Nothing but the food
We live in very confusing times, with so much conflicting information from all directions telling us what healthy food is. Two things seem to be happening: wholesome and sustainable have become the flavour of the month with very little understanding of what this actually means, and our approach to what is actually wholesome and healthy has become even more fractionalised than ever. I believe that what we need is what I call “wholefood”.
I’ll be providing some delicious wholefood recipes for you later. First, though, what fundamentally is wholefood and what makes food healthy?
My first food influence was when growing up in an inner suburb in the late 50s and early 60s. Fruit was eaten in season and was limited to what grew locally, nuts were from the almond tree in the backyard, as were figs (we survived without imported Brazil nuts). Stocks, soups, stews, meat, eggs and simple seasonal vegetables were on the menu, as was wheat. Chicken was rare. Everything was cooked from scratch, as there was no other option; fish and seafood were plentiful from the ocean and river (the rivers were not polluted, salted or dead).
We ate a lot of cooked foods, with salads year around. Fresh meant freshly harvested, so life force was more intact, and not fresh from a cool room (even organic) where it has been in a controlled atmosphere for the past six months. We played and adventured outside, we had barbecues in summer and picnics in winter, we ate as a family and often extended family. My mum is an exceptional cook.
My second influence was macrobiotics. Most people my age who have been in this industry as long as I have started here; there was no other place to start. From macrobiotics I got my love of traditionally brewed soy sauces, rice wines such as mirin, sea vegetables and an understanding of balancing the energetic properties of food (and the universe).
Later, Ayurveda entered my life. This is the 5000-year-old wisdoms of a whole and healthy life from the Sanskrit; much of traditional Chinese medicine, Five Phase/Element Theory (and ultimately macrobiotics) is taken from this. Finally, there was the work of Weston A Price, the American dentist who documented happy, healthy cultures thriving on a wide range of foods. There have been many other dalliances, but it is these that have influenced me most and formed my views on food that I now hold and, most importantly, see working.
What I see is that we humans thrive eating a wide range of foods that the environment in which we live provides. Certainly, Weston A Price documented happy, healthy cultures thriving on blood, offal and milk, while others thrived on rye grains and spring butter, and yet others on fish and seafood. Many thrived without following a raw food or paleo diet and they ate what was available. They didn’t call it a traditional diet; they called it food. We are all individuals and what might work for one may not suit another — a basic principle of Ayurveda — which is the paradigm I see working more consistently than just about anything else.
These are the principles that describe wholefood and my understanding of what healthy food is:
- Wholefood is that which is closest to its natural state with as little that is edible removed and as little that is inedible added. It is an understanding that the whole is always far, far greater than simply the sum of nutrient parts.
- It is good enough to eat. Synthetic pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are not compatible with any part of a human system but are designed to interrupt and kill living systems. You are a living system.
- It should be real. The human body is evolved to eat a real strawberry, not a strawberry flavour made from chemicals. The body is a real thing and it does not compute with fake things.
- It should match you — not your naturopath, doctor or someone else. This is a fundamental Ayurvedic premise. Some will be fine with cold, raw food in winter while others will suffer. Some do best with cooked vegetables, some with grain, some with no grain.
- It should be delicious. Deliciousness, in ways I do not understand but absolutely know exist, allows food to be taken in and properly digested, absorbed and utilised by the body. Deliciousness is a nutrient in its own right. Deliciousness also includes not being so stressed out (from a too-busy life) that you are unable to experience deliciousness in other walks of life.
- The food you choose should be prepared appropriately to ensure compatibility with the human body. Low-fat milk, pasteurised milk, refined oils and fractionalised foods are not understood by the body. Some foods (such as beans or grains) require special preparation methods to ensure they are understood (digestible).
- The human body requires fuel — the nutrients found in the food nature provides. On the whole, you might get away with a little white flour and white sugar (also in its other guises, eg pasta). If you have enough of the other good stuff. But better to have less refined (more whole) flours and sweeteners.
