Janella’s Super Natural Foods – making healthy eating simple and easy »
Nutritionist and wellness coach Janella Purcell updates her culinary style
By Robyn Lewis
What better time of year to think about healthy eating? After some indulgences at Christmas, you might want to shed a few kilos, or perhaps eating better and/or sustainably is one of your New Year’s resolutions.
But where to start? The internet is full of ads, fads, sponsored links and diets of questionable effectiveness, and it’s hard to build an eating program you can stick to from a few downloaded recipes. And who can you trust?
The track record of anyone claiming expertise in this area is important here, and that of author Janella Purcell – nutritionist, naturopath, wellness coach and herbalist – and author of three previous books on the subject (Elixir, Wholefood Kitchen and Eating for the Seasons), is impeccable.
Not only will your wellbeing be in good hands, but combine that with the fruits of Janella’s culinary experiences in Italy, Japan, the Middle East and South East Asia, you certainly won’t be bored with her 150 recipes.
Summer is also a great time to turn over a new leaf, literally, with gardens, markets and shops burgeoning with fresh fruit and vegetables. We sure are spoilt for choice in Australia, and sometimes all we need is a little inspiration like you’ll find in Super Natural Foods to kick off.
Her recipes are described as “simple and easy to follow... a dynamic mix of superfoods and a good-old fashioned plant-based diet (based on) Janella’s philosophy of using food as medicine”.
This remains on trend, and for a good reason: it works. Many of our current commercial medicines have their origins in plants, and increasingly research is proving the efficacy of plants for treating various ailments (eg MigraineEscape™ made from ginger extract, and turmeric now being trialled for various illnesses). The ubiquitous aspirin has its origin in the bark of the common willow tree, a mediaeval natural medicine.
Janella’s approach is twofold: keep it simple – try to eat food in its natural state where possible, and mostly plants – and wherever you can, swap healthier alternatives for those that are questionable (eg use coconut palm sugar instead of refined white sugar, or beetroot juice instead of artificial red colouring).
Since her earlier books were published, chocolate is now in again, and coconuts and avocadoes have been redeemed. However all this – plus trends like the paleo diet, etc – causes confusion, so Super Natural Foods will bring you and your recipes up to date.
The book is divided into ten chapters: Breakfast; Lunch; Dinner; Soups, Stews and Casseroles; Vegetables; Sides; Snacks; Dressings and Sauces; Dessert and Sweet Things; and lastly, Drinks.
Chia seeds start the Breakfasts – those little seeds that are now ubiquitous (and grown organically in northern Tasmania) and which when mixed with water or other liquid and allowed to stand, form a gelatinous texture not unlike tapioca, but without the cooking. Janella makes Chia Breakfast Puddings in single-serve jars and allows them to stand in the fridge overnight – nothing could be simpler, and they make a good snack or lunch too.
There’s also Quinoa or Polenta Porridge (which you can also make with good old oats, or amaranth or millet), Quinoa Patties, Bircher Muesli, Smoothies and egg dishes including a One-egg Omelette, Yoghurt, and one my daughter will adore, Coconut Waffles (or pancakes).
The Lunch dishes show a strong Asian influence: Indonesian Salad (with a satay sauce); Fresh Spring Rolls with Pineapple Teriyaki Sauce; Udon Noodle Salad, Protein-packed Lentil Loaf and lots more that will fuel you up for the afternoon without weighing you down. The Hazelnut and Herb Pasta Salas is delicious (and can be eaten as a hot dish as well), and for beetroot lovers, the Barley and Beetroot Salad is a winner.
For parents, there are Lunchbox Ideas, which I’ll be trying out this semester for sure – they even include sweet treats like Cacao and Coconut Crackle and Janella’s famous Bliss Balls, with an update – plus a section of Sandwiches and Wraps.
For the cooler months there are dishes like Japanese Noodles and Veggies in a Broth and Creamy Mushroom Penne. Even the old Salad Niçoise gets a remake, and there’s a vegan version too.
For family Dinners, everyone seems to like Tacos, and Janella gives us a healthy version using Australian GM-free corn (needless to say Janella is also very strong on environmental concerns).
