I like this book.
For dinner, tonight, I kept it simple: a light mix of home-made mayo (pg 43), dried mustard, and applesauce over a bed of salmon, peppers, onions and tomatoes. For lunch tomorrow, I’m bringing my latest concoction: the Cinnamon Beef Stew (pg 65), which took all of an hour(ish) to cook up but has delighted my senses for the better part of a week.
I made the Chocolate Chili (pg 73) before that. Oh! And the Ginger Lime Shrimp (pg 75). And the Cocoa-Toasted Cauliflower (pg 127), which might be the best way I’ve ever tasted to salvage everyone’s favorite wrinkly brain vegetable.
I like this book.
A proper review of Melissa Joulwan’s first cookbook might not need to follow a glowing intro like that, but here’s the thing: I want you to like this book too. I also want you to read all the way to the bottom so you can win a free copy for yourself.
“Paleo recipes for people who love to eat.” That little line floats right on an otherwise bold, ballsy cover, and yet it might just be the best summation of the book that I’ve seen.
This is a cookbook for people who like to eat. Do you enjoy food? (You do.) Do you enjoy delicious, easy to prepare dishes? (You do.) Then I’d call Well-Fed the only Paleo-oriented cookbook you need. That’s a bold thing to claim, sure, but you’ll soon see why.
There’s a stamp in the top right, too, that bears mention. This book is grain free, sugar free, legume free, and dairy free, a decision befitting Melissa’s strict approach to Paleo. Let’s call it a testament to her recipes, then, that everything I’ve tried so far should taste so good without resorting to the usual standbys: sweeteners, creams, etc., those sweet and rich flavors your average Paleo eater still (albeit infrequently) enjoys. I’m lax more often than not with my personal Paleo-ness, but cooking Well-Fed style has done great work to remind me just how spices, coconut oil, and a little ingenuity can produce remarkable results.
I haven’t found a recipe that I don’t want to try.
Call it customary, for me, to treat cookbooks like your average internet search, a place to find a few diamonds but rarely worth much time (let alone money!) beyond it. I’ve purchased maybe two or three cookbooks since the start of my Paleo adventure, and yet Well-Fed is the first that justifies the expense — a treasure trove of top-notch photography, ethnic-oriented cuisine, and a surprising amount of how-to on living Paleo in the modern world.
Let’s tackle each of those in turn.
Part of my affection, I suspect, comes down to the visuals. Every single recipe is paired with a vivid, page-wide photo meant to stimulate the senses, the kind of food photography that conveys to the eyes what the dish might offer to your mouth. Expect more than a handful of “Oh, that looks good” thoughts every time you flip through the book.
The other half of my romance comes back to the recipes. Call it the vagabond within, but foreign cuisine of any flavor automatically earns my attention, and here Well-Fed caters to my fascination with the unknown: Rogan Josh (a curry dish from Kashmir), Scotch Eggs (minus, er, the scotch), and Moroccan Meatballs (just as a few examples!) all vying to be the next dish I create. You’ll notice a Moroccan undercurrent through most of the book, but above even that is Melissa’s love for foreign spice, exotic cultures, and a sincere attempt to bring those flavors straight where they belong: your kitchen.
Let me level with you. I love new dishes, but I’m not always an adventurous chef. Tracking down exotic ingredients is easier said than done in my part of the world, and I have an innate tendency to avoid any recipe that spits out two-dozen ingredients just to make the magic happen. Where Well-Fed shines, though, is in two ways:
- Helping you realize that something as simple as a new spice mix — easily formulated with maybe one or two new seasonings — can do wonders for your repertoire.
- Encouraging you to experiment. Nearly every recipe in the book has a sidebar with easy, simple twists you can make to the core ingredient list to produce a surprisingly different dish. Part of feeling comfortable in the kitchen, I think, is knowing how flavors interact, and that might be my biggest takeaway from the book: a feeling like I know much more about how flavors mix than I did before I started reading it.
That’s due, in part, to the last thing I wanted to mention. A pretty decent-sized chunk of the book details what Paleo is and how to live it, detailing some of Melissa’s common grocery choices and introducing the concept of the “weekly cookup.” I haven’t tried it myself, but the concept is sound, advocating that you spend just a few hours on a Sunday to cook up all of your dishes for the next week. That’s not a new idea, I know, but I did appreciate Melissa going more in-depth with it in the context of a Paleo lifestyle, and I admired too her section on essential kitchen tools for any burgeoning chef. You can tell she has spent most of her life experimenting in the kitchen, but I never felt like that was to the detriment of the book — if anything, it offers a way to achieve some of the same results through simple, easy twists, and for that I’m grateful.
All in all? Well-Fed is worth the coin. You’ve probably guessed that by this point, but allow me one small summary of what the book offers: fantastic photos, a wide-ranging spread of recipes from nearly every kind of cuisine, and an insistence on (mostly!) common ingredients that you can do a tremendous amount of good with.
And coconut oil. Lots and lots of coconut oil.
Want a copy?
Melissa has generously offered to give away one physical and one physical copy of the book to readers of Three New Leaves. If you’d like to put your name in the hat, go over to her blog, The Clothes Make the Girl, and sign up for her newsletter (check the right-hand sidebar about halfway down the page). When you’ve done that, forward me the email you get saying that you’re officially signed up so I know you’ve done it.
The contest closes a week from now on Wednesday, February 29th, 2012. I’ll pool all the contestants, pull two names from the hat, and announce the winners here the next day.
That’s it! Just a recap:
- Sign up for Melissa’s newsletter over at The Clothes Make the Girl.
- When you receive the email saying you’ve signed up, forward it to me at matt (at) threenewleaves.com so that I can put your name in the hat. Just a note: when you first sign up, you’ll receive an email that asks you to confirm your subscription. Once you respond to that, you receive another email confirming your subscription. Send me that one.
And trust me, it’s worth it. Melissa’s blog contains a bevy of recipes not found in the book, so feel free to poke through it now to get a feel for the style of cooking she brings to the table.
See you next week!
And hey! While you’re here, why not say hello? Feel free to follow both me and Melissa on Twitter, and don’t forget to check out the absolute best posts on Three New Leaves while you’re at it. Not sure what this blog is about? I’ve got you covered with my Cave Man(ifesto). Thanks for coming by!