Wholefood from the ground up

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen&Unwin, at no cost. The RRP is $39.99 and it’s available 9781743365373.jpgfrom today (May 25).

Recipes I’ve tried

Potato and celery salad with celery leaf pesto

My darling isn’t a huge fan of basil pesto, as a rule, so I was curious to see how he felt about this one. It’s made with the inner celery leaves (the yellowy ones), parsley, capers, pine nuts and pecorino (I used parmesan) plus the other normal pesto bits. And the answer was that he really liked it – as did I. It’s a lot subtler than basil pesto (which I do love), but still very tasty. This recipe puts the pesto with boiled potatoes and inner celery stems. I served it with those and chicken, and ate the leftover chicken with leftover pesto the next day. Very nice.

Baked spicy cauliflower, chickpeas and fresh dates

First change: no fresh dates, so used dried ones. Anyway – cauliflower with cumin and coriander and garam masala, baked; always lovely. Cook onion and add chickpeas, then throw those on top of the cauli and add the tahini which you’ve mixed with orange juice and zest and a bit of sweet. I served this by itself but would definitely make it again to serve with other salads. Very tasty and I enjoyed the mouthfeel of cauli with tahini. I suspect this may become a favourite pairing.

Pocket pie: moroccan-spiced pumpkin, silver beet and goat’s cheese

Look, it’s fair to say that this recipe caused some anguish. This is probably largely on me, because Blereau’s recipe calls for shortcrust pastry to be made from spelt and barley flour, but the two places I tried – the supermarket (I live in a hipster and immigrant area, so it’s not that ridiculous) and a bulk-food place – did not have barley flour. So I subbed in ordinary flour. I did not do the research into whether or how barley flour deals differently with butter compared with ordinary flour. The pastry was very short and I found it very difficult to deal with. There might have been some shouting. Still, with the soothing hands of my beloved we did end up making them, and they were tasty enough; it seemed like a lot of butter, because they went very crispy. The filling was ok – roasted pumpkin with coriander, cumin, and fennel.

Split pea, fennel and winter vegetable soup

Again, neither of the places I checked had green split peas. The supermarket had a spot for them, but they were out of stock. So I used a normal soup mix. This is a very nice soup but it’s not anything out of the ordinary.

Creamy fresh corn polenta with refried black beans

I think I’ve made polenta maybe once, and that was to cut it up into squares and bake it (which was nice). This recipe recommends cooking the polenta in a fatty stock, and I realised that I had a lamb ‘stock’ in the freezer from ages ago – I think it was liquid I drained off some dish and couldn’t bear to throw. So I used that to cook the polenta, and it was delicious. The refried black beans were also really nice, with capsicum and coriander and a little too much chilli for my tastes (c/ beloved being a little heavy handed). We didn’t add the corn to this because we’re not huge fans; I didn’t think the dish suffered for its lack.

I ignored most of the section on ‘basics’, like using kefir grains in… stuff… and preparing and cooking beans, lentils, and grains.

The book itself

It’s a well presented book, as you’d expect from Allen&Unwin; it’s one of those big cookbooks, with what feels like a solid spine, and generally appetising photos throughout. Each recipe has dietary info about whether it’s dairy or gluten free, vego or vegan, and other allergy stuff. However the recipes, while nicely set out on the page, sacrifice font size in favour of white space, which makes reading from a distance something of a struggle – not great from the other side of the stove.

I have two main issues with the book. One is perhaps obvious from comments above: there are ingredients in here that were not easy for me to find. I do not know what kombucha or kefir grains are, nor where to find them. I live near the city, in a hipster area. Probably I could find these things, and I know I could find them online, but the point remains that this is not an easy, automatic book to cook from – and that’s not acknowledged anywhere, as far as I could find. Connected to this is the reality that this is not a book for the economically poor, nor the time poor. This is not necessarily a problem, if you’re buying for yourself and willing to put in the time and money, but it is something that should be acknowledged. Blereau is all in for pre-soaking beans and grains and then cooking for however long, so you need to be prepared for that if you want to follow the recipes precisely. And of course being prepared for the time it takes to make cultured cream and so on with your kefir grains.

And then there’s the wholefoods thing. I am not on the wholefoods bandwagon. I am all in favour of cooking food from scratch if you have the time, I understand some of the issues with overly processed stuff, and so on. But when I read the introduction to this book, I ended up getting out a pencil and making annotations in the margins because I got annoyed with it. For instance, there’s the suggestion that industrialisation of food in Australia started in the 1960s and 1970s, and grossly generalised statements about ‘traditional cultures’ that enjoy ‘good health and happiness’ all understanding that our physical bodies are ‘formed of and governed by the forces of nature’… whatever that means. And then there’s her suggestion that she grew up with a ‘strong, intact food culture’ and that many people today are ‘without a strong grasp of food culture.’ Maybe ‘food culture’ means something really specific that I’m not aware of, but I think that is bordering on offensive. (Do not get me started on the idea that herbicides and fungicides are ‘derivative of nerve gases left over after the early wars’ – my note in the margin says “what, Persians? Assyrians?”)

In the end, I think that this book has some interesting recipes in it, but if you’re not completely on board with wholefoods you might find it more annoying than not. That said, if you ARE into wholefoods (which is totally fine I would just rather have a more scientific discussion about it), this may well be the book for you, especially if you’re just starting out and are interested in exploring different sorts of grains and how to actually use them in meals.

It’s available from Fishpond. 

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