When I first stated getting into food blogs, back in 2005, I remember stumbling across the brilliantly named 101 cookbooks. Heidi, a girl after my own heart, with a massive cookbook collection had decided to start her blog so she would actually cook from her books. Brilliant.
Over the years I’ve dipped in and out of Heidi’s blog. But I’ve always admired her style and approach to cooking. Heidi focuses on natural, whole foods and ingredients – vegetarian recipes that are good for you, with the occasional sweet treat.
Last year, with more time to spend on reading blogs, I started getting into Heidi’s blog even more. And decided to pick up a copy of her first book Super Natural Cooking: 5 ways to incorporate whole & natural ingredients into your cooking for a bit of Christmas holiday reading.
Not only was it a delight to look at, I found myself learning way more than I had expected. So I thought I’d share a few of my lessons with you today and a seriously delicious vegan recipe. But if you’re interested in natural food, I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself or at least checking out Heidi’s blog.
lessons from super natural cooking
1. natural is one of the most abused terms in food marketing
OK so this isn’t exactly news to anyone but I wanted to mention it because I liked Heidi’s approach to deciding whether something was natural herself. She asks herself whether it would be possible to make the food in her own kitchen and whether she would be able to explain how the food was made to an eight year old. A good yard stick, I think.
2. a new grain: teff
Originating from Ethiopia, teff is a brown, tiny grain that is rich in iron and gluten free. Heidi describes a tart crust made with 50% teff flour as dark, sophisticated and delicious. Sounds like something worth exploring.
3. a new flour: mesquite
A gluten free flour, mesquite flour or meal is made by grinding the pods of the mesquite tree. With a warming, malty, smoky flavour, Heidi recommends using it as an everyday seasoning like sprinkling over oatmeal (porridge) or adding to banana smoothies.
4. the difference between clarified butter and ghee
Is that the milk solids are left in the ghee for longer before being removed. This gives a richer, nuttier flavour in ghee.
5. pure maple syrup comes in different grades
Depending on the time of year the syrup was harvested. A grade comes from early in the season and has a lighter syrup. Heidi prefers B grade which has a fuller flavour and texture. I also didn’t know that maple syrup is rich in zinc and maganese. Heidi recommends storing it in the fridge.
6. brown sugar is just white sugar ‘painted’ with molasses
I was aware of this but thought it might be interesting for some of you. Heidi recommends seeking out naturally brown sugars like Muscovado, Barbados or Demerara.
7. miso can be used for more than soup
As we touched on earlier in the week on making soup without stock, miso, a fermented soybean paste, makes a great seasoning. Heidi suggests using it in stocks, sauces, dressings and marindes. The darker the colour of your miso, the more intense the flavour will be.
8. for a more traditional form of soy sauce, try shoyu
Apparently commercial soy sauces can be produced chemically rather than allowing the natural fermentation. Shoyu tends to be the real thing.
9. millet is a staple food for 1/3 the worlds population
Another new one for me, millet is supposed to be easy to digest, quick to cook and rich in magnesium. Sounds like something I need to try!
10. lutein apparently has the ability to prevent clogged arteries, combat arthritis and discourage some cancers
And where can you get it? The richest sources are leafy green veg, although it also gives egg yolks their wonderful colour.
11. there’s a whole world of dried beans out there
Living in Australia, I feel like I’m missing out on a wealth of dried beans. Heidi mentions some delightfully named beans that I’m dying to try out when I’m in the US in April. There’s black calypso, black valentine, butterscotch calypso, corona and red nightfall.
12. brazil nuts can be grated as a parmesan substitute
I had a ‘why didn’t I think of that’ moment when I read Heidi’s suggestion. Note to self for vegan pasta recipes.
13. to make nut milks, just blend your chosen nut with water
14. agave nectar is sweeter than sugar
Heidi recommends substituting 3/4 cup nectar for every cup of white sugar in a recipe. You’ll also need to reduce the other liquids slightly and reduce the baking temp to prevent overbrowning. And agave nectar won’t sieze up the way honey does in cold drinks – note to self for banana smoothies.
[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
curried tofu scramble
Adapted from Heidi Swansons recipe in Super Natural Cooking.
Heidi’s original recipe is actually 5 ingredients, although her curry powder is well over. I’ve skipped on the garlic and replaced it with a squeeze of lemon at the end.
The Sri Lankan curry powder has lots of turmeric which gives the scramble more of an eggy look and feel. I made my own 5 ingredients version of Heidi’s curry powder and it was delicious. Feel free to use your favourite commercial curry powder if you have one. Or just substitute a combination of chilli powder and turmeric.
This is a great dish for convincing non-tofu fans that tofu can be delicious. As Heidi says, she’s given up on trying to convince with argument and just slides a plate of this dish in front of her carnivore friends. Few are able to resist the urge to try it!
1 onion, peeled & chopped
4 teaspoons Sri Lankan curry powder (recipe below)
350g (12oz) firm tofu
1 bag washed baby spinach leaves
big squeeze lemon juice
1. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan.
2. Add onion and cook, covered over a medium high heat stiring frequently until the onion is soft and translucent but not browned.
3. Add curry powder and stir fry for about 30 seconds or until it smells divine.
4. Crumble the tofu with your hands and add to the pan. Stir well then cover and cook for a few minutes – you just want to warm the tofu through.
5. Add spinach and stir until spinach has just started to wilt.
6. Season generously with sea salt, pepper and a big squeeze of lemon juice.
sri lankan curry powder
Makes 4-5 teaspoons.
Adapted from Heidi Swansons recipe in Super Natural Cooking.
I’ve drastically reduced the size of the batch here because I prefer to make and use. I’ve also used pre ground spices and skipped the roasting and grinding that Heidi recommends. I find it’s a lot easier to just use fresh commercially ground spices from a good supplier and then toast them in the pan when you are cooking with them, rather than faffing around ahead of time. To me the results taste just a good, but by all means use whole spices if you prefer.
If you can’t find dried chilli flakes, use a couple of whole dried red chillies or substitute in 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli powder.
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and you’re good to go.