Heidi Swanson

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Diet Detective: What is super-natural cooking?

Heidi: My cookbook, Super Natural Cooking, explores and highlights “natural” ingredients, but through a contemporary point-of-view. No more “neatloafs.”

There is a fantastically diverse, delicious, and underutilized palette of culinary ingredients out there consisting of a wide-spectrum of whole grains, fresh produce, and minimally refined sweeteners. The problem is that not enough people are utilizing these ingredients in their day to day cooking. Instead, they turn to recipes rooted in white flour, white sugar, and ingredients that have had much of their nutritional value processed out of them.

Diet Detective: Why write this book?

Heidi: I’m fortunate to live in a city where there is a vibrant farmers’ market culture. You can see the impact this has on restaurants, chefs, and home cooks all over the city.

The problem I was seeing was often times, beyond the fruits and vegetables and artisan meats, the foundation ingredients used to support these farmers market finds were heavily processed, nutritionally barren flours and grains, highly refined sugars, jams and jellies, nut butters made from heavily sprayed crops, and industrial produced cooking oils. I wanted the supporting players in my recipes to be of a similar standard to that which I was bringing home on Saturday mornings.

My book stemmed from this journey. It shows you how to improve your pantry, how to use a range of whole grains, how to incorporate more colorful and “super” foods into your cooking, and how to bake and utilize natural sweeteners.

Diet Detective: What are some of the nutritional superfoods that are highlighted in your book. Why those foods?

Heidi: Some of my favorites are broccoli, greens, berries, garlic, chives, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and yogurt. Many of the ingredients I feature in the ”Cook By Color” chapter could also do double duty as superfoods — berries, sweet potatoes, citrus, and pomegranates. These are all-natural, nutrient dense, flavorful ingredient, each offering nourishment, health benefits, and protection from disease.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy cookbook (other than your own)?

Heidi: Tough question. There are so many! I’ve found that cookbooks that look at traditional cuisines of various countries or regions often have the highest percentage of recipes that utilize whole, minimally processed ingredients. For example: Casa Moro: The Second Cookbook

Diet Detective: Do you think that most people should be eating a vegetarian diet for health reasons? If so, why?

Heidi: I think navigating food choice is a very personal journey. It is up to each individual to decide what is right for them based on what they feel is important. I would encourage people to explore more meals where meat isn’t the centerpiece – this opens up a whole new world of possibilities, ingredients, and ways of thinking about a meal.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy meal to prepare?

Heidi: I included many of them in my book — I love the buckwheat noodle bowl called Otsu, I love spicy curry bowls, and colorful stir-fries.

Diet Detective:What’s the one kitchen utensil or tool that you can’t live without?

Heidi: I love my hand-blender. I can turn just about anything into a delicious soup in no time flat.

Diet Detective: If there were one healthy food item (something you love) that you had to eat every day, what would it be?

Heidi: I love beans — they come in a beautiful range of colors, textures, and sizes. I’ve cooked my way through the Rancho Gordo collection over the past couple years — a great place to go for bean inspiration.

Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food from a health perspective?

Heidi: To be honest, I don’t really think of foods in that way. This may be in part because I look at these ingredients more from a cook’s perspective than that of a nutritionist — which I’m not. Many of the foods or ingredients I highlight have their own merits — whether it is flavor, nutritional value, or texture. The idea that I’d eat berries for breakfast everyday just because they are healthy, or soup everyday for the same reason doesn’t interest me. I would actually encourage people to explore and try new things all the time.

Diet Detective:What physical activity do you do to keep yourself in shape?

Heidi: It doesn’t always happen (particularly recently), but I like to end my day with a fun, lively workout. I’d like to be one of those people who can crank up their iPod and knock out an hour on the treadmill or Pre-core machine, but I actually do much better in a class environment. I take about five intensive cardio-based workout classes a week — spinning, cardio kickboxing, or boot camp.

Diet Detective: Do you have a favorite healthy recipe or cooking tip? If so would you share it?

