Full disclosure: we didn't expect to do much more than a quick flip through of Andrew Weil's just-released True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure cookbook. Something about those eponymous vitamin packs and the “Spontaneous Happiness” (for a fee) plugs on his website had taken their sales pitch toll over the years.
Even still, Weil manages to remain a celebrity health guru that emanates genuine likability. Unlike many health celebs, we actually believe him when he says he wants to “promote the diner's well being.” As Marion Nestle says on the cookbook's back jacket, “Andrew Weil is a rare member of a special class of diet gurus: he appreciates good food.”
Thus, the recipes from his latest book are refreshingly light on the health mantra, heavy on approachable, everyday international flavor. Dishes like Moroccan-inspired chicken salad with leftover roast chicken, jicama and cashews in a honey-yogurt dressing, scallops bathed in a speedy kale pesto that the restaurant serves on pasta or atop Tuscan-style tomato bread soup, a quinoa tabbouleh speckled with roasted beets, pomegranates and Marcona almonds. It's one of the best “health” cookbooks we've seen in a good while. Get more, and a recipe for the restaurant's L.A.-inspired umami sauce, after the jump.
The book is a compendium of 125+ recipes from Weil's Phoenix-based mini-restaurant chain, True Food Kitchen (which now has an outpost in Santa Monica Place) that Weil opened with restaurateur Sam Fox. Fox is listed as the book's co-author, and he may very well have been the book's literal scribe. But the restaurant's executive chef, Michael Stebner, is clearly the kitchen co-star here, as recipe head notes indicate whether the recipes were developed by Stebner or Weil. It's a shame that Stebner only gets a “with/contributor” byline (typically reserved for ghost writers) rather than a triple co-author credit.
A minor quibble, as these dishes both inspire, flavor-wise, and weather daily tweaks well. That's something many health cookbooks, with their very specific, high-calorie ingredient substitutes cannot always deliver. It's a point illustrated, perhaps unintentionally, by a photograph of a tabbouleh salad recipe. Strawberries and walnuts are shown in the photograph in lieu of the pomegranates and beets called for in the recipe. The ingredient substitution possibilities aren't mentioned in the recipe head note, as would be standard (We want to know!), but both the written and photo version sound great.
So does that French potato gratin that's been morphed into an Indian-style sweet potato variation with cashew milk and coconut cream, and generously spiced with turmeric, garam masala and cayenne. We'd also make that Southwestern bison meatball soup with quinoa and jicama, spaghetti with bottarga, hemp-crusted trout in a Thai broth and dark chocolate pudding (sweetened with evaporated cane sugar) regardless of the “health” claims. That the pudding is dairy free, gluten free and vegan reads as more of a “just FYI” sort of note that may or may not be of interest to you.
Yes, the book still promotes Weil's “anti-inflammatory diet,” as with that mushroom and astragalus root “Immunity soup” (astragalus is a Chinese herb with purported immune-enhancing properties). If you're into that sort of thing, great. If not, make the soup, or that L.A.-inspired bison burger with caramelized onions and mushrooms, simply because it sounds tasty.
That burger recipe, by the way, includes Stebner's version of the umami sauce that he tasted on a “burger tour of Los Angeles” in which he and Fox “must have sampled about twenty burgers in two days.” Now that's our kind of “healthy” recipe research.
From: The True Food cookbook.
Makes: 1 ½ cups
Note: Stebner says he keeps a jar of nutritional yeast flakes, the umami secret here, in his fridge to “use on everything from steamed vegetables to broiled fish. It's [also] great on salads, but add it at the last minute and don't toss it with delicate greens, lest it wilt.” He uses about a scant tablespoon of sauce per burger.
Recipe Revision (9/27/12; 10 a.m.): The book does not include water in the recipe. It should (Weil confirmed the typo this morning), unless you prefer a double hit of vinegar in your umami sauce (Hey, it's that fifth taste thing). The recipe has been updated below.
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons tamari
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes
8 gloves garlic, mashed
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Put the vinegar, water, tamari, yeast flakes, and garlic in a blender or food processor and blend until well combined. Remove the feed tube and, with the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Blend well until the mixture becomes thick and emulsified, like mayonnaise. Adjust the seasoning with salt as needed. Pour the mixture into a lidded jar and refrigerate up to 2 weeks. Bring the sauce to room temperature and shake well before using.
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