Great timing is so important to a relationship. If the perfect match comes along too early -- you're too immature, too distractible -- or too late -- you're jaded, tired, maybe a little afraid to start something new -- that spark just doesn't become a flame.
So it must have been perfect timing for me and Super Natural Every Day: Well Loved Recipes from my Natural Foods Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, $23). Maybe I'd finally read enough about the wisdom of cooking and freezing ahead, or the importance of whole grains and fresh greens, for it all to suddenly make complete sense, because I fell hard and fast in love with this book.
Heidi Swanson writes the popular blog 101 Cookbooks and is the author of Super Natural Cooking. She cooks vegetarian food, but I didn't miss meat a bit in Super Natural Every Day. The combination of luscious photographs, excellent design, and recipes that are both accessible and a little offbeat make this the first book I have wanted to cook from front to back.
I started with oatcakes, the dense little coffeehouse staple, which are full of good stuff: whole wheat pastry flour, oats, flax seeds, walnuts, and coconut oil (I used coconut butter). They're sweetened with maple syrup, but only slightly; the sweetness comes in subtly after you taste the depth of the toasty, nutty flavors.
Moving on, I made black sesame otsu, a dish of soba noodles topped with scallions and a black sesame paste; wild rice casserole with crimini mushrooms; and white beans and cabbage, which you will like even if you think you don't like cabbage. This recipe softens the cabbage literally and figuratively, creating a graceful accent to humble white beans and fried potatoes.
Speaking of beans, it was Ms. Swanson who ignited my other great love affair -- with beans. Swanson has, in this book, a recipe for a simple pot of beans, and mentions casually at the top of the page that she cooks a pot of beans on the weekend and then uses them throughout the week for various dishes, freezing the extras.
I didn't know that I could live on black beans for several days in a row. I can, it turns out; when you toss them into a tortilla with some cheese, tomato, avocado, and lettuce, you have the best and quickest meal imaginable. I have taken to throwing black beans on top of my salad, into boxed macaroni and cheese with some corn, and into a pan with some bacon fat for creamy refried beans over rice. Nothing radical or original, but my daily cooking life has changed for the better.
Other Super Natural recipes that are high on my list to cook are kale salad with toasted coconut and sesame oil, orzo salad with broccoli pesto, popcorn with herb-mustard butter, and ginger cookies with dried apricots and shaved chocolate.
Swanson places a high priority on fresh ingredients and healthy, delicious food for every meal. It's not for dieters; you'll find plenty of creme fraiche here, but you will find little white flour or refined grains. This book is meant to inspire connection between its reader and each and every meal he or she cooks and eats. And it worked: my souvenir of choice when traveling is now local beans. I guess with me and this book and the beans, that makes a love triangle. We'll make it work.