As a professional cancer health educator and recipe developer of long standing (20+ years), I tend to have a “healthy” scepticism of health-focused cookbooks. Whether it is dates and/or avocados in nearly every recipe; a preponderance of powdered ingredients from plants found mainly in jungles; or methods that require the home cook to prep dishes over days rather than minutes, much of what fills the bookstore shelves and online shops leaves me a bit cold. In my opinion, quite a few books over recent years have more in common with faddism and aspirational lifestyles than nutritious, balanced eating. The two cookbooks of Amelia Freer fall into the latter category. And deliciously so.
A qualified nutritional therapist, Freer is also a home cook and real lover of food. Although I do rate a well-written, chef-authored cookbook (notably those by Rick Stein), the books that I use again and again, the ones with oiled edges and stuck together pages, are by home cooks like you and me - but who just happen to have their specific expertise and super powers of deep creativity realised in print form. Nigella Lawson is a prime example of a non-chef who writes recipes that really work and that you really want to make.
I have a feeling my already slightly thumbed and splashed copy of Freers’ second book, Cook. Nourish. Glow., will be stuck together in no time at all. Having owned the book for all of one week, at least a dozen recipes are bookmarked with slips of paper, with separate notes on tweaking to my taste at least as many more. I was pleased to see that quite a few recipes are in a similar vein to ones I do for my nutrition classes and family, but I really look forward to trying out some of her other ideas. For example, we are not big meat eaters and I rarely cook it at home, but as our extended family do like it, many of her meat recipes – always containing vegetables – would give me more confidence to please their palates. I can see us making Winter Oxtail Stew with Pumpkin and Kale, Beef Goulash, and Minute Steak with Roasted Fennel and a Rocket and Caper Dressing.
So, what did I make? Well, as a number of her recipes call for Homemade Coconut Butter I thought I would go for this one first. She writes that this “gives a richer taste than coconut oil or butter”, which is absolutely spot on. Although you don’t fry with it, it is a great sub for dairy butter in baking and makes an interesting spread for bread or crackers, especially if blended with spices or finely chopped herbs. I riffed on her basic recipe by scooping out a little and mixing with melted dark chocolate, cacao and a smidge of sea salt. Delish! The only caveat is that you do need a food processor or powerful blender to make it.
The reason I had to make the coconut butter is because I absolutely had to make the Green Herby Bread, where the coconut butter subs for dairy butter or other plant oils. I am a sucker for green food, and while I already occasionally add blitzed raw greens and herbs to breads, I hadn’t gone the no-grain route for this type of recipe.
To say the bread is good would be an understatement. From the sneaky dab at the dough (it is really more of a thick cake batter in texture), to the ridiculously heavenly aroma as it baked, the only difficult thing about this recipe was the waiting for the obligatory cooling before slicing. Having previously tried some dodgy, crumbly grain-free bread recipes, I can report that this one sliced perfectly over the two days that it lasted. A definite keeper. I didn’t follow the recipe to the letter, instead using what I had in the garden - two types of kale, leggy, almost-flowering chard, parsley and chives – but it was a big hit with the whole family. Next time I might add a tablespoon or so of nutritional yeast flakes, or even a dab of Marmite, to up its savoury credentials.
Fish is also a big favourite in our home. We would eat it three times a day if this were sensible, and affordable. As we are always up for new ways to enjoy this nutritious food, I chose to make Amelia’s healthy take on fish cakes - Salmon Balls with Crunchy White Sauce. Normally I am not a fan of fish cakes, but this recipe looked so simple and light that it had to be made. Basically it is a matter of pulsing fresh salmon, grated courgette, and a few other ingredients, rolling into dinky balls and baking to a rosy hue. Served with the lemon-licked, herb and cucumber-spiked sauce it is hard to see why stodgy frozen fish cakes are given the time of day. This was so easy and energy-giving, and very family-friendly. Budding young cooks would I’m sure love to help with the rolling up of the walnut-sized balls. I did deviate slightly from the recipe, using equally-thick Greek yogurt in lieu of three-times-the-price coconut yogurt, and a vegan “chia egg” instead of the stipulated hen’s egg. But it was really good. I can imagine that these would be fab cold in a lunchbox.
We ate the salmon balls and sauce with steamed asparagus and roasted broccolini. If the evening hadn’t been so perfect for a walk in the hills I would have knocked up the intriguing Passion Fruit “Crumbles”, made by baking lightly cooked raspberries and passion fruits in the passion fruit shells. Another time. We did however manage an oatcake smeared with a little of the chocolate coconut butter before bed. But it was greed, not need.
As for what to make next, it is hard to choose. The no-grain Crunchy Vegetable “Tabbouleh” with a Coconut Cream and Herb Dressing sounds intriguingly non-traditional. As do Green Burgers with Green Sauce, the verdant burgers holding a seafood secret. But as I have all of the ingredients for Chocolate Cupcakes with Whipped Almond Butter and Chia Seed Jam, this goes to the top of an already delicious pile.