Heidi: I feature many favorite recipes on my recipe journal website — 101Cookbooks.com, and there are a bunch on my other site as well — MightyFoods.com.

Diet Detective:Define and discuss failure.

Heidi:I don’t think much about failure, but on the flip side, success for me means being able to choose how I construct and spend my days. This might mean collaborating on a project with someone I admire, going out and taking pictures, traveling, engaging in a conversation with some of the readers on my website — it is about being independent.

The following are two recipes from Heidi’s new book: Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways to Incorporate Whole & Natural Ingredients Into Your Cooking by Heidi Swanson

Do-It-Yourself Power Bars

This is the perfect pocket snack: packed with crisp brown rice, toasted walnuts, and hearty oats and accented with the tangy, sweet flavor of dried cranberries and the zing of crystallized ginger. Wrap individually in waxed paper for a great snack on the go. Be sure to look for cereal labeled crisp rather than puffed.

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 and one-fourth cups rolled oats
1 and one-fourth cups chopped toasted walnuts
1/2 cup oat bran
1 1/2 cups unsweetened crisp brown rice cereal
1 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

Grease a baking pan with the coconut oil. If you like thick power bars, opt for an 8 by 8-inch pan; for thinner bars, use a 9 by 13-inch pan.

Mix the oats, walnuts, oat bran, cereal, cranberries, and ginger together in a large bowl and set aside. Combine the rice syrup, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly as it comes to a boil and thickens just a bit, about 4 minutes. Pour over the oat mixture and stir until the syrup is evenly incorporated.

Spread into the prepared pan and cool to room temperature before cutting into whatever size bars you desire.

Makes 16 to 24 bars.

Black Tea Spring Rolls with Mushrooms and Mango Chutney Dipping Sauce

Bite through a crispy wonton wrapper into this tea-seasoned, mushroom-rich filling and consider your love affair with deep-fried spring rolls in peril. In this recipe, ground tea leaves are used as a seasoning. I like to use a fragrant, smoky Lapsang Souchong to match the meaty richness of the pan-seared mushrooms. While smoky black teas are a natural fit here, I’ve also had delicious results with citrus peel-black tea blends, which pair nicely with the mango in the dipping sauce. Try using fresh or rehydrated yuba (thin sheets of tofu skin) in place of the wonton wrappers, if you come across it.


Spring Rolls
1 teaspoon black tea leaves, preferably Lapsang Souchong
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, chopped
8 ounces extra-firm tofu, crumbled
2 handfuls spinach leaves, stemmed and chopped
2 tablespoons shoyu sauce
12 (6-inch) wonton wrappers
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or sesame oil

Mango Chutney Dipping Sauce
3/4 cup prepared mango chutney
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Pinch of ground black tea leaves

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Grind the tea into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the shallots, garlic, and mushrooms, and sauté for 5 or 6 minutes, until the mushrooms release their moisture and cook down a bit. Gently stir in the tofu, spinach, and shoyu until the shoyu is evenly distributed. Taste and add more shoyu a bit at a time if need be. Season with a few big pinches of the ground tea, but reserve a generous pinch for use in the dipping sauce.

To assemble the spring rolls, approach them as though they’re a smaller version of a burrito. Place a wrapper in front of you so it looks like a diamond. Put a couple tablespoons of filling a short distance in from the corner nearest you. Take that corner and fold it over the filling, then roll it once away from you. Fold in the left and right corners, then continue rolling away from you. Dab a bit of water on the inside of that last loose corner to seal.

Arrange the spring rolls seam down on a baking sheet, brush with the melted butter, and bake for 10 minutes, turning each roll halfway through to get both sides brown and crispy.

Make the dipping sauce by whisking the chutney, vinegar, and ground tea together in a small bowl. Serve the spring rolls hot, with the dipping sauce alongside.

Makes 12 rolls.

Reprinted with permission from Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways to Incorporate Whole & Natural Ingredients Into Your Cooking by Heidi Swanson. Copyright 2007. Published by Celestial Arts.

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