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For her fourth and latest book, Nadia Lim’s Fresh Start Cookbook, celebrity chef and co-founder of My Food Bag, Nadia Lim, wanted to take more holistic view to eating. Playing hooky from her current bookshop / cooking event tour Nadia chatted to me at a Wellington gastro pub about her food philosophy and approach to food in general. “I’m not into diets. I like to think about changing mind-sets.
“As a dietitian, I was getting requests from people to work out individual weekly diets and these would take 6-7 hours each. So I decided to wrap it all into a cookbook which also includes some dietary advice and, with the help of my good friend Michael McCormack, some simple exercise routines as well. Initially, it’s to help people to lose weight, but it could apply to anyone who wants to eat healthier.”
Nadia’s approach was originally born out of a concept she developed right back at the beginning of her teen years – ‘Food in the Nude’ – using fresh ingredients, and keeping the processed additives to a minimum. That concept has always been the backbone of Nadia’s recipes.
So it’s about stripping food back, I ask? “No. It’s the complete opposite. It’s about adding more – more vegetables, more fruit more, more fibre.” An example is her range of smoothies which include ingredients like spinach, banana, lime and pineapple or tamarillo, berry, vanilla and almond milk. As research for the interview I tried out a few smoothies and I can vouch for these recipes personally. The banana, berry and peanut butter smoothie is a particular favourite in our household. Yum.
I also took a crack at Nadia’s banana pancakes – a nice alternative to the usual milk-based variety, as they are lighter, and sweeter. And that’s another point Nadia emphasises, “If you get regular servings of fruit and vegetables through the day (and her book does go into some technical details on this), then you’re less likely to binge eat or snack on inappropriate foods like biscuits.”
Her delicious versions of Chicken Tikka Marsala with Spinach and Spiced Parsnip Soup are also healthy, moreish and simple to make. My four-year-old and I managed to whip these up for weekend lunches with minimal fuss.
In her intro, Nadia offers some refreshing advice about key nutritional concepts like portion size, when to drink coffee and tea and appropriate levels of water you should drink to keep your kidneys healthy (plenty). In the centre of the book is a series of interchangeable menus that let you plan your eating for the week, without going to extremes. Not a single celery leaf to be seen.
All new cookbooks offer some new discovery. So what’s new this time, I ask? “Cauliflower ‘rice’ – take a cauliflower and break it down to the consistency of rice or couscous, then steam it. It’s lighter than rice, less stodgy.” Also worth a crack are chia seeds, which Nadia claims can be used instead of large quantities of sugar in jams. “The chia seeds have that gelatinous quality, like pectin. So you don’t need as much sugar.” They also work well as an alternative to tapioca in traditional puddings.
I couldn’t help asking this former MasterChef winner about the reality/competitive cookery culture. After all, according to a recent New York Times article, Americans are blobbing out in front of the Food Network, choosing to watch rather than participate. That’s not helped by shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Cake Boss, which are more about personalities and ridiculous culinary goals than practical kitchen skills. It seems more viewers are turning on, tuning in, and ordering out. Did Nadia think that this was the case here, in New Zealand? “No,” Nadia argues, “In fact, shows like MasterChef have encouraged everyone to get more creative. And it’s expanded their knowledge, and it has really inspired children. They want to be in the kitchen.
“I know of schools where the kids have their own cooking competitions – like MasterChef.” Nadia also says that she knows of couples that are staging their own dinner parties based on a hybrid of the My Kitchen Rules TV show, where teams set up and operate a ‘home’ restaurant for a night. It’s that thirst for food knowledge and participation that Nadia wants to tap into. And along with a sound philosophy about food, nutrition and exercise, she reckons you really can have your dessert and eat it too.
Interview by Tim Gruar, interview viewable on YouTube from Groove FM
Nadia Lim’s Fresh Start Cookbook
by Nadia Lim
Published by Penguin Random House NZ