Low Carb Antipasto

I’m an Italian-American. I’m also a diabetic. Pasta calls me sweetly, but tries to kill me. It’s a dilemma.

Some foods are just not in my healthy future. Fettuccine Alfredo, my luscious tasty friend, is right out. I’ve looked at alternatives but a poor substitute is worse than no fettuccine at all, so I just wish. But there are other families of food that I can modify.

Antipasto is a perfect summer food. In western Texas where I live, the temperatures amble up into the low hundreds in June- that’s above 38 degrees Celsius, for the civilized folks out there. The idea of roasting a chicken for dinner has all the appeal of getting dental work performed by one’s bitter ex-wife.

My family has several favorite recipes for antipasto (all from my mother, who is a wonderful cook). Alas, they all pretty much start with a pound of pasta. So I was looking for a pasta-free antipasto. What could fill the role of the pasta: a good, mild, filling base for the rest of the salad?

I’ve heard of various miracle noodles- shiritake, for instance- but could not find any in my local stores. I could use rice, but getting away from carbs is the idea. I have made antipastos and simply left out the noodles but they were dense, gloopy, and unbalanced.

I used to have a ‘recipe’ for pasta salad which was more of an algorithm- take one from this group, two from that group, etc. I’ll see if I can unearth it if there’s any interest- it was good because no matter what was on sale that week, a decent pasta salad could be made without worry.

A local supermarket had a good sale on cucumbers, which seemed like a good match to the job. They certainly won’t distract from the leading flavors, am I right? They lack the chew of pasta, but they have next to no carbs, so I grabbed four.

Peppers were cheap too, so I grabbed three healthy orange ones. Bell peppers tend to be sweeter as they get brighter- green peppers have little sweetness unless you caramelize them, and purple ones, while pretty, are a chore to eat.

I’ve recently been experimenting with different recipes of ranch dressing, so I have plenty of it in the fridge. I used two cups in this recipe. European antipastos frequently are moistened with oil and vinegar, but I was working from the memory of a recipe with a yogurt/mayo moistening, so ranch wins for today.

Cucumbers are not pasta. They made that obvious in my first attempt, which was more like a chunky summer soup than a salad- I had only drained the briefly, and they released a dismaying amount of water. The second batch worked my better, with more draining, but still left a fair puddle in the bottom of the bowl. I’ll try salting and pressing them next time.

  • 4 cucumbers
  • 3 bell peppers, colorful (orange, red or yellow)
  • 1.5 lbs flank steak, thin sliced
  • 2 cups ranch dressing
  • 4 oz capers
  • 1 onion, minced
  1.    Peel the cucumbers and halve them lengthwise. Use a spoon to remove the seeds, then slice each half in half again, and cut the spears into about 1/2″ sections.
  2.    Put the cut cucumbers into a gallon Ziploc bag. Cut one corner off (smaller than the pieces so that only water can get out) and suspend it over your sink. Let them drain for an hour or so. If you own a salad spinner, you might well use it instead.
  3.    Grill the steak over a hot fire until rare or medium but well-marked. let cool, then slice across the grain.
  4.    Core, seed and cut the peppers in 1/2″ or slightly larger cubes.
  5.    Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix.

Some possible add-ins would be crisp crumbled bacon, banana peppers, black olives, or cherry tomatoes.

UPDATE   Drop the steak, add in 1.5 lbs of chicken breast (cooked and rough chopped) and crumble a pound of bacon in. Chicken Bacon Ranch Antipasto.


Some years ago, my family spent a year in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands, aka Holland, have been a fantastic crossroads for hundreds of years. For such a small country, their culinary heritage is quite broad, from the predictable Germanic history, to Spanish influences from several attempted invasions from Spain, through a strong touch of Indonesian due to Holland’s colonial past.

Furthermore, Amsterdam is a remarkable city for food. I remember wandering through streets that seemed dedicated to Argentinian steakhouses. I found shoarma for the first time in Amsterdam. Many of the bigger metro stations had high-end supermarkets where you could buy a surprisingly good selection of ingredients for that night’s dinner. Yes, Amsterdam is a good city for a foodie.

On the other end of the scale from the excellent steakhouses, the street food there is well worth checking out too. All of western Europe has frite stands (known as French fries to Americans, chips to the Brits), but the frites in Belgium are famous, and Amsterdam is just a short train ride away from Brussels.

Belgian frites (vlaamse frites) are thicker than the classic American shoestring fry. The ‘secret’ is that they are fried once at moderately hot oil, then left to cool, then fried again in hotter oil. They get a crispy crust and a wonderful flavour that shoestrings will never have. Generally, they’re served with mayonnaise.

Many Americans find the idea repulsive- but give it a try. If you simply must have ketchup, it is generally available, but mayo is traditional and very good. The Dutch have a fascination with mayonnaise that is hard to fathom- I’ve had sushi with mayo, in Amsterdam- Not my favorite.

Anyone who has read my blog knows my abiding affection for garlic. Knoflooksaus, which is a garlic mayonnaise, is widely available in frite stands and became my favorite sauce for frites the first time I tasted it, in a small shoarma shop just off the Dam Square in Amsterdam.

Since I’ve returned to the States and gone lower-carb, frites haven’t been a major part of my diet, but I still enjoy them time and again. I developed this recipe for a small batch of knoflooksaus just for those rare occasions when I have frites. I’m sure it could scale up but small batches are kinder to my diet!

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • (optional) 1 tsp parsley
  1.    Mix all ingredients.
  2.    Let rest at least 30 minutes.
  3.    Serve with frites, spiced lamb, pita chips or crisp veggies.