Award-winning author, Nina Simonds (A Spoonful of Ginger) has had an ear cocked to the healing properties of food since beginning her studies of Chinese cuisine in Taiwan. Give a culture a few thousand years to grow and flower and it will have a thing or two to say about what's good to eat, and what's good for you to eat, no question about it. Other cultures may not have it all quite as tabulated and codified as the Chinese (or Hindu culture with the laws of Ayurveda), but have settled over the eons on a way of life and cooking that works to the benefit, not the detriment, of the body. Mediterranean culture comes to mind. Measure all that against fast food and a culture (our own) that willfully strips time away from the daily need to eat--and not just eat alone, but as a family or group with time for each other--and you have the roots of a health crisis. So it's perfectly natural for an insightful food writer like Nina Simonds to produce a wonderful cookbook with the idea of health and healthy living at it's core. Spices of Life is the result.
The 160 recipes are divided into sections that include Something to Graze On, Appetizers that Make a Meal, Homey Soups, Hearty Stews and Braises, Main-dish Salads, Pleasures from the Garden, Versatile Stir-fries and Sautes, East-West Barbecue, Irresistible Vegetarian, Satisfying Staples: Noodles, Rice and Other Grains, Light and Sumptuous Sweets, and Foods that Fight Common Ailments. Simonds's deep experience with Asian cooking comes through in Technicolor Spicy Sichuan-style Green Beans. But so too does her own heritage, as in Great-Aunt Sophie's Chicken Soup.
The sidebars to each recipe give health information about various ingredients. For Spiced Almonds Simonds explains that the high fat content of almonds is monounsaturated, of a type to help reduce cholesterol, and that the high Vitamin E content can prevent heart disease. As for cinnamon and star anise, Asian physicians prescribe them as digestive aids. A brief profile of a health all star is included with each chapter, the focus on their expertise, and in some cases, their favorite recipes. In Appetizers, Dr. Andrew Weil discusses Vitamin and mineral supplements. In Homey Soups, Walter Willet takes on the food pyramid.
The real strength of Spices of Life, however, is found in the recipes and in Simonds's own experience as a very busy working mother--both in the kinds of food she puts on the table, and how she gets it there. She shares strategies for cooking as well as taking on the challenges of daily life. Her taste for life is equally well-matched by the flavor of the foods she highlights. Hot and Sour Slaw with Barbecued Pork anyone? Now, that's health food! --Schuyler Ingle
From Publishers Weekly
For many home chefs, reading through most cookbooks is a bit like perusing some high-end fashion magazine: an exercise in aspiration—you'll never get around to making that Boeuf en Croute, but it's nice to imagine a world in which you would. Then there are cookbooks like this one, which is more like an issue of Self than Vogue: full of straightforward but practical recipes, and peppered with loads of health information. Structurally, the book is rich with material, although somewhat confusing: in addition to chapters organized by theme ("Pleasures from the Garden," "Hearty Stews and Braises"), there's interstitial material from alternative health experts like Andrew Weil, with recipes relating to their medical philosophies. The chapters are creative and useful. Why don't more chefs devote a chapter, as Simonds (A Spoonful of Ginger) has, to "Appetizers That Can Serve as a Meal"? Mixing Indonesian, French and Italian recipes within one chapter, Simonds displays her wide-ranging professional and personal experience, sharing meals kids will love, like Teriyaki Beef. For those who relish cookbooks for the elegance they promise, Simonds's side notes may seem less than sexy (learning that dill is supposed to cure bad breath somehow makes the dish the note accompanies less appetizing), but for those open to alternative medicine, and curious about international cuisine, this book is uniquely useful, and Simonds's recipes are easy and inviting.
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