Life

3 cookbooks to help you eat more consciously in 2021

Concerned about meat consumption? Your health? The health of the planet? These cookbooks might provide some direction, says Ella Walker

Niki Webster, whose new cookbook is Be More Vegan

JANUARY gets a bad rep. A month of enforced abstinence, chocolate avoidance and down-to-the-bone cold; compare it to May or August – months of sunshine and bank holidays, asparagus and strawberries – and you might as well strike out the first 31 days of the year entirely.

And yet, January 2021 carries with it a sliver of hopefulness, a soupçon of positivity (please let it not be crushed…). So while most of what's going on is largely out of our hands, it is within our power to approach the new year with pragmatism, optimism, and an arsenal of cookbooks to nourish us beyond just dinner.

So, scrap the food denial, and consider tackling your concerns around your meat consumption, health, or impact on the planet, and get reading one (or all) of these.

Here are three cookbooks to peruse and cook from if in 2021 you want to be…

:: More conscious of the planet…

Eat To Save The Planet by Annie Bell (One Boat, £16.99)

:: Who is Annie Bell?

Annie Bell is a chef, food writer and nutritionist. The former Vogue columnist has written a slew of cookbooks following her “modern rustic feel”.

:: What's the book hoping to help you achieve?

With a title like Eat To Save The Planet, the aim is straightforward, bold, and admittedly a little overwhelming. However, as Bell quickly makes clear, the aim is not to terrify, but to help us all tool up in the fight to protect the environment, in a way that involves us eating healthily and sustainably.

Her answer is the Planetary Health Diet, which recommends “how much of each food group we should eat”. She calls it a way of eating that goes “beyond good nutrition, that treats our health and the environment as a common agenda. It tells us how we should eat not only to maximise our own good health, but also to halt the steady degradation of the planet at the same time.”

:: What are the recipes like?

While plants make up the bulk of the collection (there are strong Mediterranean diet vibes), this is not a veggie/vegan cookbook. Instead, writes Bell, “meat, fish and poultry are to be savoured as a treat, a luxury to be spun out with other ingredients.”

Cutting food waste and making the most of everything we have in the fridge is also paramount, she explains, hence her ‘riches from the rubble soup' which will clear out any leftovers. She dedicates a whole chapter to ‘one egg' dishes (the Planetary Health Diet suggests a 13g serving of egg per week, per person), like leek and Emmental scrambled eggs, while there's many a stew and curry to linger over (scallop tikka sounds particularly good) and all-in-one roasts and pies (the Irish stew pie is very intriguing).

:: More conscious of your health…

The Fitness Chef: Still Tasty by Graeme Tomlinson (Ebury Press, £16.99)

:: Who is Graeme Tomlinson?

Otherwise known as The Fitness Chef, Graeme Tomlinson is famed on Instagram for his “myth-busting nutrition infographics”.

:: What's the book hoping to help you achieve?

It's trying to steer us away from traditional, “confusing” and “forbidding” diet books, in favour of education, finding nutritional balance, and reducing the numbers of calories in your favourite foods so you can eat them regularly but still reach your weight, fitness and health targets.

:: What are the recipes like?

Surprisingly fun for a cookbook called Still Tasty. There are full-on fry-ups, a towering sausage and bacon breakfast roll, and salted caramel porridge for breakfast, myriad cheese toasties for mains, alongside a coronation chicken baked potato, and pizzas galore, as well as cheesecake and tiramisu for dessert. It's all rather decadent, despite being slimmed down on the calorie front.

:: More conscious of your animal product consumption…

Be More Vegan by Niki Webster (Welbeck Publishing, £14.99)

:: Who is Niki Webster?

Niki Webster – who has never really liked meat – is a plant-based food writer and author, who has been sharing recipes on her blog Rebel Recipes since 2015.

:: What's the book hoping to help you achieve?

There's nothing militant about Webster, Be More Vegan is presented as a gentle guide to help ease you into a life of veganism is increasingly of interest to you – even if going vegan just one day a week is something you're considering.

