Monday, December 5, 2016

New Book Review: Clean Eating Bowls

Fair disclosure: this is the third of those three books of which I received review copies, which I read and reviewed in the order in which they came out of the package. Because I'm rushing these reviews online in order to generate as much good publicity as possible, I've not actually tested the recipes at home yet. On the other hand, I'm getting free review copies of new cookbooks because I've used and reviewed a lot of the old ones; I can visualize (taste-ize? gustatorize?) how recipes are likely to taste. This is the quirkiest of the three California-cuisine cookbooks, and maybe you have to be familiar with California health-food-store food...I am. I found it appetizing, and I give Clean Eating Bowls maximum points for presenting the best recipe for a simple, not-necessarily-too-sweet, gluten-free, virtually-guaranteeable version of granola.

Title: Clean Eating Bowls

Author: Kenzie Swanhart

Date: 2016

Publisher: Rockridge

ISBN: 978-1-62315-786-9

Length: 154 pages plus 5-page index

Illustrations: color photos

Quote: “Diving into a clean eating lifestyle can seem daunting—cutting out sugars and processed foods in favor of cooking fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats—but bowls make it simple…to focus on all the goodness you can eat, rather than thinking of it as a restriction.”

Inspired by the “paleo diet” or idea of eating things as close to their natural state as possible, Kenzie Swanhart has progressed to exploring recipes for one-bowl meals. They’re organized into “Smoothie Bowls” (blender-processed fruit and veg), “Breakfast Bowls” (fruits, cereals, and/or eggs), “Grain Bowls” (rice, quinoa, farro wheat, barley, or oats), “Salad Bowls,” “Soup Bowls,” “Noodle Bowls,” a few “Dessert Bowls,” and finally ten “Bowl Necessities”—sauces, almond milk, and granola. 

Each chapter outlines how to “build a bowl.” Swanhart is neither vegan nor vegetarian, but each type of Bowl has many vegan options, and vegetarian recipes outnumber meat recipes.

For a Smoothie Bowl, Swanhart blends together a cup of flavorful fruit, a “base” of banana, avocado, or mango, a liquid, “some superfoods (optional)," sweetening (also optional), “sneak in some leafy greens" (half cup, optional), and when these are smoothed out in the blender some unground “toppings” of  fruit, nuts, or granola.

Breakfast Bowls can be sweet, assembled by stacking up a base of yogurt or cereal, a cup of fruit, “superfoods,” sweetening, and toppings similar to the Smoothie Bowls, or savory, with a base of grain, “a protein” (1/2 cup of meat, beans, or egg), a cup of vegetables, 2 tablespoons of dressing, and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds. One savory Breakfast Bowl that may surprise readers is “Baked Eggs and Ramps,” a “decadent Sunday brunch”  featuring wild onions wilted into a sauce, simmered with tomato, and used to poach one egg per serving.

The basic outline for Grain Bowls is one cup of grain, one cup of vegetables, one cup of “a protein,” 2 tablespoons of sauce, and the optional sprinkling of nuts, sprouts, or avocado.

Salad Bowls consist of one or two cups of greens, ½ cup of “a protein,” one cup of other fruits and veg, ½ cup of nuts or grains, and “ginger, lemon, oil, vinegar, salsa, vinaigrette. (to taste). The protein in some of these Bowls is cheese.

Soup Bowls begin with 1-2 tablespoons of oil or butter, then four cups of liquid, one cup of protein, two cups of vegetables, spices of choice, and toppings that may include more spices, nuts or  seeds…or bacon.

Noodle Bowls begin with a cup of noodles, topped with 1-2 cups of hot broth, ½ cup of “protein,” a cup of vegetables, and a topping of nuts or seeds. One recipe title that was new to me was "Poke Noodle Bowl." In the Appalachian Mountains, where the pungent wild onions known as ramps are native, another native food some people like is called "poke salad"--traditionally made by cooking the early, tender, low-toxicity first shoots of pokeweed. Was that the featured ingredient in the Poke Noodle Bowl? No; apparently the Hawaiian word poke, rhyming with "okay," has made it into Pacific Coast English as a new name for a specific tuna dish, so the Poke Noodle Bowl is a fish dish. It sounds a little more flavorful than the canned tuna Easterners usually eat.

Dessert Bowls are likely to be the strangest. Suggested bases are “avocado mousse, banana ice cream, chia seed pudding, coconut cream, or Greek yogurt,” topped with a half cup of fruit, sweetening and/or nut butter if necessary, and toppings of nuts, seeds, goji berries, or cacao powder. This is a short chapter and I have to admit that reading the recipes did not inspire me. However, there’s a valid reason why natural food enthusiasts concoct such weird desserts. If you’re seriously eating a “paleo” or natural-locavore diet, you don’t actually need dessert recipes. Most of the time, sun-ripened fruit provides all the sweetness an adult could want. (In winter, the “paleo” diet features dried fruits, which tend to be sweeter than I personally like. I can handle a spoonful of plain sugar, even a few dates or banana or pineapple slices chopped into cereal, but raisins…! Ouch!)

