Some folks prefer their dinners on a plate: each item in its corner, the whole thing offered up on a dining table with a full set of silverware. The rest of us are happier with bowl in hand: the kind of meal that takes to mixing and perhaps is best enjoyed from a corner of the couch, comfy blanket optional. I'm one of those bowl people. And Sara Forte, the writer behind six year old food blog Sprouted Kitchen, feels similarly. Hence her soon-to-be-released cookbook, created in collaboration with photographer husband Hugh Forte: The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl and Spoon.
Forte's produce-focused take on food in a bowl isn't just a book of salads: there are breakfast bowls with eggs and green harissa-spiked asparagus, tasty uses for grains like quinoa and millet, hearty rice bowls with jerk-seasoned fish and tropical salsa, and vividly colored soups, plus an assortment of unfussy desserts to finish it off. If you're committed to cooking food that's a little fresher and a a little lighter and you're all out of ideas, this is a good place to look.
I asked Forte a bit about her sources of inspiration—the cookbooks she loves, especially those focused on making the most delicious veggie-based dishes. Here's what she had to say.
How many cookbooks do you own? I own about three dozen. About once a year I sift through and donate ones I don't use often. I know some people like to collect cookbooks, but less is more over here. I like to keep a lean library. If I haven't flipped through in a year, I'd rather someone else make use of it.
What makes a great cookbook? I like minimally styled, clean photographs (and preferably a photo for *most* recipes). Nice paper. A sturdy cover. Visually, I like there to be some sense of intimacy into the cook's kitchen and how they cook.
I think a great cookbook should stray from trends and offer straightforward, everyday sorts of ideas. The Ottolenghi books, for example—he is both timeless and current in his own magical way. Nigel Slater's books, as well. Even if I host a dinner party, a more casual menu relaxes people, so I'm not drawn to fussy anything. A great cookbook should be able to be used on weeknights and lingering weekends alike. The recipes clear and accurate—anticipating a possible question while not being verbose.
What was the first cookbook to really inspire you? The first cookbooks I owned were the Barefoot Contessa series. I still use them! Ina's recipes never fail and those books made me believe I could cook. I know it's not the most beautiful answer, but I got my feet wet with a lot of Food Network recipes, and while the recipes are not necessarily gorgeous or ground-breaking, they are usually practical and dependable. I don't know if "inspired" is the right word here, but Ina helped build my confidence, which is inspiring in its own way.
What lesser-known cookbook do you think deserves more love? It's not necessarily a cookbook, but I read Ratio by Michael Ruhlman a few years back and felt it helped make sense of a lot of kitchen basics. The rest of the title is "The simple codes behind the craft of everyday cooking." In fact, I should probably read over it again. It explains how you can get from bread dough to a biscuit with different flour, water, and butter ratios. Or if you know how to make a chocolate ganache, you can also make an ice cream fudge sauce, pudding, or mousse. He goes over some basic things that are based on ratio that can then set you on your own course.
What cookbooks do you turn to to learn new techniques? This would speak largely to a vegetarian audience, but I think the Deborah Madison cookbooks cover a lot of basic techniques for cooking vegetables. I don't own it, but I've borrowed The Mozza Cookbook and feel there are some wonderful techniques in that book, too. The recipes are long and detailed which take more time to get through but you learn a lot through that.
If a new cook was going to buy only two books on cooking vegetables, which would you recommend? Two!?! I could think of five that I think are essential. I mentioned Deborah Madison above so we'll consider her covered. Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking and Super Natural Every Day. I really love the cookbooks from David and Luise of the blog Green Kitchen Stories (Vegetarian Everyday and Green Kitchen Travels). All of these books are both creative and easy to follow so beginner cooks and the more experienced can appreciate them.
What book do you love to give as a gift? I've recently been gifting Date Night In because the heart behind the book is beautiful. It's a story of dating your spouse and Ashley has decadent and creative recipes for each date. True Food is a really beautiful book for the health nut sort and The Kinfolk Table for those who like stories. For people I know who cook often, the new A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus by Renee Erickson. It depends on the person entirely!
What books do you turn to for dinner party inspiration? I think this depends on the guests. I'll always give a flip through books by Ottolenghi and Suzanne Goin because their recipes are always unique and beautiful. They typically take more time to prepare but are worth it and it's fun for me to try something new. The desserts in the Huckleberry cookbook are delicious—I prefer to only have stuff like that around when others are there to share it with us.