This week’s favourite food writer is, part of that new generation who found fame by blogging. Heidi Swanson’s website www.101cookbooks.com is a legend in blogging circles and it gets tens of thousands of hits every day. The reason is simple - what she does is special. She writes and develops recipes around wholefoods but not those heavy tasteless ones we’ve all had in vegan and vegetarian cafes. Swanson’s food is not only wholesome and nourishing it’s extremely moreish and inviting. She’s an amazing photographer which does help but the food is genuinely special.
Super Natural Cooking – five ways to incorporate whole and natural ingredients into your cooking published in 2007 by Random House is a brilliant starting place for anyone looking to broaden their culinary horizons and get a whole lot healthier to boot. Organised into 5 chapters, Swanson outlines the what, how and why of a whole range of ingredients unknown to most people and then offers recipes on them that range from the supersimple (greens tossed with lemon zest, chilli and olive oil) to the complex.
In the first chapter, Build a Natural Foods Pantry she gives clear guidelines on a very wide range of oils, grains and sugars in simple language. In the next Explore a Range of Cereals she gets down to cooking and there are tons of ideas like Wheat berry salad with citrus, toasted pine nuts, feta and spinach (as delicious as it sounds), Farro (spelt) with green onion sauce, toasted walnuts and asparagus and amaranth biscuits. There are plenty of tips and very entry level cooking info but the flavour combinations are so refreshing that the more experienced cook will find plenty of interest. Cook by Colour extols the virtues of eating your way through the rainbow while Know your Superfoods continues in the same vein. Both chapters are packed with lots more brilliant ideas from the familiar- gnocchi alla romana with sundried tomatoes to the more like unusual like sprouted garbanzo burgers.
Everything I’ve ever tried by her has been utterly delicious and I invariably learn a technique I didn’t know. Sometimes things are not to my exact taste and I tweak or maybe use the original recipe as a jumping off ground for something new. The final chapter Use Natural Sweeteners is just great. We all know we need to get way from processed sugar but how? Swanson outlines lots of alternatives followed by some really good dessert and cookie recipes. She’s not shy of the sweet stuff and anything I’ve made has gone down a storm and nobody’s ever noticed that it’s actually healthy as it just feels so far removed from what we usually think of as health food.
The only complaint and really it’s not Swanson’s fault it’s the food industry’s ,is that some of the ingredients are tough or even impossible to track down if you live outside California. But you know what, the more we ask for these unusual ingredients the more they’ll become available. The food industry encourages monoculture because it’s easier for them but what’s better for us is as wide a variety of wholesome ingredients as possible and food writers like Swanson give us the why and the motivation to look for them. Highly recommended.
My recipe today is a Heidi style brown rice salad packed with all kinds of ingredients that are a nutritionist's dream - ripe avocado (lots of good oils) aduki beans (these guys cleanse the liver ) and sprouts. When I say sprouts I don't mean the brussels kind. These ones are basically seeds that have sprouted so they are still alive which means they're packed with antioxidants which fight the signs of aging (always good!) as well as all kinds of phytoestrogens which help prevent cancer, heart disease,osteoporosis and menopausal symptoms. I used purple cress for the colour really but any kind will do. Alfalfa are probably the easiest to get hold of but you can of course make your own.
It's the dressing that really makes this salad -a moreish combo of toasted sesame oil, lime juice and ginger. You can't really fail with this mix can you? The other great thing about this salad is that it is a doddle to put together especially if you've already cooked the rice. I usually cook rice in bulk, about a kilo at a time, then use it to make all kinds of quick meals during the (usually insanely hectic) week. I like the shortgrained kind but feel free to use long grain or Basmati. Everyone always moans that brown rice takes all day to cook and yes, it does take longer than white but if you soak it first for about an hour (even 20 minutes will do if you're short of time) the cooking time is halved and it makes it easier for your body to digest.
Brown rice and bean salad with avocado and sprouts with a toasted sesame, lime juice and ginger dressing (for one)
1 1/2 cups of cooked brown rice
1/2 cup of beans or lentils (I generally use adzuki beans but it's really up to you)
1/2 red onion (white is fine I just like the colour of the red) chopped,
1 ripe avocado chopped,
1/2 tray sprouts
2 tablespoons of sesame seeds.
For the dressing:
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon walnut or olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce or Tamari
1 level teaspoon of grated ginger
The juice of half lime (lemon is also great)
Begin by making the dressing. To do this simple combine all the ingredients, taste then add more lime juice if you think it needs it. To make the salad simply combine the rice, beans, onion and avocado. Toast the sesame seeds on a dry pan and mix them through. Dress and serve. If you want to make this in advance (it's great for lunches) just leave out the sprouts and add them just before you serve.