With its friendly, approachable tone, gorgeous photos, and flavorful recipes, Louisa Shafia's Lucid Food stands out from the pack of recent seasonal-focused cookbooks. Actually more than just a cookbook, it serves as a handbook offering practical and inspirational advice for eco-conscious eating and entertaining.
According to Shafia, "Lucid Food is about enjoying the sensuousness of food, while cooking and shopping with an eye toward conservation and social conscience." Along with 85 recipes organized by season, Shafia intersperses advice on topics like deciphering "eco-foodie" buzzwords, gardening, composting, preserving, foraging, sourcing sustainable seafood, and more. For readers who are new to seasonal, local cooking or issues in food politics, the book is wonderfully accessible and educational. We particularly admire Shafia's ability to offer concise yet informative discussions on subjects like "Why organic isn't always the best choice," "Fair-trade organic bananas," and "Earth-friendly alternatives to white sugar."
Those who are already well-versed in the issues might dive right into the recipes, which are simple yet elegant and suitable for everyday meals as well as entertaining. Though not a vegetarian cookbook, most of the recipes are meat-free. In addition to the seasonal focus, there are a number of dishes incorporating whole grains, alternative sweeteners, and international flavors. Recipes drawing upon Shafia's own background include Persian Stuffed Dumpling Squash with Rose Petals and Persian Green Rice. Other cultural influences come from Asia and the Mediterranean, with dishes like Indonesian Corn Fritters, Almond Tofu with Snap Peas and Soba Noodles, and Watermelon Gazpacho. The fruit desserts are lovely, from Apricot Shortcake with Lavender Whipped Cream to Rhubarb and Pistachios Over Thick Yogurt.
Most of the recipes are quite easy to prepare with uncomplicated lists of ingredients. The use of ingredients like spices, chocolate, and tamarind prevents this from being a strictly local cookbook, but Shafia's approach is not dogmatic. She writes of making conscious choices, shopping Fair Trade, and treasuring imported foods even more as we recognize the costs associated with them.
A real sense of joy and friendliness permeates the book, from the opening chapter to the recipe introductions and the beautiful color photographs by Jennifer Martiné. We highly recommend Lucid Food as an inspirational book for veteran cooks and environmentalists as well as a gift for friends or family members who might be interested in seasonal cooking and green living but don't know where to begin.
If you'd like to try some of Shafia's recipes or learn more about her before purchasing the book or checking it out at the library, visit the Lucid Food website.
• Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life by Louisa Shafia, $15.30 at Amazon
Related: Edible Schoolyard by Alice Waters
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(Image: Random House)