Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Change of Appetite - Diana Henry

I'm so enthusiastic about Diana Henry's books that I can't imagine my kitchen without them lined up on the shelf, they tend to be the first place I look for inspiration and because her influences come from far and wide it's rare not to find something to fit mood and available ingredients. In fact I'm so enthusiastic that it's hard to remember that I only really discovered her writing a couple of years ago (shame on me) with 'Salt Sugar Smoke', and that these books aren't the oldest of friends. Anyway I got there, even if it is a case of better late than never, so when I saw 'A Change of Appetite' appear as an amazon suggestion I was suitably excited, some months later I'm even more excited now I have the book.

I've never thought of the New Year as being a particularly good time to make resolutions, especially of the dietary kind - there are to many good things hanging around post Christmas, and the weather hardly discourages self indulgence, but Spring is a different matter altogether. 'A Change of Appetite' is all about exploring where healthy meets delicious and that's just what I need. I've never been a fan of dieting; neither discipline or denial are very appealing to me and I don't want to think about the things that I can't have or god forbid calorie count (miserable way to live). Regardless of how I feel about it though I've reached a point in my life where some change is necessary, foods that don't suit me really don't suit me anymore and I want more energy. To do this I need to change bad habits for better ones and Spring is a good time to start that process.

Recipe wise the first thing you notice about this book are the colours, it's full of really vibrant fruit and vegetables which are instantly appealing and the flavours match the colour. There are all sorts of salads, lots of Asian inspired dishes and just generally lots of things that look and sound great. Everything I've tried so far has been shared with other people and without exception has been enthusiastically received (especially Persian saffron and mint chicken with spring couscous which I keep making) which in turn feeds my enthusiasm for the book. I can also recommend an orange feta and fennel salad, a really good hot steak salad, and an absolutely brilliant pomegranate and orange cake (of which I'm enjoying a slice as I write) - oh and that black bread as well...

One of the many things I like so much about Henry's recipes are how flexible they can be - part of the orange feta and fennel salad are blanched almonds toasted in olive oil and then caramelised with honey, cumin, and smoked pa
prika. They're great, and will be great with other things too, I love the bits from a cookbook like this, bits which can be picked out magpie fashion - the bits which make me feel like I've learnt something useful. One of the other things I like about Henry is how she writes, this isn't just recipes, it's research (one thing that surprised me is how clear it becomes that even now we know relatively little about the food we eat) and philosophy - and quite a bit of common sense. This book feels like a conversation with a friend, or perhaps a particularly good teacher, the sort that inspires you to go and investigate all sorts of things (in my case with this book that's going to be Japanese cooking) but never leaves you feeling like you've been lectured to.

The common sense bit is that clearly if you're eating food you've made from raw ingredients rather than out of a packet the chances are it will be far better for you, I find this to be particularly true of bread - mass produced bread is pretty grotty - it's not even good for ducks, home made or good artisan bread is much better (though possibly still not the best thing for ducks). I find the high GI indexes in the mass produced stuff gives me the most appalling sugar crash within about half an hour of eating it, with home made bread that just doesn't happen. It's also reassuring to know exactly what it is you're eating.

Finally there's just something very attractive about the idea of being accidentally healthy which I can't quite manage to put into words. There is more about this on Henry's own website (she can put it into words) here which is excellent - the piece about writing 'A Change of Appetite' is fascinating but everything I've read on there is brilliant (read her on blood oranges - I tell you, the woman's a genius) and this book is a great way to greet the Spring.

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