Super Natural Every Day Heidi Swanson
Your emotions will be touched and your practical self will nod to engaging natural foods in your daily nourishment already when you decipher the bold title of this cookbook which assembles “well-loved recipes from my natural foods kitchen“. The author Heidi Swanson teases you to flip and dive inside her California dream of less-processed meatless recipes.
You will find simple, yet mainly original recipes, that the James Beard Foundation Book Award winner for her previous cookbook Super Natural Cooking, would revisit often when seeking in a short while assembled everyday meal. She uses seasonal, prevailingly California ingredients, most of which are available also in Europe, and some that would be possible to prepare in Asia since her use of seitan, tempeh, and tofu in her vegetarian plates is a staple of many eastern diets. Cheese may detract some readers, particularly those of you who are lactose-intolerant or if you grew up in Asia, where digestive discomfort caused by dairy is common. There are plenty of dairy-free recipes in this, her second, vegetarian cookbook.
An author, blogger, cook, and traveler, Swanson is based in San Francisco and her culinary repertoire was nurtured by the natural and simple cooking philosophy of Alice Waters and many other cookbook authors she lists on her blog. She focuses on tasty, whole, vegetarian recipes that can be prepared for the entire family since the meals are measured for 4-8 people depending on the dish. As I mentioned above, Swanson also curates her culinary blog titled 101 Cookbooks “about cooking with whole, natural foods“.
Detailing some of the basic cooking techniques such as clarifying butter, cooking rice or poaching eggs is very practical for any home cook wishing to improve his/her style. Unfortunately, the book also comes with redundant “recipes” for very simple dishes (Fruit Salad) and drinks such as Iced White Tea and Ginger Tea (in short brew water, infuse the tea/ginger and cool it off). Swanson is “inspired by ingredients that intersect my life, travels, and everyday interests”.
Organized by types of meals rather than seasons, the book is divided to seven core chapters: Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks, Dinner, Drinks, Treats, Accompaniments. Each recipe is introduced by a personal story and tips or encouragement for seasonal or taste preferences related alterations, exactly as it is done on her beautifully designed clean blog 101 Cookbooks. As a non-American I appreciate the international measures – cups, ounces and grams, all specified right by the recipe, so no need to flip to the back with your dirty fingers while preparing the meal.
Her most frequently used ingredients in this book are butter, cheese, potatoes, soba noodles, all types of raw sweeteners, red Thai Curry paste, mainly whole grains (bulgur, farro, millet, oats,quinoa, colorful rices), and of course a rainbow of vegetables.
I have tried about a third of the recipes in this book and these were my and my husband’s absolute favorites:
Breakfast: Frittata (this generous egg sprinkled with goats cheese is good when you need a generous morning pick up)
Lunch: Mixed Green Salad (Parmesan and strawberries – yes!), Mixed Melon Bowl, Rye Soda Bread (fast and irresistible, you will eat it all in one go), Summer Squash Soup (superb and rich Asian style soup).
Snacks: Avocados and Mustard Seeds, Little Quinoa Patties (a bit more work than usually, but delicious tapas with wine)
Dinner: Dilled Green Beans with Seitan (dill works marvels here), Farro Soup (intense), Miso-Curry Delicata Squash (perfect autumn meal), Panfried Mung Beans with Tempeh (ravishing!), Weeknight Curry (coco-yum)
Drinks: Sparkling Panakan (disappointing since after it was cooled in the fridge it was not sparkling anymore)
Treats: Muscovado Sunflower Kernels (simple sweet delicacy ready in 10 minutes), Watermelon Salad (excellent on a hot day to cool you off), Oatcakes (wholesome breakfast if prepared ahead save you time in the morning)
Accompaniments: Whole Grain Breadcrumbs (not exactly a side dish, but sustainable use of a leftover bread)
Despite her meal suggestions, I would make a frittata for a weeknight dinner, Beans with Seitan for lunch, whatever my taste buds called for in the moment or what our pantry allowed for.
Swanson goes with the current wave of “clean” eating. But, the concept of “natural” has been recently misused by marketers to sell you sugary bars and processed crackers, so it is important to clarify the meaning here. By her own definition, natural foods are “ingredients that are straight from the plant or animal” but also “made with as little processing and few added flavorings, stabilizers, and preservatives as possible, keeping nutrients and original flavors intact.”
Perhaps for the sake of easy home preparation, she does not guide you to prepare your own tortilla, mayonnaise, and other preferably preservative-free readymade items, but buys them at the store. This is ideal for a quick after work meal, although nature did not create the tortillas and wrapped them into the plastic foil. This practice in some rare recipes slightly diverts from the author’s intention to provide “natural” foods. One surely does not have as much time as Chad Robertson of Bar Tartine does, who makes everything from scratch assisted by his team at his restaurant in San Francisco, but this is what I would call genuine “natural” food made in our kitchens.
The author is an experienced cook and she learned like Robertson did, that sometimes using whole grain flours “doesn’t deliver the results I want“, so mixing them up in the right proportions with unbleached all-purpose flour is necessary for a perfectly smooth cake or a well-textured loaf of bread.
The images in the book evoke home, they look genuine, not overly edited and prettied to make you feel like you need to enroll into a serious food plating course. Some are taken by the author herself while others by professional photographer Wayne Bremser. The design is tremendously helpful, clear, with practical highlights. Super Natural Every day is also more compact than most large format cookbooks and I am sure I will return to a number of recipes again as Swanson did.