- Good gut ecology is a fundamental prerequisite for good health.
- Sweetness is not a dirty word. A bit of wholesome sweetness, cake or dessert in a whole and balanced diet is not going to kill you. Eating a lot of shallow, low-fat, nutrient-deficient, refined, additive-laden food in a stressful life will.
- If it talks and acts like a cult with a charismatic leader, it generally is a cult, with marketing as the goal.
To sum up, it’s not generally what the food is, but how we grow it, process and prepare it that matters. The current hysteria over sugar is a perfect example. The real question regarding sugar is, “What makes this food bad?” If that question was asked, answers would include:
1. We remove every nutrient from it during the refining process (and sell the molasses as a health supplement).
2. We then concentrate it to pure bleached sucrose and eat tonnes of it.
3. Most often, we eat nothing much else other than white flour (white sugar in another form). You don’t have to be too smart to work out that is never going to work out well.
While I have flirted with extremism when younger, my mother is a first-generation Australian of Italian descent, so I was always tethered to a strong food culture within my home when growing up. I believe this is a most important point: where there is little food culture (and it is deteriorating rapidly), we are without reference and untethered. We are prey to extreme views. So let us embrace wholefood as an anchor to our traditions.
Recipes from Wholefood for Children:
Fish Fingers with Tartare Sauce
Serves 2-4 children or 1 hungry adult
2 tbsp homemade mayonnaise
1 tsp finely chopped gherkins
1 tsp finely chopped capers
2–3 tsp lemon or lime juice
1–2 tsp finely chopped herbs, eg parsley, dill, mint
Touch of honey, if necessary
2 fillets red mullet, skin on, about 160g
1½ tbsp true arrowroot starch
½ cup sourdough breadcrumbs
1 tsp dulse flakes
Good pinch sea salt
1 tbsp coconut flour
Coconut oil for frying
To make the tartare sauce, combine all ingredients together and stir well. Taste and adjust flavours as desired.
Run your fingers carefully over the fish fillets and remove any bones. Cut each fillet into four pieces or sizes to your liking.
Place the arrowroot in a small, flat bowl. Beat the egg in a small bowl. Mix together the breadcrumbs, dulse, salt and coconut flour in a small, flat bowl. Dip the fish in the arrowroot, then in the egg and finally into the breadcrumb mix.
Add enough oil to generously coat the base of a small frypan. When hot, but not at all smoking or rippling, add as many pieces of fish that will fit without crowding the pan and cook for 2–3 minutes each side. A lot depends on how thick the fish is.
Kitchen notes: The best heat for frying the fish depends a lot on the thickness of the fish. If the fillets are very thin, the heat will need to be higher to ensure the coating is golden by the time the fish is cooked. If they are thicker, the heat can be a little low, as the coating will have more time in which to brown. If the heat is too low, the coating will be soggy rather than lovely and golden.
Recipes below from Jude’s new book, Wholefood Baking:
Rustic Fruit Tart: Rhubarb & Strawberry
Dairy-free and/or egg-free depending on pastry used
180g unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached white spelt flour
2 tbsp raw or golden castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste or seed from 1 vanilla pod
6–11 tbsp ice-cold water
600g rhubarb, trimmed of leaves & bases, washed & cut into 2–3cm pieces
500–600g ripe strawberries, hulled, washed & larger ones halved or quartered
¼ cup raw sugar or maple syrup
2 tbsp cornflour or kudzu (kuzu), or spelt or wheat flour
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour and sugar until incorporated into the flour, but still quite chunky; it is quite OK if some are a little smaller than a kidney bean. If using a food processor, pulse once or twice, or until ready, and turn out into a bowl. Don’t be tempted to add the water to the food processor; it’s too easy to overwork the pastry.
