I’m skeptical of approaches to food that turn one ingredient or another into a hero or demon. I’ve swung on the egg, butter, and coffee pendulum, and I love blueberries, but for their pie-giving properties more than for their life-extending properties. So when chef Seamus Mullen labels hero foods I opened the book with a jaundiced eye.
Then I saw the picture of a glistening duck liver pate and decided to take a closer look. Plus, he’s got a tattoo, so you know he’s a chef’s chef.
When Mullen learned he had rheumatoid arthritis, he realized he needed to adjust his life and extended that to his cooking. He focused on what he calls hero foods—including almonds, anchovies, mushrooms, greens, and good eggs, meat and fish—inspired by his Vermont childhood and cooking stages in Spain.
When he started, Mullen shared a bit of my skepticism, asking “…how much of the stuff do I have to eat to make a real difference?” He cites the good sense of Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan and advocates creating a healthy overall dietary pattern, in his case filled with Iberico ham, Maracona almonds, olive oil, parsley, anchovies, corn, stone fruit, and more.
That’s a pantry I can work with. It’s easy to love a cookbook that advocates paella, pate, and eggs fried in olive oil as health food.
What I love most about the book was the real cooking—preserving hunks of tuna in perfumed olive oil, and the same with mushrooms, lemons, and artichokes–to build a luscious pantry. I also love having access to the chef’s creativity in both simple and complex dishes ranging from Five-Minute Eggs with Romesco and Blackberry Almond Crumble to Ajo Blanco with Sardine Confit or Homemade Lamb Bacon with Kale and an Egg.
Finally, I love the abundance. There is no sense of denial here, of approaching food as a duty. Even Mullen’s most medicinal recipe—Parsley Juice—is a bright blend of parsley, apple, lemon, and honey that just tastes happy.
It’s not to late to resurrect New Year’s resolutions and with spring about to hit big at the farmer’s market, crack open Mullen and get in the kitchen.