Here we see some more Middle Eastern recipes, including Warm Freekeh (a young, smoked wheat grain) and Grilled Capsicum Salad; an Italian influence in Spelt Pesto with Broccoli Pesto (no expensive pine nuts!) and Spaghetti with ‘Meat’ Balls, and – another fave with my daughter – Polenta Pizza with Italian Toppings.
Even the humble Fried Rice gets a makeover, and Janella advises it can be made in bulk and frozen in portions for up to three months. Her Agadashi Tofu naturally is made from GM-free soybeans and isn’t fried in trans fats such as palm oil, as it may be in restaurants. You can use vegan dashi for the broth if you wish (Janella’s recipes can include fish, but not red meat). She even includes a vegetarian Paella, with seafood (or chicken) optional.
I especially like her section on Soups and Casseroles – never be bored with the same old pumpkin soups again. And you’ll soon be spicing up your veggies with a dash of Za’atar, another Middle Eastern Spice blend which you can either buy or make yourself.
Interested in fermenting/pickling vegetables but not sure where to start? There’s a very easy recipe for Japanese Fermented Veggies (pickled overnight in salt and sake), which is great as a side dish. Another Japanese dish is the popular Nasu Dengaku, aka eggplant in miso sauce.
For Sides there are tofu dishes, Flatbread made with spelt; Yellow Coconut Rice made with brown rich but which Janella assures us doesn’t taste like birdseed; and Black Bean Tofu from Bali.
The Snacks include Fruit-free Muesli Bars (school lunchbox alert: they contain nuts), and something for the kids to try, Popped Amaranth (instead of GM corn). Kale Chips have long been a winner with my household, but there are a few flavouring suggestions here I'll be trying soon.
And here’s a recipe for Smoky Turmeric Cashews, to replace those found in the supermarket with goodness-knows-what on them.
The Seed Crackers are totally excellent and my daughter couldn’t get enough of them, especially the sweet variety made with maple syrup and cinnamon. Janella even has her own take on ANZAC biscuits, and Raw Brownies made with dates or figs.
Her Dressings sounds good (I haven’t tried any yet) but it’s to the Sweets I turn, keen to see what I can make for children, or healthier desserts for adults. Now that chocolate (in the form of cacao powder) is back in favour, it’s a lot easier: the aforementioned chocolate crackles for the kids, and Roasted Hazelnut and Coffee Chocolate Cups for the adults.
There’s even a Tahini and Date Fudge, with only two ingredients, and another one for the kids, a Cherry Ripe using frozen cherries. Yum indeed.
I’m an almond lover so I’ll sure be trying Almond Pancakes, either with the recommended Pomegranate Syrup or some fruits in season. But no need to hide the Coconut Crepes from my family – these are like the ones you see in stalls in Asia and are positively delicious. Serve with Spiced Coconut Ice Cream (which if you happen to have a Thermomix, would be a cinch) and dairy ice creams may be a thing of the past.
If you ever get sick of that, there’s a saffron yoghurt called Sikarni, Strawberry Mousse and a Banana and Tahini Ice Cream to end off a meal, and to save you buying expensive organic jams, a recipe for Chia and Berry ‘Jam’, which is raw and simply whizzed in the blender.
Makes you feel healthy just reading all that, doesn’t it?
Lastly there are Drinks: ‘milks’ made from nuts and/or seeds, milkshakes, smoothies, mocktails, Ginger Tea and an ultra-healthy Morning Liver Shot made with turmeric and honey. Sorry, no alcohol here... Perhaps the Anti-inflammatory Smoothie (with more turmeric) could be just what you need the morning after a few wines.
All recipes are clearly marked as to whether they are gluten-free (most are), vegetarian, vegan, nut-free, sugar-free, soy-free, grain-free or raw. But quite honestly, these don’t over-intrude: Super Natural Foods is light on the philosophy and is ‘alternative’ and vegetarian without thrusting it down your throat.
You can do that yourself with the results of these delicious recipes instead! Here’s to a healthy year ahead, whenever you start your path to sustained wellbeing.
Janella’s Super Natural Foods by Janella Purchell is published by Allen & Unwin (Sydney, 2014; sc, 214 pp) and retails in Australia for A$39.99.
- Northern Rivers (NSW)
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