Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking

I love whole grains and I love chocolate.

So when I saw this curious Muzzi chocolate bar in a terrific Italian traiteur and grocer, Au Village Italien, I had to add it to my shopping basket. Inside the bar was little bits of puffed farro, or spelt as one would say in English.

(It’s épautre in French, dinkel in German and for the brainiacs out there, it’s triticum dicoccum in Latin.)

farrochocolate.jpg

I was curious to taste how the dark Italian chocolate would meet up with the earthy, crispy little bits of whole grains and I was not disappointed. Boy…I took one bite of this and stopped in my tracks.

What a great bar of chocolate!

Speaking of not being disappointed, did you ever correspond with someone online, then meet up with them to find out they’re nothing like you think?

Okay, you don’t need to admit to that.
But I will.


But instead of being disappointed, I’ll admit to being thrilled when I first met Heidi Swanson, of 101Cookbooks.com. Heidi was just as lovely in person as she is on her gorgeous web site, which for me sets the standard for how excellent a food blog can be.

So I was floored when I received her new book: Super Natural Cooking. The first thing I noticed about this generous volume was the heft and quality of the book: a lot of care was put into it. From the top-quality paper to the sublime photos, the care that was taken to create this book is more than clear and really pays off to the reader.

supernaturalcooking.jpg

Without being preachy, Heidi’s book has re-defined natural cooking for our generation, creating a brand-new cuisine based on whole grains and intriguing flavor combinations. This isn’t hippy-dippy cooking. Instead the recipes are sophisticated but not complex; all fit in with the way most of us cook today, or should be cooking. And this book is one of the rare instances where style doesn’t overwhelm substance: Super Natural Cooking has equal measures of both.

As I l tore off the packaging, I immediately got comfy on the sofa and leafed though the pages. Flipping through it I felt like I was sitting there with Heidi while she reawakened me to a world of cooking and eating natural foods. That, to me, is the sign of excellence in a cookbook. When the author’s voice jumps out and feels like they’re talking to you, I know the book’s a winner.

The book is also full of superb tips on ingredients.
Did you know you can make your own baking powder? Yes, you can. See page 202. And if you love whole grains as much as I do, the Wheat Berry Salad with Citrus, Toasted Pine Nuts, Feta, and Spinach on page 52, you’ll be happy to know, is the next recipe in my kitchen’s ‘batter-box’ of dishes to try. I’m also going to haul back a sack of mesquite flour from my upcoming trip to Texas to make her now-famous Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 182).

Caramel Corn

Spiced Carmel corn
Six servings

Adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson (Celestial Press)

Of course, when flipping through the book, trying to pick a recipe that I’d make for the site, my fingers came to a screeching halt on Spiced Caramel Corn. It probably wasn’t the ideal thing to make that day, since I just had dental work that morning. Nevertheless, I’ve been hoarding a jar of Orville Redenbacker’s (which are 100% whole grain, bien sûr…) and made a dash to the store for rice syrup, which is not something one finds everywhere in Paris (which may be the understatement of 2007). I was going to cheat and use honey, but didn’t want to risk failure, especially when my precious Orville was at stake.

I knew exactly where to go: a terrific natural foods store, biocoop, conveniently located nearby. Aside from the excitement I alwasys feel when I get to do some shopping, which is especially acute when there’s food involved, I love that place since it’s the only place in Paris I know where they have those help-yourself bins full of nuts and seeds, as well as goofy stuff like organic tampons and seaweed tapenade.

And confit de canard.

Really, you gotta love a place where duck confit is considered a health food.

  • 1½ tablespoon* unflavored oil
  • ½ cup unpopped popcorn
  • ½ cup brown rice syrup
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon pure chili powder
  • (I used pimente d'Espelette, which I sniffed to make sure it was still fresh. It was. And made me sneeze the nuts out I was munching all over my book.
  • So I hereby consider my copy christened.)
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup mixed toasted nuts and seeds (I used cashews and almonds, sunflower and sesame seeds)

1. Pop the corn in a large, covered saucepan with the oil.

2. When the popcorn is done, remove the pan from the heat, uncover, and set aside.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In another large pot, I recommend one that holds at least 8 qts, bring to a boil the syrups, spices and salt. Cook over medium heat, at a steady boil, avoiding the urge to stir. (Heidi recommends tilting the pot instead). After 5 minutes, when the syrup is reduced and deeply-fragrant (smells good, doesn’t it?…), stir in the nuts and seeds and popcorn. Mix gently until everything’s well-coated.

Only stop if you have a blog and need to take a picture.

4. Turn out onto the prepared baking sheet and let cool.

Note: If you didn’t cook the syrup long enough and as it cools the popcorn isn’t quite crisp, you can toast it in a 325 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. As it cools, it’ll crisp right up and can be broken into pieces.

