One of the things that’s become more important to me as I’ve got older is looking and, more importantly, feeling well. While we were on holiday at the start of June, I said to my boyfriend that I wanted to make sure that we were as healthy as we could be this summer and to really focus on eating right, getting a reasonable amount of exercise/sleep and taking the time to chill the eff out before the inevitable craziness of autumn wedding stress kicks in. Of course, as soon as I said this, I condemned myself to a couple of weeks of various low-level but annoying illnesses (and some prolonged celebrations for my mother’s 60th birthday party which tool the toll that you might expect) but you can’t really expect anything else from life I guess.
“Wellness” has become a hot topic (and a big money-maker) in the last few years. I’m sure a lot of people will have read Hadley Freeman’s excellent article in The Guardian a few weeks ago about the rise of the so-called “wellness bloggers”. The article is not entirely positive and touches on many of the concerns that I have with the genre, particularly the lack of science behind some/many of the claims that bloggers can tout with authority but primarily what Hadley Freeman describes as ‘the whispered promise of thinness’ which seems to sit behind a lot of the phenomenon. I went to a school where eating disorders were rife and skipping lunch was seen as a badge of honour. If the world of wellness bloggers had existed then, I can’t even begin to imagine how we’d use them to justify whatever crazy diet was the rage that week.
Given the wealth of information and misinformation out there, it’s always a relief to come across a book that’s authoritative and informative whilst maintaining a healthy outlook on food/eating/wellness/the need for ample supplies of cake in everyday life. Amy Chaplin’s book, At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, is just that. Amy has a a wealth of experience behind her – both in restaurants and as a private chef – and creates recipes that focus on celebrating, rather than restricting, good food.
The book is divided into two main sections. The first deals with the foundations of stocking and cooking from a whole food pantry (including some swoon-worthy pictures of Amy’s pantry and its glass jars if that’s you’re kind of thing which I totally am), including a collection of recipes using using pantry ingredients (from which this chia pudding is taken), including a section on homemade condiments (my favourite!). Some of the ideas in this chapter are those perfect simple meals that I’m always craving after a long day at work like the parsley and brown rice salad with seeds and the pasta with kale, onions and goat’s cheese.
The rest of the book is divided up into chapters with more complex recipes taking you from breakfast (spelt and almond waffles! Plum millet muffins!) to desserts (including a whole sub-chapter on tarts – the data and pistachio praline tart has particularly caught my eye) with everything in between. The recipes are seasonal in everything but name, heavy on the produce and with an understanding of the kind of food that appeals at different times of year. This being summer, allegedly, the recipes I’ve tried have embraced the best ingredients at this time of year – like the gazpacho with heirloom tomatoes and the quinoa salad with roasted summer vegetables and harissa marinade. Some of the more autumn/winter recipes that have caught my eye include the heirloom bean bourginon, the aubergine curry with cardamom rice and apricot chutney and the spicy carrot soup with kaffir lime leaves and coconut. I’ve found that the some of the desserts have a little more of a ‘chef-y’ feel to them than the savoury recipes although I imagine that the ingredients and techniques will be familiar to those who dabble more in vegan cooking than I do. And I’m not sure I’m going to be able to resist the chocolate and hazelnut cake with cherry filling and chocolate ganache for much longer.
It took me a while to come round to the concept of chia pudding. What really sold it to me though was how easy it is – just mix chia seeds with some liquid, chill for a few hours and you’re ready to go. Whilst I can (and do) eat it at any time of the day, it really works for me as a breakfast, particularly in the summer when I appreciate having something cooling and hydrating first thing in the morning. Amy’s version takes a little bit of forward planning (you have to soak the cashews for a few hours before blending) but really, nothing about this chia pudding could be easier and the addition of a touch of coconut oil (or coconut butter) gives such a luxurious richness.
I have bought a fair number of those aforementioned”wellness” books over the last year or so. I can honestly say that I’ve never cooked a single recipe from any of them. Amy’s book, however, is completely and totally different. I use it almost daily and I know I will keep on using it for years to come.
I generally make my chia pudding by mixing an undetermined quantity of milk, vanilla and honey/maple syrup with chia seeds and hoping for the best. It usually works out okay but this version of Amy's was a revelation - I found that using cashew milk and the addition of coconut oil gave a degree of richness that's usually lacking and it had far more staying power. I also made it in a food processor and not a high speed blender and it was fine. I tend to make a large batch on Sunday and then keep it in the fridge - it lasts me most of the week.
- 150g (1 cup) raw cashews, soaked in 500ml (2 cups) water for 4 - 6 hours
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1 litre (4 cups) water
- 7 medjool dates (preferably on the softer side)
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- A pinch of salt
- 80g (1/2 cup) chia seeds
- Drain the cashews after soaking and put in a food processor / blender with the vanilla, most of the water (if you can get it in without overfilling!), the dates, the coconut oil and the salt. Blitz until smooth. I only have a food processor so mine remained a little more gritty than you would get with a high speed blender but it was fine.
- Pour the liquid into a large bowl or container, preferably with a lid, add the chia seeds and stir well to distribute them evenly (you might need to do this once or twice in the first half hour). Chill for a couple of hours, or over night, until thickened. Serve with whatever you want! I like fresh berries at this time of year and something for a little crunch - flaked almonds work well or cocoa nibs as I've used here.
Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin, published by Jacqui Small.
Note: At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen has been out in the US for a while but was only released in the UK in June. All of the recipes have been ‘translated’ to include the UK names of ingredients and to use weight measurements (hurrah!). I pre-ordered my copy months ago from Amazon but Amy reached out to connect me with her publisher, Jacqui Small, and they have offered a special discount. To order At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen at the discounted price of £20 including p&p* (RRP: £25), telephone 01903 828503 or email email@example.com and quote the offer code APG334.
*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.