Ketchup and I have a bit of a love hate relationship. Nothing goes better with salty fries … but have you read how much sugar is in this stuff? It’s mostly corn syrup—high fructose and otherwise.
Let’s rewind. I was raised in the ‘80’s, a time when ketchup flowed as free as the Allegheny River through Western Pennsylvania. Reagan proclaimed it another vegetable, a suitable replacement to fresh tomatoes and greens on our school lunch trays. No matter the meal, a bottle was always set out on the table.
It’s sad thinking about it now, but the red stuff probably made up about half of my little brother’s diet. You name it, he squirted ketchup on it—eggs, chicken, potatoes, sandwiches, mac ‘n cheese. I cringe now at the thought, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t partake. Here’s my dirty little food secret: sometimes I just want a bologna sandwich on white bread with ketchup. There’s so much wrong with that sentence, but there you have it: A food bloggers secret craving.
A few years back, I adopted a whole food mantra. I cut out lots of processed foods, including unnecessary condiments like ketchup. Sure, it nudges back into my diet now and then. Like when I eat a hamburger and fries. “If I’m already being naughty, why not?,’ says the little Sarah devil on my shoulder.
Hold up: All “bad” food can be re-invented!
Paleo recipes are a good place to start. Paleo is a whole food based diet: You cut out sugars, processed foods and trans fats in favor of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Here are some awesome primers to get you started:
- Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle by Diane Sanfilippo not only explains the Paleo diet in detail, but walks you through how to customize your diet for specific health and lifestyle issues.
- Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great by Danielle Walker, food blogger turned cookbook author, has great substitution recipes like “sandwich bread” and slow-cooker orange sesame chicken along with a guide on how to stock your pantry.
- The Nom Nom Paleo blog by Michelle Tam is chocked full of recipes and how-to videos. Her latest feature is all about how to pack lunch boxes using leftovers from the night before … a great idea to help tackle the challenges of sticking to a whole food diet.
I don’t completely subscribe to Paleo, but I find the recipes a great resource for sticking to a whole food lifestyle. Plus, it’s all gluten-free, which is great for my husband’s dietary restrictions.
But let’s get real. As a former addict, how can a Paleo recipe beat out the classic taste of Heinz 57? I was about to find out.
I found plenty of from-scratch recipes that started with whole tomatoes. PaleoLeap has an awesome one with flavors like fennel, celery, ginger and garlic. But I wanted something easier, quicker and a little closer to the ketchup I remember from childhood.
One thing most recipes I encountered lacked was a sweet element. While they sounded savory and tangy, I was looking for something sweet to cut the other flavors. Next to impossible on paleo, right?
Think again! I flipped through a few paleo cookbooks on my shelf and found one that incorporated dried figs. Brilliant? Yes! And the best part was that it looked quick and easy with canned tomato paste for the base. (If you start with a homemade tomato puree, cut back on the water to make it a tad thicker and reduce to intensify the flavor. I love saving time, so I used an organic, minimally processed tomato paste.
One note here: If you’re not sticking to paleo and don’t mind a little brown sugar or honey, try out the recipe in this National Geographic article, which also has a lovely primer on the history of ketchup.
Next time you’re craving bologna sandwiches with a hearty slathering of ketchup, give this a try. You can play with the spices, adding cayenne for a kick, cumin for some smoke, fresh ginger for zip or curry powder for something completely different. But maybe hold the bologna. And the white bread.
At least you’ll be eating a vegetable!
I adapted a recipe from Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes by Melissa Joulwan. She uses dried figs as a substitute for the corn syrup or sugar, plus apple cider vinegar for the tang and a mix of spices to keep things interesting. I played with the latter to get the taste just how I like it.
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 dried figs, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of ground allspice
1/2 cup water
In a blender or food processor, puree tomato paste, 1/3 cup water vinegar and figs until smooth. The figs should be well processed.
Put all the spices (mustard, cinnamon, onion powder, salt, cloves and allspice) in a bowl or cup to make the next step easier. Heat a small saucepan on medium-high heat and add coconut oil, allowing it to melt. Add the spices, stirring for about 30 seconds until fragrant.
Quickly remove from heat to prevent burning. Add the tomato mixture to the saucepan and stir until well combined. Return to heat and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup water, stir and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
The ketchup will thicken as it cools, but if you like it thicker, allow it to cook longer. If you want yours thinner, add more water.
Allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a lidded container or squirt bottle with tight fitting closure and refrigerate for up to three weeks.