Recipes for life


COOKING FOR LIFE:Valerie Twomey tells Lizzie Gore-Grimesshe got her idea for her inspiring cookbook as she waited for the kidney transplant that changed her life

VALERIE TWOMEY is one of those people you can’t help but like. A petite woman, she fizzes with good-natured energy and radiates warmth. When I met her, she was sitting smiling with a glossy orange- and-black book on her lap. And she is entitled to smile, as she has spent more than a year making that book happen. It is a cookbook for people living with kidney disease, the first of its kind in Ireland and a project Twomey undertook as a way of thanking the donor who gave her a second chance at life. To create recipes for the book that would be suitable for a renal diet, Twomey spent months working with more than 30 of Ireland’s top chefs and a team of leading renal dietitians, perfecting and tweaking more than 100 recipes. “I realise now,” she says, “that I was quite naive and had little understanding of the work that goes into compiling a book. But that was actually a good thing because if I had known then what I know now, I would have run a mile.

“Pulling the book together was a huge challenge,” she continues, “but what amazed me at every turn was people’s capacity for generosity.” All the chefs gave their time and expertise free, and the renal dietitians from the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute analysed every single ingredient in the recipes, in their spare time in the evenings and at weekends.

Twomey knows first-hand how much this book will mean to people with kidney disease. “In my early teens I was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus type 1 and had to undergo numerous eye operations. I had quadruple heart bypass surgery in 2000 and then I was on dialysis for two years before I underwent a successful kidney transplant in 2006. Every day I say a prayer of thanks to the donor and their family who, with one stroke of a pen, changed my life forever and gave me a second chance.

“People with kidney disease have to make a lot of lifestyle changes, including adhering to a strict diet, in order to help control the build up of waste products in the blood. It is slightly different for each person but in general the renal diet needs to be adequate in protein with no added salt and low phosphate and potassium.”

This means no smoked or cured meats or fish, limited beans and pulses, no alcohol, no chocolate, strictly monitored green vegetables and herbs – and potatoes must be boiled twice to leach out the potassium. The restrictions left Twomey feeling uninspired, “to be honest I lost interest in food at the time,” she says.

But then something happened that gave Twomey renewed energy. “While I was undergoing haemodialysis three days a week at Cork University Hospital, we would often watch the chefs on The Afternoon Showon RTÉ television and salivate over the delicious dishes which would be no-nos for us. So I decided to try to get these terrifically talented chefs to help me create recipes that would be delicious yet suitable for people on a renal diet, dishes that we could cook up and enjoy with all the family.” And she did.

Royalties from the sale of Truly Tasty (Atrium) go to the Irish Kidney Association. Available from bookstores. See


Catherine Fulvio’s menu

Chicken soup; Moroccan lamb tagine with lemon couscous; and mini meringues with mango and lime cream.“I was surprised at some of the restrictions on the renal diet, but I really hope my recipes will make life easier for people living with kidney disease. My advice would be to buy organic where you can, but always try to buy local – it makes such a difference to know where your food has come from. But the most important thing is to enjoy your cooking and your food.”

Derry Clarke’s menu

Baked cod fillet with sweet mustard, French beans and tomato salsa; chargrilled fillet of beef with ratatouille; apple and berry strudel.“The list of approved ingredients for this book did create a bit of a challenge for me. Cooking is all about adding flavours; these flavours are the building blocks of the finished dish, so if you have to take some of these blocks out, you need to fill the gap with something else. After a while, I found I could fill the gaps quite easily and I am very proud of my recipes in this book.”

Rory O’Connell’s menu

Courgette carpaccio with rocket and Parmesan; chicken with leeks and tarragon; roast peaches with honey.“When I got the list of ingredients for this book I saw no difficulty in coming up with exciting meals. The first step is to shop well. There is a multitude of farmers’ markets and local suppliers out there, so you don’t have to go to the supermarkets for everything. It’s important to shop seasonally, as this will make a real difference to your cooking. Then think about balance. I wanted my recipes to look and taste good so that they make people feel good. This is very important. Good food is healthy food, and cooking can be very healing for both the cook and the diner.”

Rachel Allen’s menu

Watermelon salad with marinated mature cheddar, mint and lime; spiced lamb meatballs with Greek salad and mint yoghurt; pavlova with passion fruit and kiwi.“The list of ingredients that I was given to work from didn’t pose too much of a challenge. I think the renal diet, although restricted, still offers plenty of choice, so it’s not hard to produce good tasty food. The main thing is to enjoy the whole process, get the best ingredients you can and above all, have fun.”