Near & Far, the newest cookbook by Heidi Swanson, is a collection of 120 vegetarian recipes inspired by the author’s travels near (her home in San Francisco) and Far (Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, and India). Swanson started traveling shortly after college and now has stamps on her passport from around the world. She carries along journals as a way to remember details, from the scenery and people to the food. She states that even when the main memories from her travels fade away, the food and flavors from the area remain strong. I have also found this to be true. This book was created as a way to keep those flavors alive.
Heidi Swanson grew up in Northern California and currently lives in San Francisco. She is a photographer, cookbook author, designer, and food blogger. She started her food blog, 101 Cookbooks, in 2003 as a way to actually cook through the over 100 cookbooks sitting on her shelves and stop the rut of preparing the same meals over and over again. She now has four cookbooks of her own: Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel, along with: Cook 1.0, Super Natural Cooking: Five Delicious Ways to Incorporate Whole and Natural Foods into Your Cooking, and Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen. For those wanting a closer look into how she put together Near & Far, she highlighted the cookbook process in a few posts on her blog: A New Cookbook, Writing a Cookbook Proposal, Making a Cookbook, and Printing a Cookbook.
Chapters are divided based on region: San Francisco, En Route, Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, India, and Accompaniments.
Each chapter begins with a list of Swanson’s favorite ingredients to serve as inspiration. San Francisco is the largest section with 35 recipes. For her En Route chapter, Swanson offers a handful nutritious meals that are portable. She even includes a recipe for Strong Ginger Snaps to combat motion sickness during longer travels. The end of the book finishes with a chapter of accompaniments: beans, rice, butter, stock, spices, and garnishes.
I particularly enjoyed that two to four ingredients are listed under the name of each recipe to highlight the main flavors. It made it easy to get a general idea of the dish while flipping through the book. She also includes a headnote describing the recipe, tips, and any variations. Measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric.
Heidi Swanson took the photographs herself, save for a few by Wayne Bremser. Most of the recipes include a quarter to full page photo, generally of the finished dish. She also includes photos of scenery from her travels.
This is a great book for anyone wanting to add new flavors or ingredients into their cooking. Some of the recipes don’t include specific measurements, which may be intimidating for new cooks, but they are set up to be used more as a guideline or cheat sheet to serve as inspiration. Seasonal and other adaptations are encouraged. While you will find some traditional recipes here, most are unique with Swanson’s own adaptations using local flavors. Those looking for fusion ideas won’t find it here. Her recipes tend to stick to their respectable regions. Most of the ingredients are fairly easy to find in a larger grocery store. A few may require a trip to an International Food Market or shopping online, such as tomatillos, rice paper wrappers, harissa, nori, mirin, and tempeh. As a note, there is no glossary in the book in case specific ingredients are unfamiliar to you. She does describe some of the ingredients in the headnote of the accompanying recipe. Many of the recipes are on the simple side and aren’t labor intensive at all, but are still packed with flavor. While this is a vegetarian cookbook, it is not entirely vegan. Dairy and eggs are often used.
When I was younger, I didn’t think I cared much for couscous. I loved Israeli couscous, but always found the smaller couscous to be a bit dry. Turns out, I had been making it all wrong and basing my assumptions on the boxed couscous that is prepared by boiling. I recently learned how to buy better couscous and steam it instead (you can also go a step further and make your own, but I haven’t tried this yet). It changed everything. Freshly steamed couscous, with the right spices, is spectacular. This recipe is no different. Dried couscous is seasoned with saffron, raisins, and turmeric, then steamed until tender. It is then topped with toasted almonds, green onions, dill, goat cheese, and olive oil.
I found couscous in the bulk section of Whole Foods labeled as French Couscous. There is also a whole wheat version. Check out the bulk or rice section of larger grocery stores or on Amazon: Bob’s Red Mill Couscous Golden, 24-Ounce (Pack of 4) and RiceSelect Original Couscous, 26.5-Ounce Jars (Pack of 4).
To steam the couscous, I filled the bottom part of a wok with water and topped it with a bamboo steamer (making sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the steamer). I lined the steamer with parchment to keep the couscous from falling through. You can also use a strainer that fits into a large pot and line it with cheesecloth or parchment.
I also made a Yogurt Bowl, Spring Rolls, Brown Butter Tortelli, and Wine-Washed Arugula.
This Yogurt Bowl from the Near section has become a breakfast item I turn to often, particularly when I am in a hurry. It comes together in less than five minutes and makes me feel like I started the day off on a good foot. Swanson doesn’t write exact measurements here, just a drizzle of this or a dollop of that to taste. Greek yogurt is dressed up with pomegranate juice and honey. It is then topped with sunflower seeds, puffed quinoa cereal (I didn’t have any available so I used vanilla almond granola), pomegranate seeds, and bee pollen. We have been adding local bee pollen to smoothies, but I didn’t even think to add it to yogurt.
The Spring Rolls from the En Route chapter were actually three recipes in one. This was the recipe that took the longest to make, but you can also break it into steps, refrigerate the components, and assemble right before serving. Rice paper wrappers are smeared with a ginger onion paste (recipe provided), topped with lettuce, cilantro, and brown sugar tofu with mushrooms (recipe provided). This was the first time Chad and I used tofu as a main filling in spring rolls. We both really enjoyed them and there wasn’t a single one leftover.
For the Brown Butter Tortelli from Italy, Evan and I made a batch of Ricotta Spinach Tortelloni as the base. You can also use your favorite packaged refrigerated stuffed pasta. Swanson mentions that pumpkin or winter squash pasta would be delicious in the cooler months. The tortelli is tossed in a quick brown butter balsamic vinegar sauce with arugula, lemon, and pecorino cheese. It was quite the delicious lunch that I was able to make in less than 20 minutes (I made the tortelloni earlier and froze them until needed).
I am a huge fan of bread-based salads and the Wine-Washed Arugula from France was no exception. It was incredibly easy to put together for a light and delicious lunch. This is another recipe with no exact measurements so you can modify to your tastes. Arugula is tossed with olive oil, dry white wine, fresh herbs, pieces of toasted croissants, and chèvre.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Adapted from Near & Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel
1 1/2 cups (215 grams) dried couscous
Pinch saffron (~20 threads)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 cup (60 grams) golden raisins
3/4 cup (115 grams) coarsely chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup (55 grams) chopped green onions
3/4 cup (20 grams) stemmed fresh dill
3 ounces (85 grams) goat cheese, crumbled
In a large bowl, add the couscous and rinse with water. Drain using a fine mesh sieve and add back to the bowl. Cover with cold water and allow to sit 5-10 minutes. Drain again using a fine mesh sieve, gently shaking to remove excess water. Add back to the bowl and sprinkle with saffron, turmeric, salt, olive oil, and raisins. Use your fingers to mix together, breaking apart any lumps.
Set up a steamer. I filled a wok 1/3rd with water and placed a bamboo steamer on top lined with parchment or a cheesecloth. Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the steamer. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Gently transfer the couscous to the prepared steamer using a spoon, being careful not to pack down. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff lightly with a fork. Cover again and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the couscous is tender. Transfer couscous to serving platter and lightly fluff with a fork.
Top with almonds, green onions, dill, and goat cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.