Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, Roy Choi’s Commissary, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and certainly Deborah Madison all have one thing in common: vegetables. One of the biggest changes in the current vegetable trend has been in elevating the vegetable from side dish to main course. Diana Henry fuels the fire with her new cookbook, A Change of Appetite, published by Mitchell Beazley in June.
More than just a collection of recipes, Henry had adopted a new philosophy of eating based on her own personal relationship to food, health and taste. She elongates Michael Pollan’s oft-quoted adage “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much” with her own words of wisdom: “Savor it. Watch the carbs.”
While not strictly vegetarian — in fact, not strictly anything — Henry uses her book to explore a way of eating that combines being sensible with a certain amount of indulgence. As she writes, “The term ‘healthy’ does negative things to me (in fact I struggled with whether to put the word on the front of this book). It makes me think of miserable, beige food.”
Instead, the recipes explore ways to incorporate more produce and whole grains into daily life. Henry believes in cutting back on processed foods and sugar — but without eliminating them completely. In this way nothing is off-limits; the focus instead turns to increasing the amounts of whole, fresh foods.
Salad finds a prominent place on Henry’s table: “Eventually, the salad stopped being only an appetizer or a side dish and moved into pole position as the main course.” The recipes for salads in Change of Appetite include dressings — like rose and raspberry — and salads that incorporate unusual grains and beans for heartiness. Bulgur wheat, rye, barley couscous, farro, whole wheat moghrabieh (Lebanese couscous), fava beans and cannellini beans all find a comfortable place to mix with fresh vegetables in an easy, accessible way.
In researching food for Change of Appetite, Henry found herself drawn to ingredients from Asia and the Middle East. Looking to create loads of flavor without having the emphasis be on fat, meat or dairy, she “put together lists of ‘accidentally healthy’ dishes.” The result is recipes culled from a variety of cuisines, ranging from the Egyptian-sourced roasted tomatoes and lentil with dukka-crumbled eggs to Japanese ginger and garlic chicken with smashed cucumber.
“There are a lot of big front-of-mouth flavors," Henry writes, "such as chile, ginger, and lime, the kind of thing you want when you aren’t eating starchy or rich food.”
Henry goes out of her way to make sure the foods don't feel anything like diet foods; in fact, she includes a few dessert recipes that incorporate whole grains and produce. The orange and pomegranate cake contains sugar (brown) and bread crumbs (whole wheat). But the indulgence is tempered with the level-headed advice to serve “thin slices with Greek yogurt.”
Relatively simple to execute, the meals in this cookbook are designed with home cooks in mind. Many of the recipes work for one or can be eaten over a few days. Henry even addresses the “question of lunch,” breaking down which entries can be brought to work easily. She recognizes the desire in modern life to squeeze food in between work rather than spend a lot of time in the kitchen. “If you eat lunch at work, it needs to be portable; if you eat it at home, it needs to be quick.”
The message of Change of Appetite is one of intelligence and moderation. Henry doesn't suggest austerity, but instead that we embrace the possibility inherent in flavorful, fresh food. “None of the recipes here are ‘cranky’ or punishing (or I wouldn’t eat them).”
Radicchio and Red Onions on White Bean Purée
From: A Change of Appetite, by Diana Henry.
For the bean purée
2 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 x 400g cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
150ml (5fl oz) chicken stock ?or water
salt and pepper
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, ?plus more to serve
good squeeze of lemon
For the rest
2 large heads of radicchio
2 red onions, peeled
3 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1. For the bean purée, heat the regular olive oil in a saucepan and gently cook the onion until it is soft but not colored. Add the garlic, the beans, stock or water and seasoning. Cook over a medium heat for about four minutes.
2. Process the beans and their cooking liquid in a blender or food processor with the extra virgin oil and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning. You can set the purée aside to reheat later, ?or serve it at room temperature.
3. Now for the rest. Halve each head of radicchio, then cut each half into four sections. Trim the base and a little of the white heart from each piece, without letting the sections fall apart. Halve the onions and trim the base of each. Cut each half lengthways into crescent moon-shaped wedges, about 2cm (¾in) wide at their thickest part. (Or just slice them horizontally, if you prefer.)
4. Mix the regular olive oil, balsamic and seasoning together in a dish and put the onions and radicchio in it. Gently turn over to coat then leave for about 10 minutes.
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5. Heat a griddle pan until really hot and cook the onions quickly until well colored on both sides. Reduce the heat to low and let the onions cook until they are soft, turning frequently.
6. Meanwhile, spoon the bean purée into a serving dish, reheating it gently first if you want to.
Increase the heat under the griddle pan and add the radicchio. Let it color on each side – this will happen very quickly – and wilt. Put the radicchio and onions on top of the bean purée. Season and serve with a little extra virgin oil drizzled over the top.