally not a Mexican recipe and I make no claims of authenticity, mainly so my friend Paulina won’t be mad at me for perpetuating the various bad imitations of Mexican food that abound (not that this will stop me from sending her pictures when I encounter things like the “Mexican mac ‘n’ cheese” I had in the north of England of course).

Lets call it pseudo-Mexican. Or Mexican inspired. Or we could call it Fusion if we were feeling fancy. I originally made it as an improvisation, but then I made it again because it was tasty.


  • 500g Gnocchi (I told you it wasn’t Mexican)
  • 3 cans red kidney beans
  • 3 medium sized onions
  • 4 medium sweet peppers (I used a mix or red, orange and yellow)
  • 1 small red chilli pepper
  • Ground cumin
  • Dry Oregano
  • Hot smoked paprika
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Vegetable oil for frying

The spice quantities are problematic because I still haven’t measured them out. The ratios are about twice as much cumin as oregano and twice as much oregano as paprika. I’d guess that it’s about 2-3 tbsp of cumin, but I’d recommend tinkering with the levels until it’s tasty.

Cooking is simple:

Dice the onions and peppers (including the chilli pepper), put them into a frying pan with hot oil and salt to fry. Stir, and once the onion has gone translucent, add the spices. Keep stirring for about another 10 minutes, add the kidney beans (drained), stir for another ten minutes, add the Gnocchi, and you guessed it stir for another 10 minutes.

By that point the kidney beans should have broken up a bit but the gnocchi will mostly have kept its structure. The result is a fairly thick mush that will hold together quite well.

The first time we ate this we just had it in bowls with guacamole on the side. The second time we put it in corn tortillas with some salsa verde as well and that worked a lot better, though both ways were pretty good.

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Gnocchi with Courgettes and Sundried tomatoes

Here is a recipe very much composed by my previous algorithm, albeit the “what’s in the kitchen” variant rather than the “what should I buy?” variant.

It’s also influenced by the “I am feeling super lazy therefore I’m going to throw technology at the problem” style of cooking, using both the food processor and the pressure cooker. You could probably prepare it without the pressure cooker, you can certainly prepare it without the food processor.


  • 100g dry sundried tomatoes
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 4 medium sized courgettes
  • About 50g salted butter
  • 500g gnocchi
  • 200g feta cheese
  • “some” black pepper

Note: I used the sundried tomatoes directly from dry. This worked pretty well but I forgot that they have a lot of salt in them if you do that. If you have less salt tolerance than me you may wish to soak them a bit before you do this to leech out some of the salt. If you do it from dry then definitely do not add any salt to this dish.


Step 1:

Peel but do not chop the head of garlic. Finely chop the onion. Coarsely chop the sundried tomatoes (I used the food processor, you could just use scissors). Add these with just enough water to dampen the sundried tomatoes (so they don’t burn) and the butter to the pressure cooker. Bring it up to pressure and then cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Step 2:

Meanwhile, grate the courgettes (again, I used the food processor, you could just use a normal grater).

Once the previous step is complete, add the gnocchi and grated courgette to the mi, crumble the feta into it and grate some black pepper on top. Mix well. Now bring the pressure cooker back up to pressure and cook for another 5 minutes.

Step 3:



The flavours all work really well together. It’s a bit too salty for me (and I love salt), so I think next time I will definitely partially pre-soak the sundried tomatoes just to ditch a bit of the salt, but I think it’s otherwise almost perfect. I might try adding some capers next time for a bit of sharpness, but it’s probably not necessary.

In terms of quantity: This will look like it’s not a lot of food, but it’s very dense. It served three of us (and we were quite hungry) and we were very full at the end. It’s probably a 4 person meal if you add a side salad to make it look a bit less small – it’s certainly filling enough.

In terms of doing this without a pressure cooker: My guess would be that the best way to do it is to mince the garlic, fry it with the onions in the butter, then add the sundried tomatoes (which you should definitely pre-soak or use an already soft variety) after that. You may also want to pre-cook the gnocchi. It will be a somewhat different dish – it’s very hard to do garlic like a pressure cooker does garlic – but it will likely still be very tasty.

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