Add the vanilla to 4 tablespoons of water and, using a bread and butter knife, begin to mix the cold water into the flour and butter. Add a small amount of water and begin to cut and mix it in with the knife. As you continue to add the water, little by little, you are cutting the wet bits into the dry bits, cutting, mixing and stirring. Use only as much water as you need. Once all the mix looks moist, bring it together into a ball, flatten it, wrap and chill until firm, about 20 minutes.
Roll the pastry into a 30–35cm-diameter circle. Move the pastry to the baking tray (I generally fold it) and centre it — depending on the size of the tray, it may overhang the sides a little. Don’t worry about this as you will be folding this over the fruit. If the weather is warm, or the pastry has softened, place it in the fridge at this point to chill while you prepare the fruit.
Place the rhubarb and strawberries in a bowl, together with the sugar or maple syrup and cornflour, and toss gently. Don’t do this step too early, as the juices will weep from the fruit and you want them to do this in the oven.
Remove the pastry from the fridge — it should be chilled but not so firm that you can’t fold the sides inward. If you don’t already have a tray under the pastry, slide one under now. Either arrange the prepared fruit in an attractive pattern, or simply pile it into the middle and gently spread to leave an 8cm border. Fold the pastry border over the fruit, peeling it from the paper underneath as you go. Try not to fold the pastry over itself as it will not cook properly. Use kitchen scissors if needed to cut any pastry that is too wide. Sprinkle with the extra sugar if desired. If required, trim the sides of the baking paper to fit the tray. Place the tart in the freezer for 5–10 minutes.
Place the tart in the hot oven. You can tell if your temperature is right by how the butter behaves; it should be sizzling on the pastry or at the base of it. Bake for 15–20 minutes before reducing to 180°C for about 35 minutes or until the pastry is lightly golden and juices are bubbling and have begun to ooze from the tart. If this has not happened, but the pastry is beginning to burn, reduce the oven temperature slightly. The juices will thicken as they cool a little.
Pumpkin, cheddar, rosemary & sage gluten-free scones
Makes 16 generous scones
½ cup brown rice flour, plus extra for patting out
½ cup quinoa flour
¼ cup buckwheat flour
¼ cup teff flour, or millet flour
¼ cup cornflour
¼ cup true arrowroot
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 tbsp rapadura sugar
Generous pinch sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
2 tbsp chopped sage
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup cooked mashed pumpkin (winter squash)
1 egg, at room temperature
1½ tablespoons milk
1½ tbsp cultured buttermilk
100g (3½oz) very cold unsalted butter, cut into rough 1cm (½-inch) pieces
Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F/Gas 5). Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Sieve all the flours, starches, baking powder and baking soda into a mixing bowl. You may well be left with some bits in the base of the sieve — just tip those into the bowl. Add the sugar, salt, pepper, rosemary, half of the sage and half of the cheese and whisk through to evenly distribute. Place the vinegar, pumpkin, egg and 1 tablespoon each of the milk and buttermilk in a small bowl and mix together well.
Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs — some bits will be the size of a pea, which is fine. Add the wet mix and stir well — your mix will be moist, but it should look as if you can form it into a soft dough. I generally only need to use 2 tablespoons of the milk and buttermilk combined, but add the extra milk and buttermilk if you feel it is needed. Leave the mixture to sit for 5 minutes in the bowl, as the moisture will be absorbed by the flours and it will be easier to handle.
Lightly flour the lined trays and place half of the dough in the centre of each. Pat each to form a rough circle about 16cm round and 2.5cm thick. You may need to lightly flour your hands. Using a sharp, floured knife, cut each circle into eight wedges (you may need to clean and re-flour the knife between cuts). Use the knife, or a palette knife, to slightly separate each wedge so there is a small gap between each. It doesn’t matter if they lose some shape or collapse a little, or if they’re not perfect circles.
Sprinkle each circle with the remaining sage and cheese and bake for 15–20 minutes or until golden and lightly browned and just cooked in the middle (you can break one open to check). Serve warm.
Jude Blereau is the author of Wholefood for Children and Wholefood Baking.
Nothing but the food
Healthy food can also be delicious food if you choose wholefood ingredients.