5-Minute Low Calorie Lentil Soup

You can knock this up from the store cupboard in next to no time, yet it’s delicious – and filling too

Low calorie soupI must admit that this time of year I find lunch a real bore if I’m on a diet.  Sandwiches quickly become dull at the best of times but I really resent them when I’m dieting – for being so totally wasteful of calories. (The only way to eat a sandwich when you’re on a diet is to follow Ian Marber’s neat advice to throw away half the bread, and once the sandwich is re-formed with what you have left, you have the correct proportion of carbs to filling. Clever, huh?)

Anyway, of the alternatives, soup not salad, is the thing for me – and especially now I know that it really is true that soup is the best way of staving off hunger. I watched some science-y food show on telly the other night and apparently it’s all to do with the way the stomach empties as it digests food. Basically if your food is blended with water, the whole lot stays in the stomach, so you really do feel fuller for longer.  There’s a good write-up of how it works here.

A thick vegetable soup is best – but for me at any rate, lunch is the kind of thing decided on the spur of the moment – and who’s going to be bothered to make soup?

Which is where this pretty-much instant, low-calorie lentil soup comes in.  It’s a total cheat, taking only a few minutes to prepare but bizarrely it’s not only filling but damn good too. And at 150 calories a bowl, you can afford to have toast with it, and maybe even a sprinkling of low calorie feta, though I’d probably go with freshly-chopped coriander.


1 pickled onion
1/2 tin of lentils (about 130g drained weight)
Decent chicken stock - see note below
1 tsp tomato puree
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tbs flour
A good squeeze of lemon
1/2 tsp salt
Black pepper
Sprinkling of chopped coriander (optional)

You need 250ml’s worth of stock - that’s half a Knorr
Stock Pot or if you absolutely have to, 1 Oxo cube.

1. Blitz the pickled onion in the food processor then add the drained lentils, spices and flour and pulse until you reach a consistency of a rough paste.

2. Bring the stock to a boil with about 300ml of water

3. Whisk the lentil mixture into the stock (keep whisking until everything’s boiling nicely, so that the flour is incorporated properly). Add the lemon juice and tomato puree then boil furiously for a few minutes until reduced to a nice soupy consistency.

4. Adjust seasoning if necessary and serve. Don’t skimp on the salt!

Calorie Cheating Spaghetti Bolognese

An absolutely delicious bolognese sauce so low in calories, you can have a proper plate of spaghetti

low fat bologneseWell, here we go again.  I can’t be the only one who decided to cook ‘normally’ this Christmas – with the inevitable consequences…

But….so bloody inconvenient dieting in the New Year, when you’re crying out for sausages in gravy with a big pile of buttery mashed potato, not some scantily-dressed grilled chicken salad!

And as for spaghetti bolognese – well that’s clearly off the menu now you’re counting calories again – no point in trying to make that child’s starter portion of spaghetti go the distance!

On the other hand….

Here’s a really good low fat recipe for a ragu-style sauce that’s so low calorie that you can have a decent portion of pasta – and by that I mean about 85g dry weight – in other words, what normal people eat.

At less than 120 calories per serving – and it’s a generous serving – a proper plateful of spaghetti bolognese will come in at roughly 420, which should fit into your low calorie regime.  To put that in perspective for any calorie nubes out there, that’s significantly less than the average Tricolore Salad – without any bread.  Hey, you could even allow yourself a fine dusting of grated parmesan!

Incidentally, the cheat here is replacing the fatty lamb or beef mince with ultra-lean pork tenderloin, bulking that out with lentils but preserving the overall sense of meatiness with chopped chicken liver.   And before you say that sounds really really offal (sorry..!) I can tell you that I even got this past my kids without any complaints whatsoever.

low calorie bolognese

calorie cheating bolognese sauce recipe (Serves 6)

150g Pork Tenderloin 
200g Chicken Liver
150g Tinned Lentils
1 large Onion
3 cloves Garlic
100g Carrots
1 stalk Celery
300g Mushrooms
2 tins Tomatoes
1 tbs Tomato Puree
175ml Red wine
Beef stock cube
10ml Olive oil
1 tsp Dried herbs
1-2 tsp coarse salt
Pinch Stevia-based sweetener 
1 tbs Mushroom Ketchup OR
  Worcester Sauce (optional)
  1. Blitz or really finely chop all the vegetables.
  2. Gently fry off the onion and garlic in the olive oil and don’t rush it – it will take about 15 minutes on a lowish heat and be careful not to burn anything.
  3. Meanwhile mince the pork or blitz in the food processor. Finely chop the liver.
  4. After about 10-15 minutes, add the carrot and celery. Fry it off for a while, adding the herbs.
  5. Then turn the heat up and brown the pork and then the liver, keeping everything moving.
  6. Add the lentils, tomatoes, stock, red wine and seasonings – 1tsp of salt at this point, whether you need more later will partly depend on how salty your stock cube turns out to be
  7. Get everything cooking nicely and then chop the mushrooms finely and add – then simmer for about an hour.
  8. Add some water where needed to keep things moving. You want to keep this sauce quite loose.
  9. It’s ready when it looks delicious and tastes meaty. Check the seasoning – if there’s not enough flavour, carefully add more salt.

low fat spag bol

Just a couple of other things to mention:

Yes, it’s a real pain frying vegetables off using minimal oil and a lower than usual temperature, but remember, it’s this process that brings out flavour

You don’t need to use the sweetener, but I always think a tomato based sauce needs it. Stevia-based products such as Truvia in the UK are perfect for cooking with no calorific impact but without affecting flavour.

