Category Archives: Safe Starches

Coconut Fish Pie

Louise Yang and Jeremy Hendon blog at Ancestral Chef, and I had the pleasure of talking with them at PaleoFX. They share a lot in common with Shou-Ching and I; you can read about Louise’s eclectic background here. Like us, they combine busy professional lives with a love of food, and try to create simple and easy to prepare but delicious meals drawing upon all the world’s cuisines. Louise has also defended the honor of the potato, which endears her to us. Louise has kindly agreed to share one of her favorite recipes. Here’s Louise!

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Growing up in England, I was destined to love pies. 

For those of you who haven’t visited England or Australia, when I say “pies,” I don’t mean the typical American dessert pie (although I have to admit a fondness for gooey apple pies); I mean the savory pies filled with delicious meats and with sauces oozing out from their starchy coverings.

From steak and kidney pies, to cottage pies, to shepherd’s pies – there’s pretty much a pie for every food you can imagine!

Well, I didn’t want being Paleo/PHD to distract me from my obvious pie-eating destiny, and so the coconut fish pie was born.

Note: The full ingredients list and instructions are at the end.

Preparing Coconut Fish Pie

Start by boiling 3 or 4 sweet potatoes (or potatoes) until they’re tender (check by pushing a fork into them).  You can speed up the process by peeling and chopping the sweet potatoes (or potatoes) and then boiling them. 

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Blend the peeled sweet potatoes (or potatoes) in your food processor with 2 tablespoons coconut oil and 1/4 cup coconut milk until it turns into a nice mash.  Put the mash aside while you make the rest of the pie.

Boil 3 eggs, and preheat the oven to 350F (175C).

Chop up 1 cup of carrots.

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Chop up ½ cup of green beans.

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And chop up 1 leek (approx. 1 cup).

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Pour the rest of the 1 can (13.5oz or 400ml) of coconut milk (i.e., what you didn’t use for the mash) into a saucepan and heat on medium heat.  Add in the chopped vegetables.

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While the vegetables are cooking, cut approx. 1.5 lbs of white fish (I used tilapia) into 1-inch cubes/chunks (you can also substitute some prawns or scallops for the fish).

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Place the fish into the saucepan as well.

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Grate 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger into the pot (tip: store ginger in the freezer and grate some into your dishes when needed).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Cook for 5 more minutes on medium heat and then pour into an 8 by 8 pyrex oven dish or else into several small ramekins or miniature casserole dishes (4-8 depending on how large the ramekins are).

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Peel the hard boiled eggs, and cut them into small pieces and place them into the dish as well.

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Gently spread the sweet potato (or potato) mash over the top of the fish mixture so that the entire mixture is covered (it doesn’t need to be a thick layer).  If the fish mixture has too much liquid, then spoon some of the liquid out.

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As an optional topping to make the pie just a bit prettier, mix 4 tablespoons of coconut flakes with 2 tablespoons of melted butter (omit this if you’re dairy-free).

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Gently sprinkle the coconut flakes mixture over the top of the mash.

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Bake in the oven for 20 minutes (you’ll see the sauce boiling and the coconut flakes will get a bit toasted).  Leave to cool for a few minutes and serve!

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Fish Pie Recipe

Makes 4-6 servings  Preparation Time: 40 minutes  Cooking Time: 20 minutes



  • 3-4 medium sized sweet potatoes (or potatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk (leave the rest of can of coconut milk for the fish mixture).
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes and 2 tablespoons melted butter (optional topping)

Fish Mixture:

  • 1.5 lb white fish (or prawns or scallops), cut into small 1-inch chunks
  • Rest of 1 can (13.5 oz or 400ml) coconut milk
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • ½ cup green beans, chopped
  • 1 leek (1 cup), chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 hard boiled eggs, chopped


  1. Boil the sweet potatoes (or potatoes) until they are soft (you can peel and chop them up if you want them to cook faster).  Food process with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and ¼ cup of coconut milk.
  2. Hard boil 3 eggs.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
  4. Heat the rest of the can of coconut milk in a saucepan on medium heat.  When it starts boiling, add the chopped carrots, leek, and green beans.
  5. Cut up the fish into 1-inch cubes/chunks and add to the saucepan.
  6. Grate some fresh ginger into the saucepan and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 5 more minutes.
  7. Spoon the fish mixture into an 8 by 8 inch pyrex oven dish or into individual ramekins (4-8 depending on ramekin size).
  8. Peel and chop up the hard boiled eggs and drop them into the fish mixture.
  9. Spread the mash over the top of the fish mixture.
  10. For the optional topping, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and mix in 1/4 cup of coconut flakes.  Sprinkle the coconut flakes mixture over the top of the sweet potato mash.
  11. Place in oven for approx. 20-25 minutes.  Make sure after 20 minutes that the coconut flakes are not turning too brown.



We don’t recognize a huge number of starches as safe, so it’s nice to find ways to prepare our favorite safe starches that give a slightly different taste.

