Chickpeas, tomato and spinach with smoked paprika aioli

No white carbs. No sugar. No fruit. No dairy. Wine is ok, so long as it’s red. And fat is just fine.

Welcome to the Four Hour Body.  It’s a scheme of eating that’s got a few converts in our social circle.

I’ll say it upfront. The Hungry One and I would be rubbish at it. No yogurt? No pink wine? No berries? Oh my.

Yet, I’ll be the first to admit it. We’ve had a few blow outs lately (and I have a brideslave dress to fit into pretty soon).

So I tried it for two days. I could manage breakfast- three egg whites, two egg yolks and a muddle of basil, spinach, parsley and tomatoes. Having a lot of protein first thing in the day is one of the key elements.  It was fine. Except I kept scratching around in search of toast.

When it came to The Hungry One, the prospect of giving up his large strong flat white first thing in the morning was too grim to contemplate. One day without and he came home wearing a look that only belongs on little boys that have lost their puppies.

But I do like a challenge. So when one of the converts came to dinner, I put on my thinking cap.

Fish. Fish is good. Spinach is excellent. And while dairy is sheer delinquency, fat is allowed.

Chickpeas are a grey area in Tim Ferris’ revolutionary body plan. You’re allowed some, but he calls them a ‘domino’- they’re like a gateway drug. Apparently it’s too easy to eat too many of them. Once you pop, you can’t stop.

When they’re cooked like this it’s easy to see what he’s getting at.

It’s a boisterous Mediterranean medley of chickpeas that have been shallow fried in olive oil, garlic, chilli and lemon zest. There’s chopped spinach melted through. And at the very end you throw in some slow roasted cherry tomatoes and lemon juice.

We had it with pan fried sardine fillets blushed with smoked paprika and salt. If carbs were allowed, then a sprinkling of semolina flour would have give them a nice crust.

But what really brought it all together was a smoked paprika aioli. As its genesis were three slow roasted garlic cloves. It had a gloriously yellow organic egg yolk, dijon mustard and a glugging of olive oil. After I added two teaspoons of smoked paprika it turned the most glorious shade of terracotta.

All that was left was a squeeze of lemon, bronzed in a hot pan next to the fish, a sprinkling of parsley and a good touch of salt and pepper. It was a fine feast.  I think the same combination would be lovely with any oily or white flesh fish. Or chicken for that matter.

A glass of pink wine would have been perfect- but the Four Hour Body specifies only red- so a light pinot noir was put to work.

I’m not sure if I feel any fitter or slimmer for having eaten it, but I do feel happier.

It’s a keeper in my realm- even if the Four Hour Body isn’t.

Life is short. And pink wine, raspberries and yogurt are simply non negotiable.  

Sardines with chickpea, tomato and spinach, with smoked paprika aioli

Serves two generous portions (or two with some chickpeas left for lunch the next day)


1 bbq, or two fry pans. 1 roasting dish. 1 wok or heavy bottom pan/Le Creuset. 1 bowl. 1 whisk. 1 microplane.


Pan fried sardines
200 grams of sardine fillets per person (or any oily or white fish)
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 lemon
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped to serve

Chickpeas with spinach, cherry tomatoes, lemon and chilli
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1 bunch of English spinach, roughly chopped, or 2 big handfuls of baby spinach
1 tin of chickpeas, rinsed
Half a red chilli, diced
4 tablespoons of olive oil
Zest and juice of half a lemon

Smoked paprika aioli

2/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, roasted and smushed
1 teaspoon of dijon mustard
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 egg yolk

Here’s how we roll

1. Place the cherry tomatoes and three cloves of garlic in an oven proof dish. Drizzle with two tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with a teaspoon of sea salt. Roast them in a 150 C (300 F) oven for an hour until the garlic cloves are soft and the tomatoes have wilted.

2. Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a Le Creuset or wok and put over medium heat. Add the tin of chickpeas, two crushed or thinly sliced garlic cloves and the zest of half a lemon. Fry for 4 minutes, stirring often. Then add the spinach and the juice of half a lemon. Stir until the spinach wilts. Just before serving add the roasted tomatoes and the juices from the bottom of that roasting dish.

3. Make the aioli. In a small bowl combine the smushed roasted garlic cloves, an egg yolk and a teaspoon of dijon mustard.

Slowly trickle in the olive oil, whisking continuously to emulsify (it helps to put a wet tea towel under the bowl to keep the bowl in place). When it is thick and glossy, add the smoked paprika and stir.

4. Pan fry the sardines. Dry the sardine fillets well with paper towel and sprinkle the paprika and the salt over the flesh. Transfer to the bbq and grill for 2- 3 minutes on each side.  If pan frying, heat one large fry pan, or two smaller ones until they sizzle when you place the face of a lemon down.

5. Drizzle the pan with a little olive oil. Place the fillets skin side down and hold down for 3 minutes so the skin crisps. Flip the fillets and cook for two minutes on the other side, until the flesh is opaque. The cheeks of the lemon should also be lightly burnished.

6. Serve the fillets on a bed of the chickpeas, tomatoes and spinach. Add a generous stripe of aioli down the side. Garnish with the burnished lemon halves and some flat leaf parsley.

  1. I don't think I'd survive very long on any diet without carbs! But this dish looks fantastic – chickpeas are one of my favorites!

  2. Oh God! I could never give up dairy or carbs. I'd be such a cow! But I am a lover of the chick pea, so this dish would make me happy. I'd just give it a sprinkle of parm when no one was looking:)

  3. Impressive discipline! I love aioli and sardines – lovely post! Thanks for stopping by my blog and for letting me know. I really appreciate it!

  4. this sounds exactly like how my boyfriend eats (he's painfully healthy) but somehow he manages to find delicious versions of my unhealthy food that is just as good! Like your dish right here!

  5. I like your take on diet food – it does not sound too bad!

  6. I invite you on my new blog.
    Will be a lot of pictures, music, films, cars etc.
    It would be nice if you'll visit my blog sometimes 🙂

    Have a nice day 🙂

  7. What an interesting diet! It's been a while since I adhered to any but it sounds like some of my favourite things aren't allowed. I wonder how long I would last? 😛

  8. Isn't it funny that when you're limited in the ingredients you're allowed to use, you can really come up with something fantastic? This looks incredible- not like 'diet food' at all! I loved walking through your thought process with you as you took on this challenge.

  9. Looks good, I love chickpeas with salty fish.

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