*Heidi subscribes to the ‘Nancy Silverton School of Popping Corn’ that theorizes that 1 teaspoon of oil (although she uses clarified butter) is perfectly adequate for popping ½ cup of popcorn and I know a lot of people swear by that ratio. But I think it’s a chick-thing since mine always burns, so I add more oil that she recommends. I stick with my man Orville’s directions.

Au Village Italien
50, boulevard du Temple (11th)
Tél: 01 47 00 81 52

biocoop
33, boulevard Voltaire (11th)
Tél: 01 48 05 02 09

32 comments

  • I find her style and substance very appealing, too. I’m happy to have a trusted source back me up.

  • can’t say anything about heidi’s book, but i’ve had my fair share of puffed spelt in chocolate. i bought a moulin des moines chocolat noir a l’epautre souffle, it was even organic (or does that make it worse for trying too hard?) – boy, what a let-down. I am easily excited over chocolate, but this one is still around in my cupboard somewhere… can’t bring myself to throw out chocolate, but can’t bring myself to finish it either ;-)

  • I have this book on my wishlist, it’s nice to see that you like it.

    Duck confit IS a health food, duck fat makes people from Southwestern France live longer! But all the same, funny to locate it in the organic shop!

    So now, pop corn has become healthy too!

  • Me too, I have this book on my wishlist and will give it as gifts to several friends. You have really said it well, Heidi IS redefining this kind of cooking. I’m an avid fan of her website. More than once, I’ve paused before beginning to plan a meal and asked myself, WWHD (What would Heidi do)?

  • The chocolate and the cookbook look fabulous…however, for future reference spelt is called Dinkel, not Emmer, in German. Keep this in mind if traveling to German because we’ve the most delicious Dinkelbrot, i.e. spelt bread!

  • K: It’s bad enough I mangle French…now I’m onto German! I love Dinkelbrot and actually have a few loaves in my freezer from a recent trip to Germany. My friends think it’s weird that I bring bread INTO France.

    Julie: Popcorn is full of fiber and is a healthy whole-grain. Just ask Orville…

    Mary: I was pretty stunned when I received the book. It just feels wonderful in your hands—it’s substantial in both heft and content.

    In a crowded field of cookbooks, I really do love Heidi’s book!

  • Being a whole grain and natural foods fanatic I now ask myself, “Self, why haven’t you added this book to the collection?”

    I’m still waiting for an answer.

  • yes on the online dating thing. :}

    but spelt and farro are different. only slightly, but still different.

    I can’t wait for Heidi’s book. She has one for me but I haven’t seen her for a while… Lovely ode to her though. she’s a magnificent, generous human indeed.

    (as are you.)

  • You are too damn funny, Espelette sneezes are a great way to “christen” your new book! Luckily for us, there’s a Biocoop Sud, if any one’s in Uzès! Pretty amazing.

    Biocoop Marigoule
    30, ave Jean Jaurès
    30700 Uzès

  • Speaking of not being disappointed, did you ever correspond with someone online, then meet up with them to find out they’re nothing like you think?

    Oui — it is but one of the MANY reasons I refuse bother with online dating services these days. Oy, the stories I could tell you.

    The chocolate w/ grain sounds good. And dinkelbrot is a funny word. I just want to say it over and over. Dinkelbrot! Dinkelbrot, dinkelbrot, dinkelbrot!

  • The Spiced Caramel Corn sounds great.

    I use Alton Brown’s method for popping corn: Place between 1/3 and 1/2 cup organic popcorn kernels in a lunch bag. Fold 1/2″ of the top over itself twice. Use 2 staples to stale the bag shut (don’t let the staples touch each other or the oven wall. Place in oven. Set oven for 5 minutes. Listen closely. When popping sounds have basically stopped, turn oven off. Rip open bag and pour into bowl.

  • Hi David, I just made your frozen vanilla yogurt, which was featured on Heidi’s blog. I have to agree with her that your recipe is absolutely divine, and I agree with you that Heidi and her site, are completely gorgeous.

  • Is there no French equivalent to Orville or is popcorn not all that popular in France?

    Just wondering.

  • LOL, still pondering the meeting somebody in the flesh that you met online thing. People still look at me a bit funny when I say I am meeting my blogging friends that I met through the internet… I’m with you on the confit de canard in health stores – that is definitely the way forward ;-)

  • Funny you should mention piment d’espelette. I just got my copy of The Perfect Scoop, and was debating making the aztec “hot” chocolate ice cream (I think that was the name – I don’t have the book in front of me) and was wondering whether I could use piment d’espelette instead of chili powder, or would it completely change the ice cream?

    BTW, I’ve already made the mango sorbet and the basic chocolate ice cream – both wonderful, and disappearing quickly from the freezer…It’s really a wonderful and inspiring book. I’ve had an electric ice cream maker for many years, (Simac Il Gelataio) but I’ve never been motivated enough to make a custard-based ice cream with it – until yesterday! And it was so easy, following your recipe and directions!

