Heidi Swanson's new book, Super Natural Every Day, made a smashing debut a last month, and it's still hanging out in Amazon's top 100 books. If you're wondering what the deal is with the hype around this quiet vegetarian book, with its grown-up hippie food and subdued photographs, let me tell you: It's well-deserved, and if you're interested in simple yet flavorful vegetarian meals, then you should pick up a copy right away. This yellow split peas recipe is, I think, a very good example of what makes this book so appealing.
Heidi's book (Ten Speed, April 2011) is a collection of the food she truly likes to eat, every day. It meanders through breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, drinks, treats, and accompaniments. The hallmark of most of these recipes is how much flavor they pack into a small package. Again, I think this recipe is a very good example.
It starts with a base of bright golden yellow split peas — they are so colorful and beautiful on the plate! Then Heidi creates a simple cilantro pesto, turning regular old basil pesto upside down, using cilantro and pepitas instead of basil and pine nuts. Then she tosses this incredibly flavorful pesto with more pepitas, yellow split peas, and handfuls of salad greens.
The recipe only has 8 or 9 ingredients, and it comes together quickly. But there's a surprising intensity of flavor, and a delicious variety of textures and tastes. I served it at lunch a couple weeks ago, and couldn't stop nibbling on it as I prepared it. It made a perfect side dish, and an even better lunch later in the week.
Many of the recipes in this book do similar things. Heidi said that she wanted this book to express how she eats on a day-to-day basis, and also to reflect the natural spirit of her setting: The San Francisco Bay Area. It does, with dreamy, cloudy photographs that evoke the feel of the Bay Area, and that also let the vibrant colors of the food shine through. This is healthy food, but not healthy-because-it's-good-for-you. No, this is healthy-because-it's-delicious. From Farro Soup to Harissa Ravioli, and Black Sesame Otsu to Rose Geranium Prosecco, Heidi mixes influences and flavors from different cultures and eating styles to create something uniquely hers, that would probably only have formed in the Bay Area.
It's an inspiring book, and one that I'm cooking out of quite a bit. If you love grains, noodles, and fresh vegetables, as well as Heidi's famous and lovely blog, do check this out. You won't regret it.
• Find the book: Super Natural Every Day: Well-loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen, $15.64 at Amazon
(Images: Faith Durand)