Two amateur cooks explore the world of cooking for a Crohn's and Colitis diet

Fish Chowda!

On a recent visit to our local supermarket, Marnina and I came to the conclusion that we were spending too much money for subpar produce and seafood.  For months we had been bemoaning the produce and fish section of the supermarket (as well as the entire store in general), but for some reason we could not muster up the courage to switch our allegiance to a new supermarket.  Every now and then we would supplement our shopping trips with some tastier-looking food stores such as Harris Teeter or Whole Foods, but we would do the bulk of our shopping at the less-than-appetizing local grocery store.  We thought we were getting a better deal on our produce and other foods, but in reality, we were paying slightly lower prices for mediocre (and sometimes rotten) food. 

After Marnina’s mother informed us about a great Chinese supermarket on the other side of Rockville, we decided driving the few extra miles would be worth it.  And boy, we were not disappointed.  Not only did we spend less money on restocking our fridge, but the quality of the food (produce, seafood, fresh noodles, etc.) far surpasses most other supermarkets.

After a few visits to the Asian market, we realized our trips to our local grocery store had put us in a ‘supermarket routine rut.’  Our shopping lives became a routine where we knew what we wanted, where to find it, and what to do with it.  These habits became an obstacle to discovering new regions of the food universe.

We soon broke out of our rut and our natural innovativeness came to light.  We recently experimented with a type of dish that we have never made before– fish chowder.  While living in New England during college, we often heard about New England clam chowder, but could not eat it because it is not kosher.   We wanted to try this type of soup for a number of reasons; 1) we had never eaten a real chowder so we wanted to taste a close approximation, 2) we had just stocked up on the Asian market’s fresh produce and seafood and therefore had the perfect ingredients on-hand, and 3) chowders’ can be super IBD-friendly!

Hot fish chowder in 70 degree weather may sound crazy, but Marnina was in need of some intestinal-soothing food.  The day before, we had been training for our half-marathon with Team Challenge (link), and she ran 13.6 miles.  During the ensuing two hours after the training, she ran to the bathroom at least 5 times.  We attributed her intestinal problems to having run 13.6 miles (running often exacerbates her sensitive stomach because of all the jumping up and down) and having too much to eat the previous night.  Still, it seemed somewhat unusual because Marnina had run similar distances before and not encountered the same response.  Marnina was forced to start at ground zero with rice cakes, peanut butter, rice cereal, and hard-boiled eggs, but she was mostly recovered by the next day.

Later, we discovered the true cause of her minor flare…..caffeine-laced energy chews!  Unbeknownst to her, one of the flavors of the energy chews that she had been using contains 1 shot of caffeine per package, and she had consumed 1 ½ packages of these chews during her run. That means she had ingested the equivalent of 1 ½ cups of coffee.  Unfortunately, caffeine is one of the worst trigger foods for Marnina.  Despite ruining her afternoon and evening, we are extremely happy that we discovered the cause of the flare-like event, and we immediately threw out the chews with added caffeine.  She has made a full recovery since then. Lesson learned: double check the ingredients list on the package of products before you buy them to make sure they do not contain ingredients that will make you sick!

Before we delve too deeply into the bowels of food sensitivities and IBD, let’s get back to the fish chowder.   If you read our previous blogpost, you probably know that World IBD Day was celebrated on Saturday May 19.  One of the many ways in which the day was observed internationally was by wearing the color purple (purple is the color associated with IBD awareness).  In an effort to promote IBD awareness and identify with World IBD Day, we challenged ourselves to somehow include purple in our dishes for the week.  While grocery shopping, we stumbled upon Japanese purple sweet potatoes.  We knew immediately that they had to go into our soup.  If you live near an Asian supermarket, we highly suggest checking it out (especially for the purple sweet potatoes!).  The flavor was much more subtle and more potato-y than a regular sweet potato, and they added a beautiful purplish-blue color to the dish.  Also, they are rich in the same antioxidants as blueberries.

Aside from the potatoes, we substituted soy milk for the half-and-half.  Chowders tend to be very heavy, fatty and have a very high dairy content.  We were determined to make chowder that was dairy-free and lighter in consistency (ie. IBD-friendly).  As we expected, the soy milk gave the dish a slightly sweeter note and a more liquidy consistency, but we thickened the soup with some corn starch.  We also added the scallions and some fresh parsley during the cooking process so that they would have time to cook down (Marnina would have had trouble digesting them raw).

This dish was even better after it sat in the fridge for a day, allowing the flavors to marinate.  We will definitely be repeating this recipe in the future.  Who would have guessed that fish chowder can be dairy-free, gluten-free, IBD-friendly and DELICIOUS?!

Minced pepper and onion

Cooking the milk with the peppers, garlic and onions

Cut up Tilapia

See the green beneath the surface? That’s fresh parsley and scallions!

It’s waiting to be eaten…

Yum! Looks delicious!

Spring Fish Chowder
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 4


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large potato, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 large sweet potato, cut into ½-inch cubes (we substituted 2-3 Japanese purple sweet potatoes)
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Pinch of cayenne (omit if you are sensitive to spicy foods)
  • 1½ quarts fat-free half-and-half (we substituted 1 ½ quarts soy milk and added some corn starch)
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 1 pound white fish, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • Salt and ground black pepper


1) In a large pot over medium-high, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until softened and just beginning to brown, about 7 to 8 minutes.

2) Add the potato, sweet potato, red pepper, cumin, cayenne and half-and-half. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the potato is tender, about 7 minutes. Add the lemon zest and fish, then cook for 4 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. Stir in the scallions, and season with salt and pepper.

Recipe adapted from:


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