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How to do the paleo diet quicker

Caveman had all the time in the world.

Chicken laab with mint and thai basil in lettuce cups. (David Williams)
Chicken laab with mint and thai basil in lettuce cups. (David Williams)Read more

CAVEMEN had all the time in the world.

Those single-minded Homo sapiens didn't have to worry about multitasking or time clocks. Which is why weary home cooks following a gluten-free diet - or simply trying to feed their families fresh, healthful food - may say "paleo-schmaleo" when trying to follow in our ancestors' knuckle-dragging steps.

The much-hyped paleo diet - or lifestyle, if you will - tosses out the agricultural products incorporated into the human diet over the past, say, 10,000 years in favor of a whole-foods approach to eating meat, plants and seafood that dates back to cave-dwelling days.

While paleo eaters can take everything from a Unitarian to a Pentecostal approach to the regime, a common thread is steering clear of dairy, legumes, gluten, sugar, soy and processed foods, all proclaimed as harbingers of the modern diseases of civilization.

The problem is time.

"In my research, I found that a lot of the recipes and blogs about paleo involved very time-consuming, intricate recipes," said Melissa Petitto, a Manhattan personal chef, registered dietitian and author of 30-Minute Paleo Meals (Race Point Publishing). Petitto's publisher saw a marketing opportunity and asked her to develop paleo recipes for the harried home cook.

Her focus was cutting back on the prep, keeping ingredients simple, and grouping cooking tasks so that precooked vegetables and a responsive pantry would make preparation a snap.

Petitto uses all-natural, gluten- and GMO-free ingredients in her recipes and crafts meals that include only foods that were available in paleolithic times.

The 100-some recipes she created are fresh and appealing, loaded with flavor and simple to prepare. Petitto has worked in the test kitchen at Cooking Light magazine, and her recipes are approachable, not esoteric.

There is advance thinking and menu planning involved, though: "Use your cooking day to roast all the vegetables you'll need for the week."

Petitto, who usually steers toward a plant-based diet at home, takes a glass-half-full approach to making paleo palatable.

While grains and dairy are eschewed, fruits, vegetables, nuts, good fats and lean meats and game are all good. Nut meals and flours stand in for wheat and corn products, with the emphasis on simple and flavorful dishes - like yam cutlets served with tahini sauce and pad thai made with zucchini "noodles."

She even devised a recipe for waffles made with apple, banana, almond butter and eggs, served with a drizzle of maple syrup.

Her version of pizza dough is made with cashew and almond meal, dried herbs, salt, eggs and olive oil, a mix you can make ahead and keep in the freezer for an easy, quick meal. Along with toppings of meat and veggies, nut "cheese" substitutes for the real thing.

Sweets, dairy, booze

Developing dessert recipes presented the greatest challenge. The raw treats she devised also were proclaimed trailworthy by her boyfriend and chief recipe tester, who also happens to be a marathon runner. There's a Fig Newton, a date cookie and a no-bake carrot-cake bite that Petitto swears by. "And I'm a huge carrot cake fan."

Lean meats and seafood dominate in the protein department, as well as game, when it's available. Stick with organic, humanely raised meats if you can.

The dairy thing can be daunting for cheese lovers. "I'm Italian and Jewish, and grew up eating so much dairy," Petitto said. "I created some really cool nut cheeses - well, OK, they really don't taste like cheese.

"But the thing about paleo is how you feel once certain foods are eliminated from your lifestyle. There are people who are never going to give up cheese, but if they take a more moderate approach and get away from cow's cheese in favor of sheep and goat cheese, it's a big step."

Then there's the booze issue.

Die-hard paleo peeps say no to all alcohol, but others eschew beer and grain-based spirits in favor of wine.

"We can't all be diehards," she said. "Even if you can be on your game 75 percent of the time, you're going to feel better."