A big (and rather belated) Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope all of you had a great time over Christmas and New Year’s. Personally, I don’t read too much into the significance of “special” days designated as such by society – for me, Christmas Day feels like New Year’s Day feels like Valentine’s Day feels like my birthday feels like every other day of my existence. But of course I’m always happy to take the time off and spend time with myself or people I care about on public holidays.
Over the long Christmas weekend (I was lucky enough not to have to go to work on Christmas Eve), I finally got around to testing out the Heart Smart Oil Free Cookbook, published by the Vegetarian Society of Singapore along with the social enterprise Healthfriend. It features over 40 recipes sourced from contributors from different fields, including global nutrition experts and famous vegetarian restaurants in Singapore. It’s nice to see a local cookbook in Kinokuniya’s weekly non-fiction best sellers list!
The cookbook is supported by the Singapore Heart Foundation and is based on the groundbreaking twenty-years nutritional research of Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, which illustrates that a plant-based, oil-free diet can not only prevent the progression of heart disease but can also reverse its effects. If you would like an accessible and entertaining introduction to the power of whole foods to transform your understanding of heart disease and cancer, I would highly recommend the 2011 documentary called Forks Over Knives. Dr Esselstyn’s research and Forks Over Knives rapidly rose to fame after compelling famous personalities such as Bill Clinton, James Cameron, Jason Mraz, Russell Brand, Eliza Dushku and Kristen Bell to become vegan. The Heart Smart Oil Free Cookbook also contains a nifty introduction to the nature of heart disease and the salient points of Dr Esselstyn’s research.
Why might you (or someone you know) enjoy the cookbook? Why did I like the cookbook?
- I’m health-conscious by necessity. Eating a well-planned vegan diet and practising Bikram Yoga regularly has basically cleaned my insides out. In my pre-vegetarian carnivorous days, I would happily devour combo meals at hawker centres (my affectionate term for ordering at least 3 dishes) and enter into chicken wings eating competitions with my friends. But right now, eating greasy and otherwise unhealthy food literally makes me feel sick to the stomach. Often I would crave for raw food because cooked food feels like an assault to my system, especially after yoga. So a cookbook that revolves around oil-free whole foods recipes is ideal for me – and basically anyone who is interested in a healthier lifestyle (perhaps your New Year’s resolution is to have such)!
- There’s a lot of useful information aside from the recipes, e.g. oil-free cooking tips, answers to FAQs about adopting a plant-based diet and its impact on heart disease (such as why even olive oil should be eliminated if your goal is to promote heart health), and solutions to common obstacles to staying on a plant-based diet.
- There are 45 recipes spanning a whole range of cuisines (such as Italian, Japanese and Singaporean). Expect to find nutrient-packed drinks, simple hearty breakfasts, soups, salads, easy snacks/dips, a great variety of main dishes as well as dessert.
- Most of the recipes could be used as a base for you to experiment. To start with, each recipe provides you with an idea for variation.
- All the recipes seem easy to follow, especially if you’ve had some sort of prior cooking experience (that excludes boiling instant noodles). If you don’t, I think it’s an easy-enough introduction to the joys of cooking.
- Perhaps most importantly, I enjoyed eating what I made from the cookbook – in particular, I thought one of the recipes is definitely going to be a keeper.
So what recipes did I try from the cookbook?
Aloo Channa Chat (Chickpea Potato Chat)
For starters, the recipe from Annalakshmi (which I reviewed here) for the classic Indian appetizer/snack, Aloo Channa Chat, is a winner! Who can resist sweet, tangy, and slightly spicy chickpeas and potato? The best part of it is that it requires practically no preparation aside from boiling the potatoes and chopping some vegetables up. Sweet.
Roasted Bell Pepper and Pumpkin Soup
I also made a very light and brothy soup with roasted red bell pepper, pumpkin, chilli, onion and garlic. It was quite flavourful after I seasoned it with oregano, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper, but I would have preferred it to be creamier. It didn’t require much work in terms of preparation and cooking either – just some chopping, baking (during which I prepared the other two dishes) and blending.
Mixed Mushroom Barley Risotto
You know that joyful feeling when you try a recipe for the first time and the food turns out awesome and it is really easy to prepare and you basically love it and mentally shelve it as one of those go-to recipes you’ll keep using again and again? This was how I felt about the Mixed Mushroom Barley Risotto recipe. I used a mixture of shitake mushrooms, portobellos, white button and chestnut mushrooms as well as a generous portion of thyme, which gave a beautifully rich and earthy flavour to the whole dish – I did not miss the oil at all! Also, the slightly chewy and nutty characteristics of cooked pearl barley make it an intelligent substitute for traditional risotto rice like arborio – not only that, pearl barley is way healthier, much more filling since it is a wholegrain and you don’t have to stand at the stove for half an hour building up your biceps from the when-the-hell-is-this-going-to-end stirring. The cookbook suggests varying the recipe by replacing asparagus and leeks instead of mushrooms, but honestly I think the recipe would be suitable for so many other variations, so just use your imagination!
I’ll be updating this review as and when I find the time to try more of the recipes. What’s next on my list: Wholemeal Cranberry Pancakes and Scrambled Tofu for breakfast, the Quinoa Taboulleh Greek Salad and Brown Rice Vegetable Salad as light mains, and the Mango Salsa and Spicy Baked Apples if I’m in the snacking mood.
And where can you buy the cookbook?
You can purchase the book at all major bookstores as well as online on the VSS page [here]. I bought the book for $25.68 at Kinokuniya, whereas it costs $24.00 (including local shipping) for non-VSS members and $20.00 (including local shipping) for VSS members on the VSS website.