I consider myself pretty lucky to have a copy of “What to Eat and How to Eat it”, to read for my final UK Handmade review (yup - pastures new and all that), because it’s a corker. Author, Renée Elliott, is the founder of the UKs first organic supermarket, Planet Organic, and she is passionate about promoting health in the community. In this book her aim is to guide you through ninety-nine ingredients that she considers to be beneficial for our health. The book begins with some brief information on how it (the book) can be used, followed by general comment on eating organically, soaking and sprouting, fermenting, fat, grains, sugar and umamai. The featured ingredients are then mostly divided into biological and taxonomical groupings, creating ten chapters in total. The first chapter covers “Vegetables”, others include “Dairy, Meat and Fish”, “Beans”, and “Fermented Foods”. To help you navigate these food groupings, there are two extra indexes (as well as the contents page), an alphabetical index of each ingredient and an alphabetical index of recipes, so everything is really easy to find.
Renée talks you through each different ingredient, telling you the benefits, the ways they can be eaten and how they can be used. There is also usually at least one recipe per each ingredient. Some ingredients are very familiar like carrots and cauliflower but others you may refer back to more often such as amazake and umeboshi plums. Renée is clear to point out that the ninety-nine ingredients chosen for the book aren’t a definitive list of things you should eat, but they are some of the things that you could consider including in your diet (or eating a bit more of if you already include them).
One thing I really enjoyed is that in this book all ingredients are king - each is celebrated equally. In many cookbooks the focus is on meat and fish while vegetables are merely sides, an afterthought, or a token vegetarian meal; in “How to Eat” Renée is highlighting the benefits that every single food source brings to our bodies. I found Renée’s passion for nutrition contagious and engrossing, she is clearly informed but also honest, if there is little scientific evidence, or little research into the supposed benefits of an ingredient, she says so. Sure, the fact that the ingredient has made it into the book suggests how Renée feels about it personally, but I like that she is transparent about any factual information - or lack of it.
The recipes seem fairly simple, but as they aren't separated into types of meal it is unlikely that you'll flick through the pages to come up with a meal plan, (you're more likely to be looking for information). There are lots of salads, drinks and healthy snacks, but more importantly there are plenty of base recipes that explain how to soak, cook and sprout you own beans, grains seeds and nuts - not something you come across in the average cookbook - and I found all this to be written in a clear, simple and approachable manner. I do really like the look of the recipes; with some health-related cookbooks that I've read previously, the ingredients and the recipes created with them (no matter how well intentioned) have left me overwhelmed and intimidated. Renée has included things that I not only want to make but that I - not being the worlds best cook - think I actually can make. I quite fancy the Raw Sunflower Seed Crackers as I'm always looking for new crackers to try, the Chocolate Tahini Balls (I love tahini), the Kale and Spinach Patties and Mushroom Sloppy Joes.
Although there are a lot of recipes included this doesn't feel like a typical cookbook, but that isn't a bad thing because this book is so much more; it is also a reference book that you can refer back to as needed. My one tiny gripe is that there could be more photos of the recipes. It isn't really a big deal because as I mentioned, this is no ordinary cookbook, it is much more than just pretty pictures and drooling. In fairness there is a fairly good balance of images and recipes and the base recipes don't even need images, but for me a few more would have been nice, especially for recipes using slightly more unusual ingredients - we all know what slices of roasted squash look like, but I really wanted to see the “Kimchi Pancake”.
As well as interesting content, I also appreciate a well designed book that has a clear lay-out, is easy to follow, and isn't afraid to stand out from all the other foodie books; with bold illustrations by Louise Lockheart on the cover and throughout, “What to Eat and How to Eat it” certainly stands out. Gorgeous lifestyle photography adorning covers is beautiful but on a busy bookshelf in your local bookshop, it is this graphic style and punch of mustard yellow that is going to grab your attention.
This book has definitely helped me consider what I'm eating- or not eating. I think it is easy to fall into a food rut, grocery shopping on autopilot and not really stopping and taking the time to consider whether you are getting all the nutrients that your body needs to be at its very best. So far I've rediscovered the joys of watercress (that I'd told myself I didn't like but it turns out I do) and kale. I think I'll also try some activated nuts before I pluck up the courage to soak and sprout my own (I've not tried this before and I guess I'm worried that if I do it, I'll then not eat them quick enough, then they'll go bad and go to waste, and I hate wasting food). What is interesting is that my curiosity and motivation for food feels renewed, I’m feeling more educated and have more confidence when it comes to the nutritional choices I’m making - all because of this book - and I think that is a pretty wonderful thing for Renée to have shared with us all.
What to Eat and How to Eat it by Renée Elliott
Photography by Karen Thomas
Published by Pavilion Books
Images by Karen Thomas courtesy of Pavilion Books