You don’t have to eat just like a caveman to call yourself Paleo. Or at least that’s the attitude of Paleo blogger and cookbook author Michelle Tam, creator of NomNomPaleo.com and the book, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans. “I’m not a slave to ‘this is exactly Paleo,'” she says. “Cavemen ate bugs and raw meat.” For Tam, the real goal of eating Paleo is to make smart choices and be more conscious of where your food comes from and how eating it makes you feel. Oh, and it’s got to taste good too!
Why did you decide to go Paleo?
About four years ago, my husband started doing it. He felt great and looked amazing, but it all sounded so crazy to me. I have a degree in nutrition and food science and I’m a pharmacist — the diet seemed to be the opposite of everything I’d been taught. But I was in my mid-thirties with two young kids. I felt terrible and I was tired all the time. My husband claimed to feel great eating this way, so I just decided to try it too. I kind of assumed that everything I was feeling — fatigue and GI issues — were just a function of age and the fact that I worked night shifts. But after I changed my diet, I did feel better, had more energy and felt stronger.
Why do you think that eating Paleo is a healthy plan?
It’s a common misconception that if you’re Paleo all you eat is meat and bacon. But when I look at my plate now it’s filled with vegetables and small portion of healthy, high-quality meat.
What do you say to critics who decry the lack of whole grains in the diet?
I actually think it’s more nutrient dense to eat an array of vegetables, fruit and meat. I don’t know that grains really add that much more. But I’m also personally not against having some. I think after a month of hardcore Paleo—cutting all grains, legumes and dairy — it’s fine to reintroduce those things in moderation and see how you feel. I eat white rice and potatoes on occasion. My goal now is just to pay more attention to how those foods affect me and adjust my diet accordingly. I used to just eat blindly.
What are your favorite Paleo snacks?
Sometimes I eat a little mini-meal of leftover chicken and some roasted broccoli. Or I’ll just grab a handful of macademia nuts. But I really don’t snack as much as I used to. I used to eat a lot of low fat stuff that wasn’t very satisfying and I felt hungry all the time. But now my meals are more satisfying, so I’m not that hungry in between meals.
Are you raising Paleo kids?
When they’re at home, I control what they eat, so they’re pretty Paleo. But when they’re out of the house, they make their own choices. My goal is to teach them that eating healthy food will make them feel healthier, and hope that they make smart choices.
Asian Cauliflower Fried “Rice”
From Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong/Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC 2013
Makes 6 servings
Hands-on time: 45 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Grain-free eaters can indulge in a bowl (or three) of fried rice with my vegetable-forward version. I daresay it easily trumps the greasy, soy-drenched stuff peddled by your local Chinese restaurant. Sure, this recipe takes a bit of time and effort to prepare, but once you taste it, you’ll be hooked for life on this deeply satisfying one-wok meal.
3 slices of bacon, cross-cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 medium cauliflower head, cut into uniform pieces
2 large eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ghee or fat of choice
1 small yellow onion, minced
4 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons coconut aminos
1 teaspoon coconut vinegar
1 teaspoon Paleo-friendly fish sauce
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once it crisps up, about 15 minutes, transfer the crunchy bacon to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon.
While you’re crisping the bacon, toss the cauliflower into a food processor, and pulse until it’s the size of rice grains. Pro tip: don’t overdo it. We don’t want liquid cauliflower.
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the eggs into the hot bacon drippings, and fry up a thin egg omelet. Remove the omelet from the pan, slice it into ribbons, and set aside.
Melt the ghee in the skillet over medium-high heat, and add the onions along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Once the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes, throw in the sliced mushrooms. When the mushrooms are browned, add the grated ginger and stir for 30 seconds to incorporate.
Add the cauliflower “rice,” season with a bit more salt and pepper, and mix the ingredients together. Place the lid on the skillet, turn the heat down to low, and cook for about 5 minutes with the skillet covered. The “rice” is ready when it’s tender but not mushy.
Season with the coconut aminos, coconut vinegar, and fish sauce. Before serving, mix in the scallions, cilantro, omelet slices, and the reserved crispy bacon.
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.