Don’t skimp on the salt!

And be sure to use a nice thin spaghetti so you get as many strands as possible for the weight. Barilla No. 5 (from Tesco) is very good; my favourite, if you can get hold of it, is Panzani.

If you want a little Parmesan with it, a 5g dusting (which is plenty so long as you use a really fine grater, like a microplane) will add just under 20 calories – a 125ml glass of Chianti will add another 90 or so.

Buon Appetito!

A Big Plate of Calorie Cheating Shepherd’s Pie

Comfort food you can eat on a diet…

Diet Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s Pie is about as far removed as you can get from a mixed bean salad. And of course the whole point of it is having a great big satisfying plateful – with nothing more than a dollop of ketchup on the side.  Of course you could get the calories down by bulking up a small portion with some purple sprouting broccoli or some such side dish, but that’s not really the point of Shepherd’s Pie, is it?  And of course, this dish is a calorific car crash – the fat in the meat, the oil used for frying, the carbs in the potatoes, the butter in the mash.  I calculated the calories in the recipe I’ve always used and it came out at a wince-inducing 1100 calories per portion. No wonder I’m on a diet now. Of course the frying oil’s calories are easily disposed of by using an oil spray, but after that, we’re going to have to be more ingenious.

So first, I use a mixture of beef and pork rather than the traditional lamb, to help cut the fat content. And rather than hunt around in the supermarket for super-lean mince, still not really knowing what went into it, I grind my own.  You could get the butcher to do it for you, but you’re better off getting a mincer (or attachment for your food-processor) and doing it yourself – I don’t know why, but it just tastes better.

The cut of beef I’ve been using is Brisket – cheap, full of flavour and, when trimmed up, extremely lean. It makes lovely mince – and great burgers, incidentally, which I’ll return to in a later blog. To help get the numbers down I mix it with pork fillet, which is even leaner – and even cheaper. I did think about offsetting the calories even further by sneaking in some lentils but as I like my Shepherd’s Pie with celery and carrot in it, more veg didn’t seem what was wanted here.

So onto the topping – and mashed potato, even if you cut out the butter and milk, is always going to be a massive wad of calories.  After a bit of trial and error, I found the answer is to cut it fifty-fifty with celeriac.  This incredibly versatile root vegetable purees up a treat and yet has a cooked weight with about five times fewer calories than potato. And unlike something alien like swede, these two really work together, making a brilliant mash which complements the filling perfectly.

So here you go – Shepherd’s Pie you can eat on your diet – bloody delicious with a good slug of ketchup and a bottle of red Cotes Du Rhone or Shiraz – and just 390 calories per portion.


4 good portions 

400g Beef brisket, mince
200g Pork tenderloin / fillet, minced
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped or grated
4 stalks of celery, finely chopped
3 tbs Tomato ketchup
1.5 tbs Mushroom ketchup (or Worcestershire sauce if necessary)
15g Flour
400ml stock – chicken or beef made up from a cube is fine
Salt and pepper
Dried mixed herbs - about a teaspoon
300g Potatoes
600g Celeriac
10g Flora Light

1.  ‘Fry’ off the onion using spray oil, bearing in mind that you’ll need to use considerably less heat than for normal frying. This is quite a slow process and it will feel ‘wrong’, but be reassured – it does actually work.

2.  Add the herbs, then the carrots until they soften, and finally the celery.

3.  When the whole thing’s sweated down nicely, remove from the pan, turn up the heat and seal the meat. You don’t need to add any more oil for this.

4.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir it in for a minute or two before adding back the vegetables, and season with the tomato and mushroom ketchup, salt and pepper. You need a good teaspoon of salt, and up to another half teaspoon when you adjust the seasoning later.

5. Pour in the stock, bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat, partially cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. You might have to add some water to keep things moving, but at the end the mixture should have a slightly pasty quality to the gravy and shouldn’t be too wet – so reduce down if necessary. Adjust the seasoning – too little salt means bland, unexciting food!

6. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes and celeriac in separate pans until soft; drain, combine and mash. Season and beat with a little margarine.

7. Pour the filling into a pie dish and fork over the topping.  Spray with oil and shove in the oven for about 30 minutes at 200C until golden brown.Diet recipes - low calorie Shepherd's Pie