This was a book I needed. And I don’t mean ‘need’ in that “I’ve been a good boy and deserve a treat” sort of way.
However I didn’t know it met my need until I read it. I bought it because I had been good and did deserve a treat. And what a treat it is.
Why did I need it? I’ve been paying attention to the discussion about what constitutes ‘healthy eating’. It was hard for me to navigate my way through the facts and fashion to an evidence based conclusion about what would constitute healthy and desirable food to grow, cook and eat.
Fortunately Diana Henry has done the work for me in A Change of Appetite: where healthy meets delicious.
For Henry enjoyment and colour come first. She aimed to create recipes that are ‘accidentally healthy’ and:
…dishes that were so good (and good for you, too, but first of all delicious) that you wouldn’t feel you were missing out.
I’ve had the book since early March. It’s a regular stove-side companion and has not yet been put back on a shelf. The recipes are innovative and tasty & the design & photography is beautiful. The recipes are crisply imparted as if by a knowledgeable mate in the kitchen next to you while you cook. I don’t know about you, but I often read recipes where it’s obvious that the writer can’t have cooked it themselves. This is not the case with Henry and her recipes have useful tips and asides.
The book starts with an Introduction where Henry sets out the science and her rationale for her approach. She’s not prescriptive and accepts:
You might use the knowledge in this book and settle on a different path.
However, the science is set out cogently and her conclusions clearly follow it, seasoned with the practicality of an experienced cook for a family.
The recipes appear in seasonal chapters. In the introduction to each chapter, Henry describes the produce likely to be available. She also lyrically characterises the food and cooking of the season:
…you want the juice of a peach to run down your arm – or the smokiness of griddled chicken.
Interspersed throughout the recipes are mini-essays. The titles include: there are calories and calories; how many diets can you fit in a life; loving breakfast, the question of lunch, and eat your greens (and your reds and your pinks…). In these, Henry delves into more detail: explaining science, giving biographical detail to illustrate points and always talking about food with empathy, humour & passion.
The recipes are heavily influenced by the cuisine of the middle and far east. I’ve now cooked lots from the book or inspired by the ideas in it. Henry shares my love of purple sprouting broccoli and all the ways of serving it. Other highlights for me so far have been: Japanese ginger & garlic chicken with smashed cucumber; white fish, saffron & dill couscous pilaf, chicken & pumpkin with soy & star anise, lamb with Kurdish rhubarb & split peas. And I’ve eaten lots of breakfast and lunch salads and snacks inspired by her wisdom.
In many of the recipes, Henry gives plenty of suggestions of other ingredients that could be used to make similar dishes, or dishes in the style of a particular recipe. I love this way to cook, where you start with what’s available to you and cook with love & empathy. Henry gets this in spades.
To cook all the recipes in the book, you’ll need a well stocked store cupboard and access to some suppliers of food from around the world. Living in the sticks as I do, I’ve made some substitutions and used some of my coterie of internet suppliers on occasion. Living in the centre of a cosmopolitan city like London or Manchester (like I used to) would be an asset for some of the recipes. I don’t think this is a major fault, part of the joy of this book is the inspiration and guidance that Henry gives for you develop your own cuisine. Henry has included an extensive supplier list for ingredients and seeds. There is as useful bibliography for you to extend your research and inspirations.
The proof of the book for me is that I have modified the way I plan and cook my meals. I use less carbohydrates and more of them are whole-grain. In particular, I’ve incorporated more veg into my breakfasts and often cook meals planning leftovers that will make a fast breakfast or lunch with no faff.
If you want to have a new look at what and how you eat; fancy a good read, a chuckle and to eat tasty meals to boot, then this is for you.
Disclosure: Diana was good enough to look at and give a generous testimonial for my book which was published at about the same time. I paid for my copy of Diana’s book. If I didn’t think it was any good I would not have published a review.