  • I had just jumped from Heidi’s blog to yours — what a treat it was to read about you meeting Heidi! Thanks! And I have to say Thanks to Ruhlman for sharing both your blogs and books on his site–that’s how I found you both.

  • Looks fab! I could use some healthy food to lower my generous butter and foie gras intake. Um, by tampons I’m assuming you mean stamps, right? Not the other (ahem) thingy. Hope your tour is going well, I can’t wait to hear all about it!!! Bisous, Ms. Glaze

  • I was also really happy with Heidi’s book, which I pre-ordered just as soon as I knew it was coming out. It has not spent much time on the shelf since I got it. I really love cracking it open and the way it gets me thinking. I also like how it gets me in the mood for pilgrimmages to the 4 bio shops I frequent here in Lyon, and what I’ve learned about what’s on the shelves there. The book itself is a work of art as well. I hope she comes to France so I can ask her to sign it.

  • I have to tell you all, the first time I met David he met me with a stack of chocolate bars. Big surprise, right? There was this one bar he gave me that had quinoa throughout. If you can imagine a rice krispie chocolate bar, it was like that but with (dried? popped?) QUINOA. I loved it.

    Thanks for all the kind words everyone – in relation to me, my site, my book. It means a lot.

  • Hee hee, duck confit in the health food store – you have to love the French. Was there a pack of Gauloises next to it?

  • Hee hee. Duck confit in the health food store – gotta love the French. Was there a pack of Gauloises sitting next to it?

  • David, that chocolate looks yummy, I really like chocolate with crunchy bits added in.

    Will check out Heidi’s book too.

    I’m still reading your Perfect Scoop, and have made my first ice cream – which was very good indeed! Just wanted to say though that I had such a laugh at your intro to Chocolate-Coconut Sorbet. I’ve been there, so was laughing with you. I was given a tip of placing the coconut in a plastic bag and tying it first, and have done this. It keeps the coconut clean, but I’m not sure it’s half the fun!

  • I check in on your blog over lunch sometimes. Reading recipes is something of a comfort thing, for me, I think. I almost spit out my carrot reading your version of the spiced caramel corn. Thanks for the laugh.

  • I just got my copy in the post today and havn’t had the chance to read it yet so don’t give away the ending!

  • That spiced caramel corn looks great, but tell me, do the language police really permit the store to use the feminine form “italienne” to modify the masculine noun “village”? Incroyable!

  • I’ve spent the better part of the afternoon reading your blog. I have no doubt if there is one person that can tell me it’s you. Where in Paris can one buy corned beef? or should I just lay down my sword and beg the local butcher who ususally just offers me a smug grin assuring me the persil in my hand is indeed coriandre and I am nothing if not a hopeless food-challenged moppy-haired petite anglais even if I have lived here for five years.

  • That chocolate looks delicious! I would be a bit sceptical too of the combination but that wouldn’t stop me!!

  • Thank you for your review. If I purchased every book I had a desire to I would end up like the little girl in Shell Silverstein’s poem who was buried in trash (in my case books) and I have to resist temptation but your review confirmed for me that this one is a must.

  • Hi David! I’m a great fan of yours. I have been collecting cookbooks for years and yours are on my shelf. I do have a favor to ask of you. I will be visiting Paris soon and I wish to purchase some Le Creuset at a very decent price(sorry, us military folks are unpaid). A friend of mine had given me an address to a specialty shop there in Paris for inexpensive Le Creuset, unfortunately, I lost it. Please help me with this little favor.
    Thanks from a military spouse.

  • Sorry! David for my poor grammar, but I have a sick 4yr. old on my lap right now.

  • Laura: For some inexplicable reason, Le Creuset (and Staub) isn’t really cheaper here than in the US. In Paris, the BHV department store has a pretty big selection of both makes.

    Amy: Hope you didn’t ruin your computer screen like I almost ruined my book!

    Jef: There is popcorn here, but the Redenbacker’s is very fresh (tip: no matter where you live, avoid buying popcorn sold in bulk that’s uncovered: it’s likely to be too dried-out to pop well.)

    Kelly-Jane: Yes, it was very funny at the time. But I’ve learned my lesson about coconut cracking…and how clothed, or unclothed, I should be when doing it.

    Heidi: I actually read your book from cover-to-cover. The information, as well as the recipe and photos, really are great.

    And I’ve just about finished off my second batch of caramel corn.

    lagramiere: I think it is a chain, but it’s a good one. I like it much better than Natralia.

  • I will definitely have to get my hands on this cookbook. My ventures into the world of wholefoods/natural foods has usually been scuppered by hard to find ingredients or long prep times so a book that takes into consideration the truth of modern living sounds ideal.

    Also – am surprised to read about the seaweed tapenade. I thought the guy in the English Market in Cork was the only one making that stuff (which is divine by the way, if hard to actually eat – treat like a dip, much easier).