“Remember, nobody's perfect and you don't need to be completely vegan to make a change, but if you're thinking about it, why not start by trying out some of my easy vegan favourites?” she writes genially. She also addresses many of the concerns around veganism (questions on ethics, the environment, and the health impacts), but maintains a fun, approachable and encouraging tone that's quite uplifting in a cookbook.

:: What are the recipes like?

Really rather yummy sounding. Going big on recognisable veg, and keeping it fairly light on meat substitutes, Webster's food is super colourful and enticing, and pretty indulgent too (take the gooey chocolate cake with Biscoff frosting, and the slab of Millionaire's shortbread, laced with dates). We could also eat the bean chilli nacho platter and summer rolls all day.

CHICKEN PAD THAI

(Serves 1)

50g fresh rice noodles

5ml olive oil

5g brown sugar

150g skinless chicken breast, cut into 4cm pieces

1tsp garlic powder

50g fresh bean sprouts

2 spring onions, finely sliced

Juice of ½ lime , plus a wedge to serve

10ml light soy sauce

10ml fish sauce

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 medium egg

10g unsalted peanuts, crushed

Small handful of freshly chopped coriander

Black pepper

Method:

Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add the noodles and simmer for four to six minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, put a medium frying pan over a medium heat, then add the oil, brown sugar, chicken and garlic powder. Cook for five minutes. Reduce the heat, then add the bean sprouts, spring onions, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce and red chilli, then season with pepper and cook for a further five minutes.

Crack in the egg and stir thoroughly for three to four minutes. Plate up the noodles, followed by the chicken mixture, garnishing with the crushed peanuts, lime wedge and chopped coriander.

:: From The Fitness Chef: Still Tasty by Graeme Tomlinson

SWEET POTATO SOUP

(Serves 4)

2tbsp olive oil

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic

1tsp ground cumin

1tsp turmeric

1tsp ground coriander

3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into small cubes

500ml veg stock

1 can coconut milk

1tbsp tomato purée

Twist of black pepper

½tsp salt

Toppings:

Toasted seeds or nuts

A swirl of plant-based yoghurt

Pinch of chilli flakes (if you like some spice!)

Method:

Chop the onion into small dice, and chop the garlic up finely. Add the onion to a large pan with the olive oil and sauté for seven to eight minutes on a low heat. Add in the spices, garlic and fry for a further few minutes.

Next add the sweet potato, veg stock, coconut milk, tomato purée to the pan and simmer for 15 minutes covered – until the sweet potato is soft. Season with salt and pepper.

Turn off the heat and then blitz using a hand blender, until smooth and creamy. Add more water if you'd like it thinner. Top with the toasted seeds, plant-based yoghurt, and chilli flakes if using.

:: From Be More Vegan by Niki Webster

FISH PIE WITH PECAN CRUMBLE

(Serves 6)

For the filling:

1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 small dried red chilli, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 fennel bulbs, green shoots and tough outer sheath discarded, diced

2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes

3tbsp coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to serve

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

600g skinless salmon fillets, cut into 3–4cm pieces

200g butter beans, drained and rinsed

For the crumble:

30g pecans

30g ground almonds

30g rolled oats

30g unsalted butter, chilled and diced

Method:

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat, add the chilli and garlic. Moments later add the fennel and fry for several minutes until translucent and softened slightly. Add the tomatoes, parsley and some seasoning, bring to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you have a thick sauce.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat, season the salmon and briefly sear it, half at a time, to lightly colour on all sides. Gently fold the salmon and butter beans into the sauce, discarding any liquid given out by the fish, and transfer the mixture to a shallow ovenproof dish, approximately 20 x 30cm. The filling can be prepared a couple of hours in advance, in which case cover and set aside in a cool place.

For the crumble, whizz the pecans until finely chopped in a food processor, then add the ground almonds, oats, the butter and a little seasoning and briefly whizz until the crumbs start to hold together in nibs. This can also be made in advance, and chilled.

Preheat the oven to 210C (fan 190C/gas mark 6), scatter the crumble over the pie base and bake for about 30 minutes until the crumble is lightly golden. Serve scattered with extra parsley.

:: From Eat To Save The Planet by Annie Bell

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