With the end of one year and the beginning of another I find I’m like many people who are looking at the new year with the desire to improve my eating habits and ‘clean up my act.’ Although I’m not a person to make resolutions, who among us doesn’t find the culinary indulgence which December brings not to be a good reason to refocus and hone our daily diet to be fresher, more healthful? Even publishers understand this need as we can see with the increased publication and release of cookbooks geared towards these needs and desires at the beginning of the year. It could also be that for a person, like myself, living in the northern hemisphere, the yearning to eat something vibrant and fresh during the dull winter days is another reason that is hard to ignore.
Whether it was too much of the delicious winter baking that gives way to my feelings or the need to see summer on my plate I was quite happy when I discovered Harriet Birrell’s Whole by Natural Harry in my mailbox one January afternoon. At first glance I was completely taken in with the gorgeous pictures by Nikole Ramsay — idyllic Tasmanian beaches, beautiful blue surf with its eager surfers, lush greenery, and most crucial: delicious and enticing food. Harriet Birrell is, most sincerely, ‘Natural Harry.’ Representing both a person and a lifestyle the Natural Harry moniker is part of Harriet Birrell’s personal evolution. She first began to sell her plant-based dishes from a ‘little wooden, beach-side caravan’ (imagine something akin to a food truck) and from there she has now self-published two cookbooks and owns and operates an ‘eco-concept’ store.
What I’ve really appreciated about Harry’s approach is that she keeps her recipes simple. With relatively few, good-quality ingredients each recipe is quick to prepare and completely delicious! When I tell you that it’s simple, I mean it. Unlike other plant-based cookbooks, she doesn’t spend much time in the beginning of the book going into too much detail regarding kitchen equipment or pantry items (just two short pages) leaving home cooks to delve into the recipes. She also doesn’t mire her philosophy with too much jargon. While her plant-based cookbook is really vegan (with lots of gluten free recipes) her main focus is on living both simply and healthfully. By keeping labels non-existent or to a minimum invites people in a simple, non-threatening way to enjoy what’s being offered. As she says about her own food philosophy: ‘Eat food as close to its natural state as possible and look after yourself. But don’t be a goose about it!’
You can learn much from really cooking from a cookbook. When I received Whole, I set about choosing recipes to try before thinking about what I would write in my review. Not being familiar with Harriet Birrell I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed making and eating her recipes! After trying over a dozen recipes and cooking exclusively from her book I’ve realized that her approach to ingredients and technique is simple. Ingredients are chosen and combined for maximum flavour. No over seasoning. When dishes are cooked there’s no refined oil used. Not while frying or cooking vegetables and certainly not while roasting. It’s not something that’s really discussed in the book but understanding her philosophy it’s clear that Harriet is choosing ingredients that are minimally refined (or not at all). To be honest, out of personal preference and habit I did use a bit of oil to cook the Easy Pancakes, but I found that I could easily go without using oil for cooking.
Eating in season is also important to the recipes within Whole. She advocates for buying (when you’re able to) good quality, fresh ingredients that are in season to maximize flavour and texture. As a result, all her recipes are quite tasty and look gorgeously vibrant on the plate. The recipes she’s developed strike a fine balance between cooked and raw, and I found myself really appreciating the fresher, uncooked dishes. Two fine examples are the Raw Rainbow Sushi and the Oaty Raw-Nola. Both require no cooking, and both are a beautiful reimagining of classic recipes. With the sushi she has kept what makes sushi quintessentially sushi — the nori — but has traded the rice component for a ground mixture of raw cauliflower, cashew nuts, and sesame seeds. Cauliflower, when processed in a food processor, can have a rice-like texture and this technique is used to advantage here. While my family and I enjoy regular sushi we equally enjoyed Harry’s version, and I found that for the cauliflower-haters here (my husband and daughter) they didn’t take notice of it. Colourful and delicious this was one of the stand-out recipes for me.
Granola is another classic recipe that I can find countless (and I do mean countless) variations on the internet for but here I find her recipe to be novel (in the very best way). Using a food processor to combine oat flakes, cinnamon, vanilla powder, and dates she creates a new, low-fuss version of granola. I really appreciated the simplicity in flavour and its soft, chewy texture — and it tasted wonderful with fresh fruit and coconut-based, dairy free yogurt. This recipe will be perfect during the hot summer months when I’m craving granola but am loathed to turn on the oven.
Ingredients are easy to source, and you may find that you already stock many items in your pantry. Fresh ingredients, nuts, and beans are used and particular to this cookbook, the use of nutritional yeast flakes is prominent. Oats processed into flour and chickpea flour are used in favour of regular flour, and by using these helps to keep recipes gluten free. I found that nuts, which can be an expensive ingredient, are used sparingly. To keep the recipes dairy-free, Harriet relies on plant-based ‘milks’ and yogurts but if you’re not worried about keeping your diet dairy-free then you’re able to use whatever milk/yogurt you’d like as I’ve found the recipes to be quite flexible. It’s also this flexibility that’s crucial to keeping the recipes simple. If berries aren’t in season, then you can substitute a fruit that is.
For some people plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan cooking seems daunting. The ‘rules’ can be difficult to understand, and the food can seem strange. And for some, healthy recipes can seem so healthy that they lack flavour. So, since my non-plant-based mom was visiting I thought to try out some of the Whole recipes on her. The first was Mushroom ‘Neat-Ball’ Pasta. The vegan-version of a classic meatball contain mushrooms, onion, parsley, nuts, and nutritional yeast and are oven-baked. Served with a simple tomato sauce on a bed of mung bean pasta (a store-bought, high-protein, gf version of regular pasta) my mom fell in love! What I worried might taste strange to her, she found delicious. She even went as far as to say that she thought my dad would love it too (for those unfamiliar with my site, I grew up in Alberta — famous for its beef). My mom also really appreciated the hearty Oaty Seed Loaf and the White Bean Pesto, which goes to prove the point: delicious food is delicious food no matter which ingredients are used and how it can be categorized.
Almost a world away from Harriet’s Tasmanian kitchen, I’ve come to enjoy her recipes. Cooking them and sharing them with my own family and friends is exactly her aim. I appreciate how she celebrates the simple joys of cooking delicious food and I’m continually looking through her cookbook for even more recipes to try! If you’re curious to see what I’ve been cooking then checkout my custom Instagram hashtag #wholebynaturalharryiseatworthy or my dedicated Facebook post.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Hardie Grant Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.