Right off the bat Mike McEnearney makes it clear that he is not a doctor or naturopath but rather a chef who loves all things food. “I am not claiming to cure cancer or add 50 years to your life, but merely providing notes for each recipe, which list the benefits of quality wholefoods and demonstrate how a small amount of education about the medicinal benefits of ingredients can truly have a positive effect on your overall well-being.”
Real Food by Mike is a cookbook that strives to be “better for you both nutritionally and ethically,” partly by dividing its recipes into seasons — a way of eating that people have lived and practiced since time began, but which has fallen out of practice with the year-round availability of so many ingredients. “Right now, with the economic and geographical climates in peril, we have begun to realize the importance of respecting the seasons,” McEnearney explains in the book, “and in the process are discovering a simpler, ultimately richer way of life.”
Many of the recipes in the cookbook take just minutes to make, making them perfect to fit into busy weeks and the hustle of daily life. Each recipe has notes that explain the purpose and medicinal benefits of specific ingredients used; demonstrating that even just a little bit of extra understanding can have a wonderfully positive effect on overall health and well-being.
Gorgeous photographs throughout bring to life delicious, satisfying recipes that are a far cry from the images of food most commonly associated with healthy eating.
Recipes featured in the book include:
The Daily Meal: What is your philosophy of cooking (and/or eating)?
Mike McEnearney: Generosity, simplicity, authenticity, and sustainable wholefoods form the core of my philosophy. I try to let the ingredients speak by taking a less-is-more approach and not over complicate any of the cooking. Most importantly, I cook what I enjoy eating; cooking and eating should be a pleasure, not a chore, so if I can enjoy it and reap the natural benefits of food at the same time, it is a win-win situation.
I have a growing interest in the medicinal value of food and have a strong belief in the mantra we are what we eat — fresh, seasonal food in its most naked and true form.
My fascination with medicinal herbs began just after my third son William was born in 2009 and we made the pivotal decision to pack up our life in Australia and fly back to the U.K. in search of utopia. One week before our flight, we had a catastrophe. William got very sick. He was only 6 weeks old and was diagnosed with meningitis. During his time in hospital, it really hit home that there was a lack of fresh nutritional food available to patients. The food consisted of things like dehydrated mashed potato, heavily processed bread, preservative-laden juices and sugared cereals. There was simply no fresh food to heal and nourish — just processed food to poison.
During our time in the U.K., we based ourselves at my mother-in-law’s small-holding farm in Wales. Joss’ family farm is a truly beautiful property with some 12 hectares (30 acres) of organic farming land. Their garden was a true revelation. I had lived in Europe previously and understood the seasons very well, but growing the produce and eating it straight from the tree was another level. This was my “road to Damascus” moment, a cartoon light bulb going ping! over my head.
At the time we were at the farm, a local “apothecary” naturopath had also begun to section off four beds in the kitchen garden to create a Hippocratic garden, using the four humors of the body as her guide. Not only were these beds beautiful to look at, they were also stuffed full of medicinal plants and herbs to help relieve medical symptoms. The beds were divided into the humors, or temperaments: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. It was fascinating to me that she looked at these herbs as medicinal, while I saw them as culinary. From that moment, the phrase “you are what you eat” became truly profound to me.
How did it inspire the recipes you chose to include in this book?
The recipes follow the basic four-season outline to enable you to cook with ingredients that are at their best, readily available and are local. They are then broken down into times in the day, such as breakfast, then moving into more substantial meals. I then focus on the medicinal benefits of the ingredients of each of the recipes, which focus on what your body needs for that particular season of the year. All of the recipes are what I like to cook at home and help shape my family’s enjoyment for food.
What is your favorite recipe in the book and why?
I have many favorites from the book, but my go-to recipes at the moment are the pot-roasted shoulder of lamb cooked in buttermilk with roast pears and potatoes, and also the roast chicken with verjuice, white grapes, and tarragon. They are both very simple recipes which don’t demand much time in the kitchen. The lamb in particular can be forgotten about for a large chunk of the day, which is great for people who are time poor.
What are some of the foods you can’t live without?
Probiotics play a very important role in my life. They come in many forms such as water and dairy kefir, kombucha and other fermented tonics, fermented vegetables, yogurt and cultured butter to name a few. All of these foods have a huge benefit of increasing the healthy bacteria in the gut and in doing so allow us to digest and absorb the benefits of the food we eat.
Would you rather dine out or cook at home?
Cook at home.
What is your favorite go-to meal or drink?
I hate to be boring, but we have a ritual in our home of having boiled eggs and soldiers every Sunday night. We always have great eggs and bread in the pantry to draw from and I love dipping things like asparagus spears into the yolks. The simplicity of the perfectly boiled egg will always go very well with a great glass of pinot noir.
How do you hope readers will use this book, what do you hope they take away?
There are so many medicinal benefits in every day wholefood that most people don’t know of. I would love people to realize that eating a balanced diet and cooking great wholefood will provide your body with all it needs without the fuss of faddish diets. The ultimate aim of this cookbook is to assist you in maintaining good health while enjoying real food that will enhance your life.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
With the growing rate of huge supermarkets swallowing up the smaller producers I believe it is in our best interest to support the smaller local farmers. Visit your local farmers market and get to know who is growing your food and form a relationship with not only the food you eat but the person that grows it. By supporting these people, we will be not only helping the local economy but more importantly saving the planet by cutting down on food miles, packaging, and waste.