It’s hard to sum up a book like The Garden of Eating in one brief review. Well beyond an ordinary cookbook, this over-sized, 581-page resource is like a bible for healthy eating created by whole foods chef Rachel Albert-Matesz (aka The Healthy Cooking Coach).
I first learned about Chef Rachel when she came out with The Ice Dream Cookbook. It wasn’t until almost a year later that I discovered The Garden of Eating, which was actually her first book. Though this book would have been immensely helpful for me several years ago, I can honestly say, better late than never.
The first half of The Garden of Eating is dense with information. The chapter topics smoothly flow from health and nutrition (with titles like “Friendly Foods,” “A Short Fat Primer,” and “Returning to the Garden of Eating – General Principles) into kitchen help and menus. The principles Chef Rachel shares focus on what she calls a produce-dominated diet. It runs very closely to what many describe as a Paleolithic diet, or a whole foods diet to the extreme.
The health talk, menus, and recipes focus on grain-free, soy-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free living, while incorporating natural healthy fats, lean meats, lower sugar fruits, and loads of vegetables. Obviously, if you are looking for decadent dessert recipes, this probably isn’t your book. Though there are some recipes to satiate your sweet tooth, the focus of this cookbook is to help you develop an understanding of what foods we as humans are naturally designed to eat (and will consequently thrive on) and to give you numerous recipes and ideas to help improve your daily diet with naturally delicious foods and preparations.
Of course, beyond the useful information, there are the recipes. And I am sure you would love to know if they are any good. I am happy to answer, “Yes, they are delicious!” I simply love the recipe layout of this book, which is organized by key ingredient …
With some serious broccoli cravings beckoning (yes, I crave broccoli), I flipped right to the clump of broccoli recipes in Chapter 18 (Cooked Leafy Greens , Flowering Vegetables & Shoots). The Simmered Broccoli in Herbs caught my eye as a fantastic one pan dish.
Making a half batch (2 servings) I added the optional bell pepper, and used cumin, an option given instead of the herbs. The result was so light and flavorful that I devoured the entire dish myself. And how could I not love how easy this dish was to make?!
Then there were the boneless, skinless chicken breasts that I stocked up on for a great price. I flopped The Garden of Eating open, and thumbed my way through the chicken recipes in Ch. 16 (Birds of a Feather). Within minutes I had picked out a recipe that I had all of the ingredients on hand for.
My husband generally dislikes honey mustard, and he loathes ginger, but since I am a fan of both, I went out on a limb and made the Honey Mustard Chicken with Ginger. The gamble paid off, it was a tasty success. As a side note, I loved how flavorful this dish was without any added salt, and the fact that it wasn't overly sweet in the least bit. For dinner, we enjoyed the chicken breasts with a side of broccoli.
And then again for lunch, we enjoyed them sliced atop a simple avocado and bell pepper salad, topped with a light and simple honey mustard vinaigrette (homemade of course!).
Then, I wanted a variation on the peanut butter protein spread I typically make for our snacks, and wouldn’t you know it … there it was, the Protein-Nut Spread recipe in Ch. 24 (Sweet Protein-Packed Snacks & Mini-Meals). This recipe was wonderful for reducing the fat in the nut spread I was using, allowing me to enjoy a thicker spread. It didn’t thicken up quite enough after refrigeration, so it was still a bit gooey, something I can easily solve by reducing the water a bit next time, but it was tasty.
Every time I was left wondering what to eat, I just had to pick out an ingredient in our refrigerator and plop open The Garden of Eating; a true gem. Admittedly, both my husband and I are still struggling with breakfasts and snacks. It is sometimes difficult to match what we are craving with foods that don’t contain any sugars at those times. But, we are working toward this day by day, and the menus and suggestions in the Garden of Eating are helping.
It would be easy for me to simply say, this is a great book for dairy-free and gluten-free dieters, but that would cut out too many other people whom this book and cookbook could help. If health and nutrition is of importance to you and your family, then The Garden of Eating should be on your wish list.
This is one book that will remain in my collection until it is so tattered with dog-eared pages and splattered with ingredients, that I have to get a new copy.