This is not by any way a diet book, as these of you aware of Andrew Weil’s background may think. The certified doctor and food-loving health guru famous for helping Oprah Winfrey to loose weight on his vegan diet, Andrew Weil co-authors this best selling US cookbook. The dishes are not all vegan, but most of them are plant-based. Eggs, cheese and meat feature in some recipes to satisfy all palates.
Eating seasonal, sustainable, simple and pure meals is the healthy lifestyle credo of the book. These are also the halos of this year’s culinary discourse across America. Andrew Weil, the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine is a promising guide to healthy eating benefiting your whole family. He intersects the book with wellbeing and nutrition advices helping the readers to choose the right proportions of and on their plate, finding good ingredients at farmers’ markets, advises on how to substitute gluten for other whole grains, and highlights the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet. Using organic ingredients, in particular these that are on the “Dirty Dozen” list of the highest pesticide residues is essential in his healthy approach to cooking. Kale, blueberries and many seemingly healthy ingredients are the devils in the coats of angels, when exposed to pesticides.
An accent is on vegetables, then starches and the smaller amount is for use of meat and dairy in our diets. The doctor’s ratios agree with the new health pyramid, placing the plant-based foods as our main source of daily energy. However, if garlic and onion are not friends with your digestion, you will find most of the savoury recipes hard to replicate in your home kitchen since most contain these pungent bulbs.
Expleller-pressed canola (rapeseed) oil is preferred in most cooking, which is better than the chemically treated versions, but does not offer a better nutritional value than olive oil. Ultimately, both should not be heated too much to keep their nutrients intact. Coconut oil for cooking would be a better, also heart-friendly selection.
Weil’s love for cooking fully developed during his studies of medicine in Boston and later he expanded his culinary repertoire during research trips in Latin America, Africa and a gap year in Europe and Asia. The dishes included in the book like the QUINOA TABBOULEH blend these experiences together into a pot of refreshing lunch salad.
Together with an experienced restaurant management partner Sam Fox, Andrew Weil opened a chain of healthy restaurants called “Life Food Kitchen” across the US. They wanted to open “a restaurant that would offer delicious food that is also good for you” and “bring together the worlds of fine dining and healthy eating“. A delicious multi-course lunch at their branch in the LA’s Culver City persuaded me to acquire the cookbook and replicate some of the not-depriving, yet healthy and boldly tasting dishes at home. The restaurants as well as the book are based on the executive chef Michael Stebner’s culinary abilities. He is the creator of most of the recipes, and ads a short history of each dish that came to life in his home kitchen or were inspired by the chef’s favourite meals and ingredients. Like the hyper popular breakfast plate, the QUINOA JOHNYCAKES, inspired by the New England corn-flower pancakes, but made healthier. Andrew Weil surely enjoys them too.
So, how does this book stick to its easy to make claim? Most of the dishes are ready within 30 minutes to an hour and do not require you purchasing any special high-tech kitchen appliances. You will be able to make most of the dishes in your basically-equipped kitchen. A notable exception is an ice-cream machine for the sorbets and frozen yogurt in the desserts section. Sustainable diet approach is not developed enough. There are no tips in each recipe on how one can use the parts of the ingredients not utilised by the recipe or how one can reduce waste. Decreasing portion sizes helps, yet with the claim of sustainability on its cover, the book needs to do more. For example “The Elements of Life” by Su-Mei Yu as well as the chefs behind the San Francisco based Bar Tartine in their cookbooks provide readers with advices on how to use leftover materials for other dishes and condiments.
Being published in America, the dishes call for high-profile, robust and satisfying flavours. Also the cooking measures are suitable for an American cook, so you will have to buy a measuring cup, otherwise you will spent lots of time converting each recipe into European or British scales.
Practically divided into daily meals from breakfast, through appetisers, lunch salads, soups and dinner seafood, meat, pasta and vegetable plates, the book also contains desserts and drink ideas. The sweet treats, although healthier than a gelato on the street or greasy donuts from a take-away, still contain butter, but not a highly processed sugar. Instead evaporated cane sugar, stevia, erythritol or even less processed honey and dates, that are used to sweeten the Muffins, are listed in the recommended sweetening ingredients by Andrew Weil. If you count calories, then many of the recipes may drive you into an overload. There is still a lot of the calories-packed sugar in the less-processed sweeteners! The portions are also hard to control. Like with the CARROT-BANANA MUFFINS. It is almost impossible to eat just one as you take them out of the oven, tantalising your nose with warm cinnamon and walnut fragrances. I ate three before they even cooled off! An assuring sign of the food being seriously delectable, but I would need a better advice from the author on how to curb my cravings.
Since the book is inspired by “international” dishes from Bangkok (TOFU CURRY with CAULIFLOWER, RICE NOODLES, and CASHEWS – excellent!) to Italy (TOMATO CARPACCIO – super easy, but highly seasonal), for some it can be impossible to get a bison in Europe to make his BISON UMAMI BURGERS and SOUTHWESTERN BISON MEATBALL SOUP or finding “olivello” – sea buckthorn juice, for the SEA BUCKTHORN SORBET. Italian, Japanese and Thai cuisines in particular feature in the recipe ideas. Twists in the right proportions on Italian staples appear in: CORN-RICOTTA RAVIOLI, SPAGHETTI WITH TUNA PUTTANESCA or TOMATO-BREAD SOUP. All turned great when following the easy guidance in the book.
By Japanese cooking inspired recipes include: SPICY SHRIMP AND ASIAN NOODLES, BENTO, SALMON KASU and other umami-packed courses. Thai dishes inspired: BANANA-COCONUT BLACK RICE PUDDING or HEMP-CRUSTED TROUT WITH THAI BROTH. To the authors’ credit they provide descriptions, storage and where to buy advice in ‘The True Food Pantry’ chapter at the beginning of the book. If you are unfamiliar with the terms like “nutritional yeast”, “sriracha“or “yuzu kosho“, the book with help.
Overall, I found the book very useful and all the recipes (about 15) that I prepared, turned out yummy and diverse enough, so we were enjoying cooking from it for the entire week. What I also liked were the photographs honestly showing how one would plate the dishes at home, and not fancy, elaborate, by-petals-sprinkled decorations that we rarely do when preparing meals at home. Get your calculator ready and you will have fun with the process and the results that your effort in the kitchen will yield.