Chatting with Amy Chaplin: At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen

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Ever since her childhood in rural Australia, Amy Chaplin's diet has revolved around whole foods. After 20 years of cooking around the globe, the New York-based private chef, teacher, recipe developer and writer — her work appears on this very blog every week — is sharing this nurturing lifestyle in her first book, At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well (Roost Books). Through more than 150 recipes — and a slew of striking minimalist photos—for soulful vegetarian and vegan dishes like cherry coconut granola with extra virgin olive oil, millet cauliflower mash and roasted acorn and Delicata squash salad strewn with wheat berries and bitter greens, the former chef of the celebrated East Village vegan restaurant, Angelica Kitchen, illuminates the simplicity and creativity of eating healthy.

You’ve been a whole foods champion well before eating this way was in vogue. Was this book a long time coming for you?

I feel like it was something I was working toward ever since I started working in a professional kitchen, where I began to collect all this knowledge. Then I started the blog, amychaplin.com, as a way to share my love of food, continuously develop recipes, and take photos, and it was just the right time. It was an intense experience, though. I felt like I had to include all these things from different areas of my life, so it grew really big and into a lot more work than I had planned. Once I started cooking I didn’t want to stop adding recipes.

It’s a gorgeous book. What do you want readers who open it to walk away with?

Healthy food is never featured as elegant and indulgent, and with the book I wanted to bridge that gap and show that it’s beautiful and easy for everyone—not just for hard-core health nuts.

You were raised on fresh, healthy foods in your native New Wales, Australia. Eating this way is instinctual for you, then. Did you always know your career would revolve around food?

When it's the way you grow up, you don't think it's anything special, just the way you eat. I don't think there was any one moment where I said I was going to be a cook, but the more I did it, I loved it. Starting my catering business and working at Angelica Kitchen solidified it for me. It was all so creative, and brought together my interests in the environment and eating well. I love that this is my life.

What are some of your no-fuss dishes in constant rotation?

Perfectly cooked beans or chickpeas — cooked in a pressure cooker — topped with my favorite things: avocado, flax oil, toasted seeds, tamari and scallions. My favorite beans are large heirloom ones, like Scarlet Runners. I also love to eat quinoa or brown rice. In the summer, my basic brown rice recipe is used in a salad with cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, and it's so delicious. Another go-to is steamed vegetables with zesty flax or black sesame dressing.

Breakfast, a meal that has the power to set the tone for eating healthy the rest of the day, gets significant attention in the book. What are some of your favorite recipes?

There are two that see me through all the seasons. One is the soaked oats and chia, and the other is the superfood oatmeal. I usually want a warm breakfast in cold weather, and the rest of the time the soaked oats and chia is great as it can be made ahead in large batches. All you need to do is add almond milk and berries. In fact, I'm usually happy with any breakfast that involves fresh, homemade almond milk and berries.

The book includes something especially informative and helpful: before delving into the recipes you show readers how stocking a pantry is an essential step to eating better.

With the book in your life you can take the pantry section, look at those simple recipes and start incorporating them into your weekly routine. You don’t have to dive in and have everything on hand at all times, but you can start by soaking grains or making your own almond milk. These are not difficult things, and they can sustain you. Create your own rituals.

With cold weather upon us, which recipes do you think readers will find especially comforting?

Soups and stews — like the simple red lentil soup with spinach, lemon and pepper—are my favorites for winter. The cannellini bean stew with kale and spelt berries is so tasty and creamy. It’s perfect for chilly weather.

Simple Red Lentil Soup with Spinach, Lemon and Pepper

Serves 4
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups red lentils washed and drained
6 cups filtered water, plus more to thin out soup as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups (3 1/2 ounces) baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste
To Serve
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Warm olive oil in a medium-large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes or until golden. Stir in garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Add lentils and water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 to 35 minutes or until lentils are cooked and becoming creamy; stir pot every 10 minutes or so to make sure lentils aren’t sticking. Remove lid, add salt and more water, if needed, to reach your desired consistency. Cover again and cook for 5 to 10 minutes longer or until lentils have completely dissolved and soup is creamy. Stir in pepper and spinach, and cook for 1 minute or until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and add lemon juice. Season to taste and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and black pepper.

From At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin, © 2014 by Amy Chaplin. Photographs © 2014 by Johnny Miller. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA. www.roostbooks.com

Alia Akkam is a New York-based writer who covers the intersection of food, drink, travel and design. She launched her career by opening boxes of Jamie Oliver books as a Food Network intern.

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