We’re all about wellness this month, finding new ways to incorporate fresh produce and nutritious foods into our daily lives. Who better to help than Heidi Swanson? We profiled the writer behind 101 Cookbooks and Super Natural Every Day — known for her natural recipes and commitment to whole foods — on our site for inspiration. Here, she tells us all about her cooking philosophy, her famous blog, and some of her favorite pantry staples.
What does “super natural” cooking mean to you?
It just means eating and cooking with ingredients that are as close to their natural state as possible. Minimally processed — cream paddled into butter, tomatoes made into sauce, and that sort of thing. I like to know what I’m eating, and where it came from.
How did you start cooking and eating this way?
It was a natural progression for me. I’d be buying fruits and vegetables and eggs at my local farmers’ markets, and eventually I started wondering why all the flours and sweeteners (and some of the oils) I had in my pantry were way out on the heavily processed side of the spectrum. It all just clicked, and I started exploring a much less “refined” pantry.
Tell me the story behind your blog. How did it start?
I think I was looking for a much-needed creative outlet when I started my blog (nearly ten years ago). I had a sizable cookbook collection and decided to “stop buying, and start cooking.” I installed some early blog software on my server and started keeping what I’d describe now as notes-to-self. The site has evolved since then, and now I choose and write about the recipes that intersect my life, my travels, and my everyday interests — often they are from my cookbook collection, sometimes not. They might come from a friend or family member, or I might write about a recipe I created myself. And I tend to focus on natural, whole foods and ingredients.
What made you decide to write your cookbooks, Super Natural Cooking and Super Natural Every Day? What distinguishes them?
The most recent book, Super Natural Every Day, is a look at my day-to-day cooking. I highlight many of the same ingredients that were in Super Natural Cooking — lots of whole grains, whole grain flours, natural sweeteners, fresh produce — but these recipes are quite a bit more approachable. The chapters are structured — breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc. — so the breakfast chapter has a lot of doable breakfast ideas, and the dinner chapter has a good amount of weeknight-friendly recipes.
My previous book, Super Natural Cooking, was an exploration of how to set up a natural foods pantry, an overview of some of the ingredients, and then lots of recipes to put those ingredients to use.
What is unique about your cooking and your recipes?
I try to be myself and attempt to highlight the aspects of cooking I’m genuinely excited about. I get most of my inspiration from everyday things: a market visit, a new city I travel to, lunch with a friend who might order something I wouldn’t ordinarily order, something new at the farmers’ market, the weather, a recipe I find in an old cookbook at a yard sale… It all directly impacts how I cook.
You’ve gained a huge following through your blog and cookbooks. Why do you think more people are focusing on whole, natural ingredients now?
I think people like how they taste. For a long time, you’d rarely see baking recipes call for anything other than white sugar or white flour, but that has changed over the past few years. There’s also the nutritional benefits of whole foods, which people appreciate. I think everyone is excited by the exchange of ideas between cooks, chefs and bakers playing around in this realm now.
In addition to the ones we’re discussing, what are some ingredients you recommend people add to their pantries and refrigerators? How have they become staples in your kitchen?
I don’t think the shift away from an “all-white” pantry has to happen overnight. In my case, over time, I would simply replace ingredients that ran out with less-processed alternatives: whole-grain flours, brown or black rices, natural sweeteners, etc. I loved all the flavors that came into play.
For people easing into this realm of ingredients, I’d just say: buy one ingredient at a time, and get to know it a bit. Get to know the bin section of your local market. All those beans, lentils, and colorful rices are inexpensive and often amazing to cook with.
Any tips for people wanting to cook with less meat and more vegetables and whole foods?
Certain types of recipes are great for this: a lot of stir-fries, stews, and curry posts are fantastic one-pot (or one-pan) vegetable-centric preparations. Also, experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients can be a lot of fun and rewarding. Pick something at the market, research a bit, and try a new recipe that features it. It’s a sure way to add new recipes to your repertoire.