By happy coincidence, we were planning a Gnocchi post today, and Cathryn left a gnocchi recipe this morning:

I made these Gnocchi (potato dumplings) the other night and they were delicious and so easy, a kid could make them.  I used one potato (about 220 grams) boiled in the skin for about 30 minutes, left it to cool, then peeled it and mashed it up.  I added one beaten egg, a little sea salt and 20-30 grams of tapioca starch (the amount needed depends on the moisture content of the potato.  You want a fairly stiff dough).  Put it in the fridge til just before dinner, then took out the dough and using a board dusted with more tapioca starch, rolled it into a “rope” about 1 inch thick and then cut it into pieces about 1 inch long.  Dropped it into gently boiling water for about 2-3 minutes (the dumplings float), drained it, threw in chopped, fresh garden herbs and a lot of butter and had it with roasted chicken.  Really good, very versatile and a recipe that could be tweaked in numerous ways.

This was essentially our recipe too. We tested three kinds of starch – potato starch, tapioca starch, and rice flour – and liked the potato starch best, but all three worked. We made two kinds of sauces, a Bolognese-style sauce and a pesto sauce, but of course safe starches can be matched with anything – Cathryn’s herbs, butter, and roasted chicken sound great!

Making The Gnocchi

As Cathryn says, start by boiling a potato. It should be fully but not overcooked:

You want to break up any potato lumps and an easy way to assure that is to press the potato through a strainer:

Wait until the potato is cool (otherwise the egg will cook) and mix in one egg per potato, and some salt:

Add 1/3 cup potato starch (tapioca starch and rice flour may also be used, but we liked potato starch best:

Knead the resulting mixture into a dough and move to a cutting board. Gradually mix in additional starch, rolling and kneading the dough to mix thoroughly, until the consistency is similar to the fleshy part of your palm at the base of the thumb:

Once you like the consistency, you can divide the dough into pieces, roll them out, and carve little patterns in the rolls with a fork:

Dice up the dough into bite-size pieces and drop them into boiling water to finish cooking:

When they float, they’re done.

Making the Sauce

Any sauce will do. We’ve previously blogged about Pesto (Mar 27, 2011) and Bolognese style sauces (Cranky Grouch’s Spaghetti, Feb 6, 2011), but there are many possibilities. As in Cathryn’s recipe, just butter on potatoes is excellent, and with meat and vegetables makes a meal.

Here’s what we did today. We put onions, tomatoes, and garlic with a little oil and some herbs in a wok:

We have a hand blender that can puree vegetables in the pan, which is nice because it leaves less to clean up:

We had some leftover meat to get rid of, so that went in the sauce:

After a little simmering we spread the sauce over the gnocchi, added some parmesan cheese, and called it lunch:

We also made a pesto sauce, this time with an equal mix of pistachio and macadamia nuts (highly recommended!):


Cathryn’s conclusion is just right:

Really good, very versatile and a recipe that could be tweaked in numerous ways.

Potatoes have great nutritional value (lots of potassium and other nutrients), but it’s easy to get bored with the texture.  Gnocchi has the same nutritional profile but a chewy, doughy texture that gives a different taste. Try it – you’ll like it!

French Fried Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes

We had a reader request for “classic American dishes.” We decided to start with French fries.


The ingredients are simple:

  • We made three flavors using russet potatoes, Asian sweet potatoes, and American sweet potatoes.
  • For oil we used the Beef Tallow that we showed how to make last week.


Start by cutting uncooked potatoes or sweet potatoes into appropriate shapes. We favor finger-sized slices or thin chips, and keeping the skin on. Here are russet potatoes, Asian sweet potatoes, and American sweet potatoes:

After slicing, soak them in a bowl of water as shown above. The purpose of this is to draw out starch. You can rub the potato with your fingers: it will feel slimy as long as there is starch there. You may need to rinse the potatoes 3-4 times to remove the starch. When you’re done, the slimy feel should be gone and the water should be clear.

Removing the starch will make the French fries crispy.

After the starch is removed, lay the fries out to dry:

It is important that they dry thoroughly. There must be no water when they are cooked. Drying takes at least 30 minutes.

Frying the potatoes occurs in two parts: once to cook the potatoes through, and a second time to make them crispy.

Put beef tallow (or whatever oil you are using) into a saucepan to a depth of a few inches, and heat it to a middling temperature about 275 F / 135 C. Add as many dried potato slices as will fit in the oil:

It doesn’t take long to cook: about 3 to 5 minutes. When they’re done, remove the fries; we used chopsticks.

At this stage the fries will look like this:

Set the fries aside for at least 10 minutes — 30 minutes is safer — to let them cool. They should be comfortable to the touch. If you want to freeze fries for future use, this would be a good stage to put them in the freezer.

But if you’re finishing the fries now, heat the oil to a high temperature — more like 350 F / 175 C, which is almost to the smoke point of most cooking oils — and return the cooled fries to the oil. Leave them in for just 2 to 3 minutes and remove. This will make the fries crispy, looking like this:

Sprinkle salt and any other spices you like on them, and they’re done!


