We can all use more superfoods in our lives, foods densely packed with nutrients that power us up and fuel our busy days. For her first cookbook, SUPERFOODS, author Julie Montagu posits that we can all benefit from flexible eating while following some very basic principles of eating to feel great. Sounds great. Let’s get started.
Hang on, I need what? Chia seeds, coconut flour and baobab are just three of the ingredients called for in Chia and Coconut Flour Pancakes with Blueberry Baobab Sauce (p. 41). I write about food so was familiar with almost all of the ingredients Montagu calls for, but could I find them all locally? I was skeptical but managed to find everything I needed without resorting to the web. Others may not be so lucky. Tip One for cooking from SUPERFOODS: be sure to review the ingredient list thoroughly and well in advance of when you want to prepare the recipe.
Onwards to the cooking of these unusual pancakes. Disaster. Unmitigated disaster. My dough was a lumpy, unstirrable blob. “I can fix this,” I thought. “I am a master of gluten-free pancakes.” But adding liquid made matters worse, not better. I pitched the whole mess into the garbage. Tip Two for cooking from SUPERFOODS: be prepared to start over. If you have not cooked or baked vegan and/or gluten-free before, this book will not be a good place to learn. Consider cooking from this book once you have mastered the basics of gluten-free and/or vegan cooking and baking.
Undeterred (I’ve learned that not every recipe in every cookbook will be a success), I sallied forth to page 42 and Creamy Breakfast Bowl with Basil and Blueberries. This one was a breeze – put everything in the blender the night before you want to eat it and – POOF! – breakfast is served. Chili Avocado Mash and Coconut Oil on Rye (p. 48) and Chocolate Chia Breakfast Pudding (p. 51) are similarly simple to execute, contain ingredients that are used throughout the book (cacao powder, coconut water, chia seeds, dates) and taste pretty darn good.
COOKING – AND EATING – WITH KIDS HAS ITS LIMITS
From the Fast Track Savers section, I prepared Matcha and Oat Truffles (p. 56) with my young children as sous chefs. Slightly bitter from the matcha, the truffles were holiday gifts to our neighbors. Beware that the bright green matcha darkens after rolled into the truffles. Under Portable Lunches, Baked Tofu and Apple on Mixed Greens and Wakame (p. 89) made a simple, flavorful dinner salad. An entrée for my child who does not eat meat, the salad was a side dish for the rest of the family. Cauliflower, Goji Berry and Almond Salad with Turmeric Dressing (p. 92) also gave me options at dinner. I served undressed cauliflower to my kids and offered bowls of the dressing, goji, onions and almonds to add as they wished. If I make this again on a weeknight, I’ll swap out the house made dressing for purchased dressing to shave off time.
Call it the curse of feeding young children but I have less success selling dishes at my house where the ingredients are all mixed together. Mung Bean, Sweet Potato and Pomegranate Casserole (p. 110) smelled awesome from the freshly roasted spices and had a bright, round flavor of ginger and cumin in every bite. Colorful orange potato cubes and red pomegranate seeds contrasted nicely with the dun-colored beans and dark spinach. Good stuff but I ended up eating most of this myself and plan to separate the ingredients the next time I prepare this dish. Ditto the Spicy Tofu Curry with Coconut and Cardamom (p. 122). A round, full-flavored shrimp and tofu curry was on the table after just about 30 minutes of cooking time (a good weeknight meal), but I ate this for lunch for a week as my family did not dig it.
My biggest successes came from the Sweet Treats section. Pumpkin seed, Quinoa and Oat Muffins (p. 168) were very dense (perhaps because I swapped all-purpose gluten-free flour for the whole wheat flour the recipe called for) but the resulting muffins packed in the protein and did not kill me with sugar. A solid, later afternoon pick-me-up option.
Super Nut Butter Cups with Maca and Lucuma (p. 156) came in for some fine-tuning as well. Lucuma, a super fruit native to Peru, is a rich form of nutrients but when it is dried and pulverized into a powder, it has a drier character than cane sugar. I added the lucuma slowly to see how the filling came together and stopped at two teaspoons (rather than the tablespoon the recipe called for) when the texture was still creamy and moist. Play around with the balance of honey, almond butter and lucuma, keeping in mind that these treats are not baked. The flavor of the end result was quite remarkable and as a whole, these Nut Butter Cups were a fine, not too sweet alternative to store-bought peanut butter cups.
But the hit of the book, the recipe that I’ve prepared a few times since testing this cookbook, is Black Bean Brownies with Chia Seeds (p. 162). Made with no refined flour, these treats are fiber rich and remarkably low in sugar. And my kids loved them. I’ve since revised the recipe to include frosting for fun and switched to an 8-inch square pan to help the brownies come out a bit thicker.
WHO DOULD USE THIS BOOK?
Cooks undaunted (dare I say “challenged”) by unusual ingredients and those who are inspired to eat better.
Though the book is not marketed as gluten-free or sugar-free or vegan or paleo, many of the recipes are suitable for those following a certain eating regimen. Once I got past my pancake fail, I especially enjoyed the Breakfast recipes and my family especially enjoyed the Sweet Treats.
Does this book get pulled out regularly? No. But cooking from SUPERFOODS has made me a better, more aware cook. And those brownies were a revelation; that a dessert made from black beans could be such a hit changed my perception of the ingredient. And for that, Ms. Montagu has my gratitude.
This review is cross-posted on Goodreads.