For most of us, cooking begins with a consideration of flavor and texture. I admit I rarely think about appearance until the food hits the plate (and when I'm cooking at home for just me and my family, "It doesn't look that great, but it's tasty," comes out of my mouth more often than it should.). But Kimberley Hasselbrink, author of the new cookbook Vibrant Food flips the formula, conceiving dishes around whatever vivid seasonal produce catches her eye. A photographer keen on color and light, she finds inspiration in the pale green of fresh chickpeas or the blushed gold of apricots—whatever is appealing, intriguing, and of course, in season—and the rest of the dish follows. This unique, aesthetic-first approach leads her to recipes that are nourishing, satisfying, fairly simple, and as alive with flavor as the title of the book suggests.
San Francisco-based Hasselbrink went to art school for furniture design and worked as a message therapist before turning her love of food and photography into the acclaimed blog, The Year in Food. The warm voice and poetic food shots that drew so many to her blog translate well to print. The book has a nice flow, being divided by seasons and further broken down by type of produce. While unabashedly veggie-and-fruit-driven, there are enough recipes that incorporate meat and fish to keep omnivores happy, and the majority are gluten-free (Hasselbrink has been wheat-free since 2011). The range of recipes is eyebrow-raising: she takes us from Carnitas Tacos with Apple Salsa on one page to Mulled White Wine on the next. There are frittatas, chili, soba noodles, roasted sardines and popsicles. It could seem unfocused, but the overarching theme of beautiful ingredients begetting beautiful food really carries through.
There are some small-ish peeves to mention, like giving exact measurements for salt while omitting the time it takes to make each recipe, but the main issue I could see having is with the limited availability of all this gorgeous, seasonal produce. Unless you have access to a pretty dang progressive farmer's market, you may have trouble finding the star ingredients for many of these dishes, like nettles, bee pollen, and nasturtium, for instance. That said, I've made all the dishes this week (a Winter, a Spring, and two Summers, just 'cause it is) almost entirely with stuff from the big chain grocery.
That leads us to the goods. This week, we'll pretend it's still spring with Edamame and Radish Risotto (a riff on the classic pea risotto), then dive into summer with an herby, pickle-y Salmon Banh Mi and Sweet Corn Fritters with Avocado Crema. And we'll wrap up the week as if we're wrapping up the year, with winter's Roasted Cauliflower with Olives, Currants, and Tahini Dressing.
Win Vibrant Food
Thanks to the folks at Ten Speed Press, we have 5 copies of Vibrant Food to give away this week. Just tell us what fruit or veg you find most beautiful in the comments section below.