Eeeaaasy, big fella - Vegetable Purees

It is a very funny feeling, trying to figure out what to eat when you can't really, um, eat. I don't like to think of myself as a mindless eater, unaware of what is going into my food hole, subconsciously chewing simply for the sake of chewing, but as I looked over my one-month post-op diet and it's restrictive recommendations, it became clear I would need to get my brain on board with my tummy.

After initially panicking, my instincts as a professional eater quickly kicked in. I had a wall and tablet full of cookbooks, and food magazines and blogs a-plenty to glean from. I might be restricted to pureed foods, but I sure 'nuff wasn't going to starve.

*FULL DISCLOSURE: I had grandiose plans of preparing lots of bone broth, creamed soups and vegetable purees immediately following my surgery, but the day my sister deposited me onto the couch at home two days post-op, the last thing I felt like doing was cooking. If you're going to have this surgery, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to have a support team about you. My sister was an angel and popped into the local market to get me prepared soft foods like canned soup (no!), low-fat cottage cheese (gasp!) and even baby food (where is the unsubscribe button?!). If this happens to you, IT IS OKAY. Worlds did not collide, Julia Child did not roll over in her grave and I did not lose respect in the eyes of anyone who truly cares for me. You won't either.

I rebounded after about seven days of recuperation, which is about the time a tiny tummy needs to heal up and start taking on solid foods, and after the baby food ran out, I decided I'd puree some of my own favorite vegetables to meet my daily vegetable and starch requirements.

After the first week of tummy surgery, you can begin to re-introduce soft and pureed foods - 2 tablespoons of pureed protein plus 2 tablespoons of fruit (breakfast), 2 tablespoons of starch (lunch or dinner) and 2 tablespoons of pureed vegetable (lunch or diner). It really doesn't sound like much, but surprisingly, you're full after just that tiny amount of food. Luckily, I'm a rabid collector of tiny bowls and saucers ...

Because you're not getting a lot of food per meal, you still need to supplement your diet with additional protein by way of either a high-protein shake (I found this the easiest solution) and/or other types of protein between meals (like milk and yogurt). Additionally, you need to prepare yourself to take vitamins and supplements for the rest of your life due to the fact that you simply don't absorb enough of what you need from what you eat. It's a chore you need to stay on top of if you want to lose weight but stay healthy. I take a multi-vitamin with iron daily along with B12, vitamin D and two 500mg doses of liquid calcium. If you've got additional medications to take, it can start to add up. 

While every bariatric program is different, I must commend the Bariatric Program at Flagstaff Medical Center. While most insurance companies are more than willing to approve this type of surgery quite rapidly, it took me about four months to go through their program. I had lots of labs and tests done to make sure I was healthy enough for the procedure, but more importantly, I was assigned a nutritionist who instructed and guided me from day one on what I would need to be doing after the surgery. I begin forming those new habits before I ever saw the inside of the operating room, which made all the "stuff" I needed to do after the surgery so much easier because those new "habits" were already in place.

The more you know and the better prepared you are, the more successful you're going to be. I suppose you could say that applies to just about anything. To put a culinary spin on that concept, consider mise en place - "everything in its place". When you have all your prep work done, cooking becomes a joy, not a a pain in the *beep!

On to the recipes at hand: In my little mind, making vegetable and starches "soft" is more appetizing than pureeing lean meats like chicken and fish. And while I was limited to tiny amounts of food, I was not limited to flavor. I decided on pureeing cauliflower and butternut squash and while both of those are delicious when made with a homemade chicken stock, I was pining for some Asian influence so I steeped my vegetables in coconut milk, ginger, garlic and lemongrass. You're more than welcome to go the more traditional route and use chicken stock if you'd like.

If you end up with a lot of leftover pureed vegetables, I'll share a little secret with you - the butternut squash/sweet potato puree is even better the second time around if you chill it, then form it into little patties and dip them in an egg-wash, then panko breadcrumbs and toss them in a hot skillet. The folks in your house who are not on a restricted diet will thank you, and they really are delicious. If you have a tiny, healing tummy like me, stick to the pureed version for now. As the pureed cauliflower is a bit "wetter", it didn't turn out so well as a croquet, but you can give it a go.

Pureed Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato (Starch)

Serves 4

Ingredients

3 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced

1 cup tan-skinned sweet potato, peeled and diced

2 15oz cans unsweetened coconut milk

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the squash, sweet potato and grated ginger in a large saucepan or heavy-bottomed dutch oven. Pour in the coconut milk and enough water (if needed) to cover the vegetables by an inch or two and bring everything to a low boil. Lower the heat so the veggies are just simmering and cook until they are tender when pierced with a fork - about 8-10 minutes.

*Reserve one cup of the coconut milk cooking liquid and strain the vegetables. Pop the squash and sweet potato into a food processor along with about 1/4 cup of the coconut milk mixture and whiz about, adding more coconut milk to get to the desired consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper.

*If you're cooking these two recipes together, don't drain the cooking liquid - simply remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and re-use the coconut milk for the cauliflower puree recipe - just add additional water and/or coconut milk to cover.

Cauliflower Coconut Milk Puree (veg)

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 2-pound head of cauliflower, cut into florets

*2 15oz cans unsweetened coconut milk

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

1 tablespoon fresh lemongrass (light green parts only), finely chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

If you're using the coconut milk from the previous recipe, just make sure there is enough liquid to cover all of the cauliflower (if not, add more water and/or coconut milk) and bring everything up to boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook until the cauliflower is tender when pierced with a fork, about 8-10 minutes.

Reserve one cup of the coconut milk cooking liquid and strain the cauliflower. Pop the vegetable into a food processor along with about 1/4 cup of the coconut milk mixture and whiz about, adding more coconut milk to get the desired consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper.