Friday, March 30, 2007

Super Natural Cooking: A Book Review

For seven years now, I've said that if I were on a deserted island with only one cookbook (and a fully equipped kitchen), I couldn't live without The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. This is such a delicious, basic collection of recipes, many of which are flexible enough to be made ahead and impressive enough to serve to guests. The other day Max the postman brought Super Natural Cooking, however, and I fear it's going to give Ina Garten a run for her money.

Super Natural Cooking is the latest offering from photographer and blogger Heidi Swanson, founder of two of my favorite food sites: and 101 Cookbooks was started when Heidi realized she had a million -- or at least 101 -- cookbooks and did more flagging of pages and looking at photos than actually cooking from them. In an attempt to use the books and learn new cooking skills and gain new confidence, she began cooking through her massive collection, "One recipe at a time," and chronicling her culinary adventures. She also does a lot of recipe writing of her own.

I'd made a couple of Heidi's recipes, like the Ravioli Pasta Salad posted on her blog; this salad is typical of her recipes -- pasta punctuating rather than overpowering a salad. I packed it for lunch four days in a row and never tired of it. So you can imagine that once I'd ordered Super Natural Cooking, I immediately started stalking the mail. This past Wednesday I had a one-day trip to New York that began with me leaving the house at 4:00 a.m. and returning near midnight. When I arrived home, the package from Amazon was waiting for me, and even though I was beat, I couldn't stand not to do a little thumbing, marking, and mental planning before hitting the hay. The book is beautiful and inspiring.

Let's be honest. You know how sometimes you can walk into a hard-core natural foods store and the whole thing smells like old curry, the bottles of medicinal herbs are covered in a layer of dust, and the books all sport curled paperback covers and amateurish designs that look like they were laid out in 1982? Not so enticing. Super Natural Cooking is the polar opposite: It makes cooking with whole and natural ingredients look luscious, enticing, and achievable. The photography is absolutely breathtaking -- food porn at its best -- and the recipes are vegetarian and whole-food based but don't look so prescribed and, well, good for you. They just look good.

This morning the boys slept in and I made Heidi's Wheat Berry Salad with Citrus, Toasted Pine Nuts, Feta, and Spinach. Rather than spend an hour cooking down the wheat berries, I put them in the pressure cooker for about 25 minutes. The rest of the salad -- including a delicious dressing of shallots, extra-virgin olive oil, and citrus juice and zest -- came together in about five minutes. I took this in my lunch today and ended up eating while finishing a conference call because I couldn't any longer hold off diving in.

I have at least half a dozen other recipes flagged: Espresso Banana Muffins (can you imagine?), Otsu (soba noodles in ginger-sesame dressing), Gnocchi alla Romana, Black Tea Spring Rolls, Hijiki and Edamame Salad, Thin Mint Cookies...

If you've been wanting to try natural ingredients but feel intimidated, check out this book. The recipes are quick, easy, and delicious, and the text explains what each ingredient is and how to use it without blathering on or condescending.

Watch your back, Barefoot Contessa.

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Anonymous Julia K said...

Love the blog! I always enjoy reading about your latest culinary adventures. If I'd known you could cook like this back in college, I would've skipped the cafeteria food! --Julie :-)

9:25 PM  
Blogger Cindy K said...

Hey, Julie: But you would have missed the Taco Pizza and greasy Raven's Haven cheeseburgers! I still sometimes get a hankering for Mac and Cheese in the hot pot, Sheila E's "Oliver's House" playing in the background, and you and me staring at our electric typewriters trying to think up something revolutionary to say about "Death of a Salesman" for a paper due in six hours. :)

1:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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5:11 AM  
Blogger David said...


I'm heading over to my local bookstore now to see if I can find that. It sounds like a whole lot of food that the beaufriend won't eat, but I can slowly turn him, I know it!


9:26 AM  
Blogger Cindy K said...

Hey, David: I think Heidi Swanson is based in SF, so I bet you'll be able to find this book everywhere. Tonight I made this great recipe from the book that basically entails making hash browns from cannelini beans, and then adding chard, drizzling with olive and sprinkling with parmesan. Phil was game, but I think slightly suspect. It was, by the way, fabulous. Even better washed down with the Soy Delicious PB and chocolate frozen dessert I'm eating from the container as I write this. :)

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