French fries are really easy, if a bit time consuming, to make, and really hard to stop eating.

Our potatoes and Japanese sweet potatoes were superb, but the American sweet potato discs were only good — a little soft. Perhaps this species has extra water, or perhaps the disc shape needs more cooking time than we gave it.

We use our beef tallow for at most 3 batches — that is, 3 rounds at the low temperature and again at the high temperature — and then discard it. Because beef tallow solidifies at room temperature and can clog pipes, don’t pour it down a kitchen drain; let it solidify and discard it as solid trash in an appropriate container.

French fries have a tremendous taste to expense ratio — especially if you’ve been able to get beef fat for free from your butcher, like Paolo! Highly recommended.

Cranky Grouch’s Spaghetti

We have a food emergency among our Italian fans.

erp’s husband, the “Cranky Grouch,” has been doing well on our diet but retains a “crazing” for pasta:

He’s lost 30 lbs without trying very hard and gives in to the crazing (not a typo) for pasta, but he’s cut down drastically on bread and desserts, so he gets full credit. He’s of Italian background and can’t be expected to never again eat his beloved macaroni.

Unfortunately, rice noodles haven’t pleased him:

Paul, My husband doesn’t like rice noodles. We’ve tried several varieties and I have to admit, I don’t like them much either, but then, I’m not a pasta fanatic.

I’d rather have tomato sauce, known around here as gravy, over plain white rice — to him, it goes against the nature of all things holy.

Mamma mia! Tomato sauce over rice – we can do better than that.

Franco also misses his pasta:

Man, I miss carbonara, you can’t believe how difficult it is to not eat pasta as an italian! And nobody tell me rice noodles is a substitute!

We sympathize with these complaints because it took us a while to figure out how to make rice noodle dishes.

At first we struggled:  some brands just didn’t taste good, and it was so easy to overcook the delicate noodles into a soft and mal-textured goo. But now that we know what we’re doing, we much prefer rice noodles to wheat. Now when we taste wheat noodles, they seem tough — we don’t miss them a bit.

I know it will be hard to persuade our Italian readers that rice noodles are better than wheat … but maybe we can help them enjoy their purgatory a bit better.

So, here it is: Cranky Grouch’s Spaghetti. Our best shot at winning over a skeptical Italian. (Franco, sorry, this one is Bolognese. Perhaps we’ll do a carbonara later.)

Rice Noodles

First, there are many different brands and different sizes of rice noodles. It took some searching, but we now have a favorite. It is a Thai brand:

We especially like this thickness: it cooks evenly but not too quickly. We use about one-third of a bag each time in order to serve four people.

There are a few tricks to cooking rice noodles. First, they cook very rapidly – much faster than wheat. And you want them al dente, a little chewy, not soft. So you have to be fast.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. When it is actively boiling, add the rice noodles. Cover briefly, until it returns to a boil. Then immediately take the lid off and use chopsticks or some other implement to stir and separate the noodles from each other.

Taste the noodles to judge when they are done. They should be chewy, neither soft nor crunchy. Cooking time varies with the thickness of the noodles, but for these it is about seven minutes.

As soon as they reach this al dente state, immediately empty the pot through a strainer, return the noodles to the pot, and cover them with cold water momentarily to cool the noodles and stop them from cooking further. Pour them through the strainer again.

Now transfer the noodles to a container – we use a wok – and add some olive oil. Coating the noodles in oil will prevent them from sticking together. Mix the oil and noodles thoroughly.

These oiled and cooked noodles are ready to eat, but can be stored in the refrigerator if you wish, and re-heated in a microwave for eating.

Bologenese Sauce

You can prepare the sauce simultaneously with the noodles. I’m sure everyone is familiar with how to make this sauce, so I’ll just share what we do.

We start by browning some ground beef. We find the natural fat from 80% ground beef provides just the right amount of oil, so we neither add extra cooking oil nor drain away the fats after cooking the beef.

We’ll also include some sweet Italian sausage, to vary the taste a little. We’ll be slicing the sausage into bite-sized chunks but we find that can be done just as easily after the sausage has cooked a little, so to speed things along we’re throwing the whole sausages into the beef along with some onion. We like to stir-fry the onion about 2 minutes before adding the sauce.

We use store-bought spaghetti sauce – in this case, a Trader Joe’s marinara sauce – which saves some time. At the same time we add the sauce, we start pulling out sausages and slicing them:

The partially cooked sausage slices are then returned to the pot to finish cooking. We also add salt and pepper at this point, and usually (but not tonight) spinach.

When the sauce ingredients are well cooked, we add some frozen pre-cooked peas.

We stop cooking about 2 minutes after adding the peas.

Now just put some of the rice noodles in a bowl and ladle sauce on top. The hot sauce will warm the rice noodles.

There you are! An easy spaghetti dinner that, we hope, will please even the Cranky Grouch.