Book Review and Recipes: Clean Food by Terry Walters

As a member of BloggerAid’s “View and Review,” I was contacted a while back to see if I’d be interested in reviewing the recently published  Clean Food by Terry Walters.  Well, since Walters is a  certified holistic health counselor who has studied at both the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and The Natural Gourmet Institute in New York (where I surely would have attended had I been able to afford it), I jumped at the opportunity.

In purely physical terms, this is a beautiful tome. The kiwi-green hardcover is enveloped by a slip of half-size paper (in lieu of a full book jacket) on which is emblazoned the words “CLEAN FOOD” in a rainbow of colors evoking fresh produce. (In fact, the jacket was one of my few gripes with the book–the paper kept falling down/off in an annoying manner, so much so that I eventually just took it off).  A hefty piece of writing, the book clocks in at almost 300 pages with over 230 recipes, each page almost as sturdy and thick as poster board.

While the pages are color coded for each season (pale green for spring, pale melon for summer, etc.), there are no photos, an omission I know may deter some readers. As someone who prefers at least a few images to help me visualize the prepared dishes, I was a little disappointed that the publisher chose not to include them.  On the other hand, as a cookbook author who did opt to insert a few color pages in my own book, I know how much the price of a book can skyrocket with just a few full-color photographs.

The press release for the book boasts that Clean Food “is the cookbook of the season–the one that will help us all make positive, sustainable, and yet delicious changes to the way we eat every day.” In other words, Walters promotes a healthy lifestyle overall, rather than simply healthy eating.

After an initial introduction, the book offers a series of instructive sections that expand on the concept of clean food (food that is close to the source, unprocessed or minimally processed): “Getting Started” (a definition of “clean food” and how to incorporate it into your diet and lifestyle, plus general ideas to improve health and well-being); “The Basics” (tools for cooking natural foods, lists of foods and explanations, recipe guide and glossary of commonly used ingredients); and , finally, “Recipes,” divided by season (with a bonus “Anytime” section).

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[Seaweed and Cabbage Sauté]

The influence of Annemarie Colbin, founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute, is evident throughout the book and recipes.  For instance, Walters discusses cooking methods in terms of “more cooling” or “more warming” to the body, a principle discussed in detail in Colbin’s classic book, Food and Healing. Similarly, many of the recipes include standard macrobiotic ingredients such as ume plum paste, pickled ginger, daikon or gomashio (all of which can be obtained in Asian markets or health food stores).

In browsing through the recipes, I found many existing favorites from my own  repertoire as a holistic nutritionist.  For those who already follow a whole foods diet, as well as for most vegans (while it doesn’t claim to be a  “vegan” cookbook, almost all the recipes are vegan), many of these dishes will be familiar.  Most of us regularly cook greens with sesame and ginger, tofu scrambles, tofu-based chocolate “pudding” or sweet potato “fries.” As an introduction to this type of eating to the average consumer currently following the SAD (Standard American Diet), however, Walters’ book will most likely be a revelation.

Recipes span the gamut from extremely simple to more elaborate with a fair number of ingredients.  While some of the recipes seemed overly simple to me (Barley with Lemon and Herbs involves cooked barley sprinkled with lemon juice and chopped fresh herbs–a combination for which I wouldn’t require a recipe), I may be atypical as I tend to seek out more unusual or novel combinations of ingredients in my cooking.  Still, Walters’ book did deliver in that area as well, with selections such as Watercress, Daikon and Avocado Salad with Mustard Seed Dressing; Kabocha Squash Stuffed with Brown Rice and Chickpea Pilaf; Black Bean Patties with Pineapple Guacamole; Chestnut Cream Pie; or Teff Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.

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[Banana Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies (gluten free)]

I was able to try out three recipes in total, and have been given permission to include two of them here.

The Ginger Sesame Greens were one of those recipes that is already a staple in my diet. One evening, the HH and I fancied a quick and no-nonsense dinner, so I cooked up these greens following Walters’ recipe exactly.  Like my own (almost identical) version, the greens were piquant, barely wilted, and very tasty (though not too photogenic–sorry!)

Next up was the Seaweed and Cabbage Sauté.  I wanted to try this recipe primarily because of the inclusion of arame, a form of seaweed I generally love, and one for which I’ve been scouting out new recipes.  Also remarkably simple to prepare, the dish provides “incredible healing and cleansing properties,” as Walters informs in the recipe’s introduction.

We ate this dish warm the first night, as soon as it was cooked.  While I enjoyed it, I can’t say I swooned.  But Walters also mentions that the dish can be eaten cold, so I tried it that way the following day.  Eureka!  I made the titular switch from “Sauté” to “Salad” in my mind and gobbled up a huge plate of the stuff.  Having mellowed and matured somewhat in the fridge overnight, the flavors married perfectly in the cold mixture, and the cabbage retained just a hint of crunch; a perfect combination.  I adored this dish in its latter incarnation.

Finally, I tried out a cookie that I’m sure will appear in my kitchen again (once I’m able to consume bananas in a latter stage of the ACD), the Banana Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Walters has mentioned in an interview that these are a favorite of hers, suggesting that these confections finally provide “a recipe for those overripe bananas other than banana bread!”.  In addition, the cookies are gluten free and use very little added sweetener, as much of their sweetness is derived from the fruit.

In this case, I encountered a bit of difficulty with the recipe instructions.  We’re told to place heaping teaspoonfuls of the batter onto a lined cookie sheet, followed by the sentnece, “There is no need to roll, flatten or shape the mounds.”  Given such a clear directive, I assumed the batter would spread all on its own.  After the maximum baking time in the recipe, I checked on my cookie mounds and found that they’d retained the exact same shape they had when I’d first popped them into the oven: high, domed mounds.  I ended up baking them an extra 10 minutes before they appeared brown enough to remove from the oven.  Even then, the interiors were still exceedingly moist; the HH wouldn’t finish his, claiming that it was still raw in the center.

While I didn’t mind a soft inside (that’s how I like my chocolate chip cookies, after all), I did feel that the recipe instructions should have been clearer.  Were the cookies supposed to remain like coconut snowballs, not spreading as they baked? Or did I somehow mess up the process?  Especially given the notice to leave the mounds as they were, a simple sentence such as “cookies will spread as they bake,” or “cookies are intended to remain round and high” would have helped.  Nevertheless, I found their flavor to be delicate and pleasing, a soft banana base infused with chocolate and coconut. I’d make these again, but would flatten them slightly before baking next time.

I look forward to trying out more recipes from this collection. Despite the inclusion of many “basic” recipes, I found myself leafing through the book over and over, ultimately realizing that pretty much every recipe offers something I’d enjoy eating.  And even though I no longer require a recipe for basic sautéed greens or cooked millet, it’s nice to know they’re housed together alongside the more exotic fare in one clean–and local–place.

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Coconut Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies




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