It is still (just) January, the month of resolutions, detoxes, and get-fit regimes that may or may not last until February. And in January people like myself get inundated with requests to cook from and review the latest weight loss cookbooks.
I rarely get excited about such cookbooks for the simple reason that diets don’t really work. Or, at least not in the long term.
For the most part I don’t wish to participate as a reviewer in this yearly bunfight to the top of the diet book charts. But, for awhile now, I’ve been getting quite excited about the release of this particular cookbook. And it doesn’t disappoint. This is definitely a weight loss book with a difference. The backstory
Dannii Martin is a fellow British food blogger whose celebrated and very popular blog, Hungry Healthy Happy, is one of my favourite places to visit if I need quick inspiration for a fast and healthy meal. It matters not a jot to me personally about the weight loss aspect as the recipes and her friendly, chatty and well-written posts are really what I want. But that said, her recipes have helped her lose an incredible 98 pounds. All by preparing her own meals – delicious, nutrient-packed and generously sized-meals – and making achievable and lasting changes to her life.
If that isn’t the best form of recommendation for anyone wishing to healthfully shed some weight then I don’t know what is.
The ethos of Dannii’s book is to help the reader to rediscover a love for all of our favourite foods – think macaroni and cheese, moussaka, cheesecake (pictured, below) – but reinvented as more nutritious and wholesome versions of themselves. But I wouldn’t say her recipes are just for those watching their weight: All of the recipes are suitable for family meals, with some especially child-tempting lunchbox and snack delights dotted throughout the book. How does apple nachos, or a healthier chocolate bar grab you?
Who is Dannii?
Quite simply she is an inspiring, down-to-earth young woman who, finding her health compromised by her weight, decided to do something about it. Initially she set herself a 1500 calorie daily limit in order to achieve a steady 2 pound a week weight loss. But her story is about more than just the weight. It is also about what she did once she achieved her goal. This vital piece of the weight loss puzzle is where many of us come unstuck. And Dannii hasn’t. She has maintained her stunning weight loss over the years, recounting her struggles and triumphs to her wide blog audience.
As she documents in the Dannii’s story section of her book, the fundamentals of eat less and move more are simple, but not at all easy. Throughout her 20s she tried every diet going – all recounted very honestly and relatably – but came to the realisation that quick fixes don’t work. So, she made a decision to set about adding in more colourful, filling plant foods to her favourite meals, tweaking the cooking methods and achieving a balance between health and out and out delicious.
But just as importantly – and this is the clincher for weight maintenance – she addressed her attitude to her body, her abilities and her thoughts on food and weight loss. Helpfully she doesn’t keep those to herself. Dannii lists some of the main tips that have helped her along the way, and liberally sprinkles other, more recipe-related, tips throughout the 100+ recipes. If you get her cookbook, DO NOT SKIP HER STORY.
This is not a vegetarian cookbook
Indeed numerous main meals contain animal protein. But all of Dannii’s recipes contain more vegetables and herbs, and less fat, than you might expect from a non-vegetarian recipe. The portion sizes may even seem on the large size, but that’s because they are full of filling fibre. And speaking of fibre, she doesn’t shy away from the starchy carbs. In fact there is not a whiff of hair shirt-style fasting or deprivation. How refreshing.
Between the covers, so to speak.
Besides the Introduction and the aforementioned Dannii’s story, the preface to the recipes offers
- The Principles of Losing Weight
- The Importance of Exercise
- Eating Well for Less
- Store Cupboard Essentials
- Meal Planner
And the recipes are divided into
- Snacks and Treats
- Light Meals and Lunches
- Hearty Main Meals
- Side Dishes
Recipes we love
I am writing we because Andrew was included in the testing (yes, I had to share…). To be honest I’ve not had a chance to try more than a handful of recipes as I went away for a few weeks just as the book arrived with me, but the three I have made and eaten have all been easy, tasty and crucially for us, filling. We do like our food! I plan on trying more, that’s for sure.
- Quinoa Bean Burgers, page 110 – easy, well-balanced flavour, plenty-filling (we had two each, but no buns to accompany). I used green pepper as a sub, which weirdly I think is better than red in recipes like this. But that’s just me. (my own, terrible, night-time image is above)
- Lemon Squares, page 70 – light, very lemony, and just enough sweetness to satisfy.
- Japanese Noodle Salad, page 105 – I added cashews to make it heartier but the flavour of this is spot on.
I have my eye on
- Pad Thai, page 144 – change out the prawns for marinated tofu if you wish
- Healthy Noodle Pots, page 93 – I’ll use edamame instead of the called-for chicken
- Brown Rice Greek Salad, page 87 – this is definitely the next one I will try!
Who is this book for?
- Anyone who appreciates “real world” recipes using “normal” ingredients.
- Those who want or need calorie counted recipes. Danni’s ones are good for those following at least the principles of Weight Watchers or Slimming World as you can easily work out your allowed points. These recipes will add colour-packed variety to those already following a plan of sorts.
- Singles, couples, families and students. Most recipes serve either 2 or 4 but they all look adaptable to scaling up or down. They also use economical ingredients that are readily available in most regular supermarkets. Bonus points!
- If you want a straight-forward, sensible approach to weight loss and healthy eating rather than a coffee table type book with few recipes but lots of aspirational images of rustic farm tables in fields and picnics in fairy light-strewn barns.
Spicy Lentil Tacos
*Note: This section is all from the cookbook, but without the nutrition graphic.*
Lentils are a great source of protein and are very cheap, making them a useful way
to bulk out your dishes with minimal impact on your wallet. Here, they are the base
of a spicy Mexican-inspired taco that is packed with flavour. Play with toppings to
adapt them to you own tastes, or put them in the middle of the table and let your
guests experiment with their own.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
90 g/ 3 & 1/4 oz/ generous 1/4 cup red lentils
1 tbsp taco seasoning
(see tip, below)
300 ml/ 1/2 pint/ 1 & 1/4 cups vegetable stock
4 mini tortillas
To serve (optional):
1/4 iceberg lettuce, shredded
Salsa (see page 65 in the book)
Avocado Hummus (see page 56 in the book)
1. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and add the onion and
garlic. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring continuously, until soft but not
coloured, then add the lentils and taco seasoning and cook for
1 minute more.
2. Pour the stock into the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat
to a simmer and leave to cook for 15 minutes until the liquid has
dissolved and the lentils are tender.
3. Place the tortillas on plates and spoon over the lentil mixture, add
toppings of your choice, then fold over the tortillas
to form a taco. Serve hot.
Making taco seasoning at home is the work of
moments and is much more economical than buying
it from a shop. Combine 2 tablespoons chilli powder
with . tablespoon each of paprika, ground cumin,
onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, sea salt
and freshly ground black pepper. This will keep well in
an airtight jar.
How to get a copy
Recipe and images extracted with permission from Hungry Healthy Happy, photography by Jacqui Melville. Published by Jacqui Small (£20). It is available now for purchase – and has all five-star reviews!
With many thanks to Jacqui Small for my advanced review copy.