If you can use coconut oil (or substitute some other kind!), Swanhart’s granola recipe may be the simplest and tastiest I’ve ever come across. Most granola recipes call for ten or twenty different ingredients, at least one of which some member of your family probably hates, and if they feature raisins and honey they'll either be too sweet or have to be toned down with something that starts out bitter and gets bitterer in storage, and so on. Swanhart's recipe consists of oats and nuts, tossed with honey, cinnamon, and vanilla, and baked. If you can eat nuts, that granola is likely to taste good...for a good long time, too. If you have a trustworthy source of oats, it's gluten-free. If you slowly toast good fresh oats, almonds, cashews, and cinnamon to the right point, even if you lubricated the pan with a non-sweet oil, you can forget about the honey and have a naturally sweet sugar-free granola. 

The usual caution about honey applies: bees know they’re swallowing and regurgitating different concentrations of sweet goop, which they store in separate combs, but when humans mix it all together we never know how concentrated the sucrose is going to be or what other flavor notes are going to dominate the finished product, so if you do cook with honey you need to use caution and taste as you go...and even then, honeys made from different flowers react differently to heat! No recipe that calls for honey is reliable; most desserts made with honey tasted either unsweetened or disgustingly over-sweetened to me, with very few striking the balance we’ve all learned to expect from things sweetened with sugar. (The honey-sweetened desserts I've liked featured fresh fruit that was probably even better without the honey.)

Swanhart's “Bowls” are definitely novel cooking ideas (Salad Bowls are probably the easiest to explain to guests who haven’t read the book). If you’re blessed with access to good, organically grown, GMO-free fruit, veg, and grain, that means hundreds, maybe thousands of delicious novelties. (Given an outline for each type of Bowl, you can use these recipes to generate endless seasonal and local variations; the specific recipes merely offer cooking and seasoning suggestions, which your garden will expand...)

Most of these recipes are naturally “free” from sugar, chemical additives, and other things special diets help individuals avoid. Not all are gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, and for diabetics’ purposes honey is basically super-concentrated sugar, but for most restricted diets I suspect the majority of the Bowls are acceptable. Because “building a bowl” is so simple, it’s not hard to tweak any recipe you can’t use as written, either. Can’t eat barley? Substitute rice. Can’t eat rice? Substitute farro…and so on.

(Some people can't eat rice! Although this web site exists by and for Irish-Americans with wheat gluten intolerance, we have to mention that there's also a gene, noticed mostly by a minority of Asian people, for rice gluten intolerance. Natural rice, our staff of life, is those people's poison. Some real Chinese food is wheat-based, and some Chinese people actually need it to be. Ah, biodiversity...) 

I have to mention that the phrase “clean eating” sounds more than a tiny bit judgmental, and my personal definition of clean eating would definitely exclude bacon, hemp seed, and honey! Well, of course you don’t have to become a food nanny to use recipes that are part of some people's "healthy eating" or "clean eating" plans. Actually, several of the Soup, Grain, and Salad Bowls have flavors that would work quite nicely with a cheap greasy hamburger from the local fast-food shack, if you want to eat one of those. Maybe you do have to be a bit of a foodie to want to construct a Bowl of oatmeal, apple slices, pumpkinseeds, dried cranberries, chia seeds, and chopped ginger, but you don’t have to be a fanatic…if you slice in enough sweet, juicy apple and candy-like crystallized ginger, even oatmeal haters will enjoy that Bowl. 

I will admit some personal insight into the thought process that drives some people, if they’ve eaten a bowl of beet, carrot, Brussels sprout slices, kale, garbanzos, pomegranate, avocado, and miso, to go out and look for a cheeseburger. (That's what Swanhart describes as "probably the healthiest" Bowl of health-food-store favorites, but unwrinkle your little noses, kids...those flavors do work together, mellow each other out, and make quite a palatable "crazy salad.") Even if the cook has said not one word about how “healthy” the Salad Bowl was supposed to be, chasing it with a bag of greasy, salty chips can feel a bit like reclaiming a piece of the individual soul. Nevertheless, if you have good fresh fruit and veg, and you resist the urge to preach about them, even junk food junkies would eat most of these Bowls…and like them.

So…even within the California genre of cuisine, this is a strange cookbook, but in a nice way. Buy it if you can afford to buy excellent food and want to attract attention by doing something delightfully different with that excellent food. Especially buy it to tuck into a gift package along with a set of good-sized, handmade, beautifully quirky bowls.

2 Quart Stoneware Serving and Mixing Bowl by Arousing Appetites - Cream White Round Ceramic Serveware for Salad, Pasta and Soup with Decorative Design

Hmm...that's a nice mixing bowl. Maybe your family would prefer single-serving bowls?

Handmade Stoneware Soup or Chili Crock, Ceramic Bake and Serve Bowl