Of all the world’s cultures and stereotypes, no one worships food like the French, which is perhaps why I’ve always felt an affinity with them. However, typical French cuisine tends to be too rich, too bready, too meaty and creamy for my palate and sensitive tummy. This is exactly why I was thrilled to hear about Alain Ducasse’s new cookbook Nature: Simple, Healthy, and Good on the site Q by Equinox. Reviewer Eimear Lynch sums it up perfectly: “co-written with nutritionist Paule Neyrat, the book is filled with nutrient-rich, veggie-based recipes that, while healthy, are still decidedly fancy and French.”
Nature is not a 30-minute weeknight dinner cookbook. To use this book effectively, you need to let go of the North American stuff-your-face mindset and move towards the Provençal savor-the-moment mentality. This cookbook demands that you immerse yourself. Each recipe is laid out not as a series of ingredients and instructions, but as a story – beginning, middle and end. Although there are many tempting recipes, it’s difficult to pick one and make it spontaneously. You need to set aside a few weeks to cook only things from the pages of Nature.
I could easily spend weeks gazing at the pictures, pouring over recipes and reading the interspersed gastronomical witticisms. But the monograph itself is a call to action. Browsing your local farmers’ market (or “marketing”, as Julia Child would say) is an imperative. There is something for every season in Ducasse’s culinary text and he emphasizes that you must cook in tandem with nature – the seasonal names of many dishes make this explicit. After you’ve been to market, you must then make a series of Staples, foundation dishes such as Salt-Preserved Lemons and Chicken Stock, which will be used in more complex recipes. These recipes take time, but they’re worth it.
The recipes themselves are not foolproof and require commitment. Many of them look intimidating to begin, but are actually not so daunting when you get into them. My method of tackling this cookbook, (a cookbook that was honestly more of a coffee table book for the first few months) was to go through and choose a few recipes from each of the chapters: Staples; Condiments; Grains, Breads and Pastas; Soups; Vegetables; Sea; Land; and Desserts. I found about 40 recipes that looked sufficiently simple, healthy and good enough to start with.
Ducasse’s recipe for Hummus intrigued me because it was made with dried chickpeas, not canned. I’ve been struggling with homemade hummus for a while, so I thought I would give it a try. Not bad, but rather time consuming for what should be a simple dish. Next time I would roast the chickpeas rather than boiling them for a smoky aroma. Vegetables à la Barigoule with Vanilla is another dish I couldn’t resist. I love combining typically sweet flavours with savory ingredients. Again, it’s a testament to the French lifestyle that the recipe says it takes “only about 40 minutes to prepare” (my emphasis). But it’s worth it. Chicken Breasts in Yogurt with Stir-Fried Vegetables is one of the more pedestrian meals in Nature, but also one of the more accessible, and no less tasty.
|Pan-Fried Summer or Winter Fruits|
Like most things worth doing, these recipes take time, money, and energy. Part of the secret of the French and their paradox is to enjoy both the process and the outcome. Try putting on some Carole King, start cooking, and you might just feel natural, healthy and good in no time!