When Heidi Swanson’s mother died unexpectedly midway through the pandemic, she felt completely “upended”. Things only worsened when in that same week, her father suffered a cancer-related fracture, rendering him convalescent for several months. “It was all incredibly terrible, but one silver lining is that we all ended up under one roof for a few months, trying to help my dad recover,” says Swanson. “That meant cooking three meals a day for seven people!”
However, for the award-winning author and photographer that was more of a challenge than a task. “You have to be able to celebrate your successes and learn from your failures without getting too frustrated,” she says. “Cooking is a realm where you’ll never stop learning. That’s part of its magic.”
With an emphasis on natural ingredients and whole foods, Swanson’s cooking (and her new book, Super Natural Simple: Whole-Food, Vegetarian Recipes for Real Life) prove that tasty feasts don’t have to be complicated. Here, she shares her favourite satisfying and simple Paprika-Spiced Mushroom Stew recipe with T Australia, as well as a colourful nutrient-packed Sunset Goji Nectar to accompany it.
Tell us, why do you love these recipes?
“They capture a lot of what I love about good food and eating. The stew is hearty, satisfying, simple and adaptable. For example, if you didn’t have rice on hand, swapping in thick noodles would also be brilliant. If you feel like you haven’t had any greens for the day, add a big handful of chopped kale. The Sunset Goji Nectar delivers high-impact colour, is packed with nutrients, and on the flavour front is very interesting. It rides an unusual line between tart and sweet that I love.”
What do you feel is the key to home cooking?
“You have to have a certain level of enthusiasm and curiosity. You have to want to source quality ingredients (and this doesn’t at all mean expensive). Some of my favourite ingredients to cook with can be found relatively inexpensively in bulk bins – organic grains, legumes, a rainbow of rices… I love to follow recipes, and at the same time I’m constantly experimenting with ideas, ingredients, and techniques.”
You mainly cook with whole foods and natural foods, why is that important to you?
“It’s such a rich realm! And the ingredients haven’t been fussed with too much. Natural foods and whole ingredients are powerful, beautiful, and offer up a wonderful palette of flavour and nutritional benefits. Unlike many processed foods, they haven’t had all the beneficial parts processed and stripped out. Shopping, sourcing ingredients and cooking with natural foods is an important way to stay connected and maintain an understanding of what you’re eating.”
Over the past 12 months, during the pandemic, did you cook more or less?
“We always cook a lot, but last year was next level. Normally I hit up a farmers’ market a couple times a week, and the grocery store regularly. That schedule immediately went out the window. It quickly turned into a lot of cooking from the pantry, supplemented with produce from our garden.”
Paprika-Spiced Mushroom Stew
3 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
450g mushrooms (mix or single type of preference), chopped in 5mm – 1 cm pieces
1 ½ large brown onions, diced
1 ¼ tsps fine- grain sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tblsp smoked paprika
240ml well-mixed, full-fat coconut milk
juice of 1 lemon
740g cooked brown rice, warm
Plain Greek yoghurt, chopped fresh dill, to serve (optional)
1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium– high heat. Add the mushrooms, onion and salt and sauté, stirring now and then, until the mushrooms release their liquid and it evaporates, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the paprika and cook for another minute. Add the water and coconut milk, bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, then taste and add more salt as needed.
3. Scoop the rice into bowls and ladle the soup over the top. A big dollop of yoghurt, lots of dill and cherry tomatoes to serve are all bonuses.
Variations: Add a few big handfuls of chopped or shredded cabbage to the pot after cooking the mushrooms but before adding the spices and broth. For less fat but the same amount of creamy, replace the coconut milk with cashew milk. To make fresh cashew milk, combine 155g raw cashews with 475ml water in a high-speed blender and purée until silky smooth.
Sunset Goji Nectar
60g goji berries, soaked overnight
475ml unsweetened coconut water
ice cubes, to serve
freshly squeezed orange juice or blood orange juice
1. Drain the goji berries. Transfer them to a high-speed blender, add the coconut water and process until uniform and smooth.
2. Strain and serve over ice with a generous squeeze of citrus juice on top.