Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cookbook Review: My New Roots

I've started a new food blog, edible minimalism, where I'm trying to up my game with better photography and site design. Head over to this link if you'd like to keep up with me there.

Before saying goodbye to this blog, though, I want to post a review of a cookbook.

My New Roots: Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season by holistic nutritionist and food blogger Sarah Britton is a beautifully photographed cookbook where seasonal vegetables take center stage. Britton also emphasizes whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, with an occasional bit of dairy thrown in. The cookbook is organized according to seasons, with attention to both comfort food in the winter and lighter food in the summer, but also what is available in farmer’s markets at different times of year. I appreciate this, since our on-demand culture leads us to expect everything at all times in our supermarket. However, when browsing through this cookbook, I still found myself wanting to try recipes from the “wrong” season, just because they looked so tempting.

Many of those who follow Britton’s blog or others like it will already have a well-stocked pantry full of natural foods, but some of the ingredients Britton features, such as lucuma powder, will not be in everyone’s kitchens. From personal experience reviewing Julie Morris’ Superfood Smoothies cookbook, when I found myself racking up some serious debt at Whole Paycheck buying until then unknown-to-me ingredients like maca powder and goji berries, I knew that getting excited some of Britton’s recipes could add up financially. In working through My New Roots, therefore, I avoided recipes that contained too many ingredients the average person might not be willing to invest in, although I think everyone should go out on a limb from time to time and try new things, like millet or spelt flour. Some of the recipes have none of these. There were also ingredients that I wanted to buy but couldn’t find, like buckwheat groats (I tried Publix, Trader Joe’s, and Fresh Market). One of my favorite recipes from the book, grilled halloumi with butternut squash and kale, involved a sprinkling of dukka, an Egyptian spice blend featuring hazelnuts. At my favorite Middle Eastern grocery store, hazelnuts were $10 for a tiny four-ounce bag, and the other supermarkets told me they only carried hazelnuts around Thanksgiving. Again, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them, but the recipe was amazing on its own. I definitely will make it again with the dukka during the right season.

In trying out a new cookbook, the input of family members is also going to be crucial, since it’s difficult to make things more than once if the people with whom you share meals are reticent. The first several recipes I made provoked strong feelings among different members of my family. Britton’s life-changing loaf of bread with olives and caraway, which contains a lot of nuts and seeds, had great flavors but requires stretching familial expectations for bread, which in the end meant the life-changing loaf was largely consumed by me. I thought her recipe for sunflower sesame seed brittle was delicious, but I couldn’t get it to hold together properly, and after several other seed-infused recipes, I was accused of attempting to turn the family into birds. Other recipes that didn’t go over well with everyone included an intriguing red onion lentil soup with manchego toasts, described as a sort of French onion soup with lentils, which I found a little overbearing with thyme and which also disappointed my seven-year-old daughter, who loves French onion soup. I made the fully loaded breakfast bars, which has a base of oats and beans and features dried fruit and pumpkin seeds, hoping my daughter would finally eat her breakfast, but she wasn’t crazy about them, and I found that, like the sunflower seed brittle, I also couldn’t get them to hold together.

But then we hit several winners in a row, finding recipes universally beloved by everyone. My favorite dishes, and the ones I’ll definitely make again, surprised us all with their creative balancing of flavors we’d never thought of putting together. One of the best was the aforementioned grilled halloumi with butternut squash and kale. You can get halloumi, a salty and chewy cheese that fries up nicely while still holding its shape, at Middle Eastern grocery stores, and it is one of my favorite foods right now. Britton’s recipe for socca (chickpea flatbread) with grilled white and green asparagus, dill and feta, is also worth buying a bag of chickpea flour for. Her walnut fig bars, which use dried figs and hold together very nicely, make a great breakfast or dessert, and the oyster mushroom bisque was a revelation. Again, I was out of season in selecting an early spring recipe and couldn’t find the oyster mushrooms, so I bought baby bella mushrooms instead, but this didn’t matter: it is an incredible soup. The mushroom bisque gets its creaminess not from heavy cream but from white beans, and it truly is one of those recipes where you think you’re eating something very rich but actually doing something good for yourself.

I appreciated that a lot of her recipes were gluten-free so that I could make them for a family member who has had to go gluten-free, and vegans will also find that most of the recipes in the book are dairy free. I still have several other recipes I’m looking forward to trying: the cornmeal pancakes with gingered plum compote, and the “best lentil salad ever” are next on my list. In the future I will try to use this cookbook in seasonally appropriate ways, but I’m also grateful that the book introduced me to new ingredients and delightful new ways of putting flavors together.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review.

Oyster Mushroom Bisque

½ pound oyster mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
1 Tblsp coconut oil or ghee
3 medium onions, chopped
2 large leeks
Fine sea salt
1 tsp. fresh or dried thyme
4 garlic cloves, minced
Freshly squeezed juice of ½ a lemon
1 quart (4 cups) vegetable broth
2 cups cooked white beans (cannellini, Great Northern, etc)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tblsp. olive oil

Clean the mushrooms and chop up the larger ones. Heat coconut oil on medium and sauté onions, leeks, salt and thyme. When onions are soft (about five minutes), add garlic. Squeeze lemon juice into pot and deglaze by scraping up browned bits. Add mushrooms, cooking on medium for five minutes until soft. In a blender, combine broth and beans until creamy. Add to mushroom mixture, stir and simmer five minutes. Blend in blender until smooth, adding water if too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve drizzled with olive oil and fresh thyme.

See you over at edible minimalism!