Over the last few years there has been a rise in food awareness. We've watched E-coli scares, trans-fat, foie gras battles, 100 mile diets, organic labelling - all bubble to the forefront of the food world. Part of this also is an interested and willingness to incorporate new (and sometimes old) and different foods into our diet, as well as keeping up with local, organic, heritage, natural foods. Heidi Swanson's book fits in with the growing awareness of the foods we eat - Super Natural Cooking looks to guides cooks toward a more natural range of ingredients and recipes. In the book, Heidi presents whole foods (much healthier than refined ingredients) in a series uncomplicated, delicious recipes.

We were able to spend a bit of time with Heidi, chatting about her new book, food, her blog and of course books.

You have a very diverse non-food background, what prompted the switch to food and cooking?
There wasn't a definitive moment for me. I realize now that cooking was something I've always been excited about, but it wasn't until I quit my overly hectic dot-com/publishing job that I began to approach it a more serious and thoughtful manner.

I'm beginning to think that this was something that was always in the cards for me. My dad is a fantastic cook and my sister and I were always encouraged to help out in the kitchen. We always got the crap jobs like peeling potatoes, but even as we would stand there on the stool over the sink peeling away, we could smell the apple pie or fresh bread in the oven. I think because of these sort of experiences I was never intimidated in the kitchen - you sort of develop a comfortable sense of how things are supposed to smell or sound as they are cooking.

I not sure it's much of a coincidence that I turned to cooking at a time when I was trying to simplify my life. One of the great things about the timing is that I ended up going down this path when all sorts of interesting things were starting to happen at the intersection of food culture, cooking, technology, and publishing. It was one of those times in life where one door was closing while others were opening at the same time. Life is funny that way.

Were there cookbooks and chefs around at the time that really influenced and inspired your cooking when you were starting out?
Actually, the biggest influence on me has been the farmer's markets here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Being able to cook my way through their amazing produce has influenced my cooking immensely. They taught me how to shop, and as any good cook knows - this is more than half the battle. Shop well and cook simply.

The markets also got me thinking about extending the principals I look for in my fruits and vegetables to the the other ingredients I use. A lot of times people go out and source perfect, organic, local peaches or tomatoes but end up combining them with nutritionally barren flours and grains, highly refined sugars, nuts or nut butters made from heavily sprayed crops, industrial produced cooking oils, etc.

I also read a lot and get endless inspiration from my cookbook collection (101cookbooks.com) - I love the classics.

Did you start the blog as way to build up your recipes and try them out on more people, in a way a very public test kitchen?
No, it's funny, the blog was actually hidden in the beginning. I was more interested in cooking my way through my extensive cookbook collection and keeping a personal recipe journal than anything else. By utilizing the technology behind a "blog" platform I could access my notes from any computer with an internet connection (in the same way you might access webmail), I could search my notes and they would be automatically archived, and I could share all of it with friends. Keeping binders of my favorite recipes and scrawling notes inside cookbooks wasn't efficient. This was a better system all the way around.

A local magazine writer found my site (it didn't even have its own URL at the time), wrote about it, and after that I decided it was probably time to recognize I had a bit of a reader base and take the site a bit more seriously.

This is your second book, how does it differ from your first effort, Cook 1.0?
Super Natural Cooking is quite different from my first book. This book attempts to convince people that cooking with a palette of minimally processed ingredients can be inspiring, delicious, and better for your health than cooking with processed alternatives. Cook 1.0, my first book, had a lot of recipes that highlighted fresh/farmer's market ingredients. Super Natural Cooking builds on this and delves into ingredients that are delicious but underutilized - for example on the whole grain front, millet, barley, and wheat berries. I also talk about the benefits of cooking with colorful ingredients, why you should utilize super foods, and how to use natural sweeteners.


Books by Heidi Swanson

Cook 1.0

Super Natural Cooking

Super Natural Cooking seems to dovetail nicely with what seems to be a growing awareness about food in the US (and here in Canada, too). Are you finding people are more open to healthy foods and the politics of their food?
People here are becoming more and more literate in regards to food politics. Writers like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser have commanded the attention of millions of readers - many people are upset about what has been happening to their food supply when they weren't looking.

Converting some of this energy into a change in behavior - for example, cooking and eating and shopping habits - is another challenge altogether. While people may be engaged in a dialogue about food, and they are becoming more aware about how their food choices can directly impact their short and long-term health, they still need to be sold on the idea that the alternative can be as delicious, economic, and inspiring as what they are currently experiencing. My cookbook attempts to communicate some of the excitement I have about cooking with natural foods and showcase it in an exciting, contemporary light.

I have to do the typical cookbook author question - which of your recipes from Super Natural Cooking is the one you keep making all the time?
Let's see, it includes many of my favorite everyday recipes....I love the Do-It-Yourself Powerbars, Beluga Lentil Crostini, Giant Crusty White Beans with Greens, and Spring Minestrone with Brown Rice.

What cookbook authors, and/or cookbooks would you recommend?
It is hard to recommend cookbooks for people. A lot of it depends on their lifestyle, how much time they have, what their interests are, and on and on. It's sort of like trying to dress someone else, you have to ask a lot of questions. That being said, a few titles that are a fantastic addition to any cookbook collection:

  • Nigel Slater's Appetite - Great writing voice. Hearty, flavorful, filling recipes. I love reading this book as much as I enjoy cooking from it.
  • Patricia Wells' Trattoria - A personal favorite for everyday Italian.
  • Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook - Fun and funky, this cookbook has a light-hearted spirit. Emerging from one of Canada's favorite restaurant / juice bars it includes a robust range of customer-favorites (primarily vegetarian) - healthy, flavorful, and crowd-pleasing.
  • Chez Panisse Fruit / Chez Panisse Vegetables - These beautifully written (and illustrated) books make perfect gifts. They are the books to turn to when you arrive home from the Farmer's Market loaded up with bundles of asparagus, a sack full of perfect plums, or tiny baskets of summer berries.

What other non-food books are you reading?
Let's see....it's always quite a mix. I typically have a few going at once:

And I can't wait to get my hands on (Mixed Greens founder) Paige West's The Art of Buying Art: An Insider's Guide to Collecting Contemporary Art I think it is supposed to be out any day now [ed - May 9th].