I have a lot of, ahem, idiosyncrasies when in comes to food, both on and off the bike. I’ve been vegetarian for 17 years (that’s over half my life and way longer than I’ve been riding bikes). I eat the same thing for breakfast every day and have, with minor variations, for about four years. I have a reputation for hunger flatting within twenty minutes of starting most rides, then riding another three hours before doing anything about it.
Yeah. I know. I know.
When it comes to racing, the motivation to do well overrides any hesitation I have to stuff my face with gloopy things, but I’ve always struggled with upset stomach, dry mouth, sugar highs and sugar lows. I’ve never been big on scoffing down gels and guzzling sports drinks, and I’ve found that, as time goes on, the cloying gels, sticky lumps of bar, and acidic sports drinks have done more than pay for my dentist’s renovations: It happened half way through the second stage of the Croc Trophy this year. I just. Couldn’t. Eat. Sweet. Crap. Anymore.
By the time I crossed the finish line that day, I wanted a sausage more than I ever have in my life, but instead of resorting to downing meat offcuts, I decided to do something about my race nutrition.
I’m going DIY, natural, and savoury.
After extensive Googling, I got hold of Allen Lim and Biju Thomas’s The Feed Zone Cookbook. Lim’s recipes for savoury rice cakes, designed for eating on the bike during training, are raved about all over the web. But leafing though the book I was a little disappointed – there are so few vegetarian recipes: Everything has bacon in it – including the rice cakes.
So I’m improvising. Lim’s recipe for rice cakes is all over the web, including his own YouTube video, so I don’t think it will do any harm to reproduce it here, and, like any great recipe, from spaghetti bolognaise to Christmas cake, show you how I’ve modified it to make it my own: i.e. Vegetarian!
Here’s the original recipe from Allen Lim:
2 cups uncooked calrose or other medium-grain “sticky” rice
3 cups water
8 ounces bacon
2 tablespoons liquid amino acids or low-sodium soy sauce
salt and grated parmesan (optional)
Not a big fan of kitchen experiments, or even cooking, I waited for a rainy day then strapped my apron on. First thing I needed to do was replace the bacon with something with the same sort of fat and sodium content that will add a bit of intense flavour, but which won’t make the cakes fall apart or require too much chewing. I eventually decided to go all 1990s and use sliced black olives (the cheap kind you get in a jar at the supermarket), and chopped sundried tomatoes (also from a jar). I used about half and half.
Having visiting several triathlete’s forums where the bars are discussed in excruciating, calorie-counting detail, I followed suggestions to change from ordinary calrose rice to sushi rice, which we all know sticks together pretty well. I even followed the packet’s instructions for cooking said rice, and it turned out very nicely indeed.
And cooking the rice is the hardest bit. After that, all that remained to do was scramble four eggs and throw everything in together, dump it into a baking dish then channel my inner four-year-old and pat the warm sticky stuff down with my hands.
Here is a list of my alterations, which I like to think of as innovations:
- Replace the 230 grams of bacon with about 100 grams each of sliced black olives (salty and bland at the same time) and thinly sliced sun dried tomatoes.
- Use sushi rice for extra stick, rather than calrose or basmati.
- Add a few shakes of mixed herbs in a nod to All Things Green.
- Extra soy sauce, about four tablespoons (I still don’t know what liquid amino acids are, nor whether they are indeed legal in Australia) instead of the extra salt and brown sugar. Mixing sweet and savoury upsets me too much.
The biggest innovation came last. The recipe calls for you to top the mixture with grated parmesan, which I duly did, and, seeing as the whole thing was in a baking dish anyway, and that cheese looked so loose and sad at the prospect of never reaching its melty potential, I stuck it all in the oven at 200 degrees for 15 minutes or so until the cheese melted and everything looked contentedly baked in, but still nice and moist. Cooking the egg twice also made it marginally less offensive.
And next time…?
A late visit to the triathlete’s trouble-shooting gallery revealed that the scrambled egg can be replaced with mushed up silken tofu. Hurrah! I’m not a big fan of egg, and using tofu, which does not require scrambling or cooking, would reduce washing up by a whopping 50%. I think this would also work excellently with my baking innovation.
The rain cleared for a long road ride the next day, and I took one of my vego rice cakes in my pocket. I ate half of it at a rest-stop on the side of the road, then the next half a bit later, while cruising along on the flat. Alas, even this was difficult, and I have to say that (warning) these rice cakes definitely aren’t race food. The foil was pretty difficult to manage and the rice stuck to it and crumbled quite a bit. Even riding with both hands off the handlebars (#sopro) I ended up with bits of rice up my jersey and ate about a cubic foot of aluminium foil. Any attempt at eating my rice cake off road would be catastrophic.
Other than that, it was tasty and pretty satisfying. I didn’t feel the quick sugar rush you get with a sweet muesli bar, but rather a slow, steady release of energy, and that seemed to last a long time. Verdict? Great training food, but you’d have to be pretty dextrous to get one down in a marathon MTB race.
Next – making the perfect energy drink, and the search for the best savoury vegetarian race food continues…