Bowls of Goodness by Nina Olsson – Cookbook Review
Food trends come and go, and arguably ‘bowl food’, the comforting, warming kind of food we all crave, is one of those flash in the pan fads destined to fall out of fashion. One trend that is certainly on the rise and seems set to stick around however, is the avoidance or at least reduction of animal-based food consumption and the embrace of ‘flexitarianism’- more plants and meat every so often.
Nina Olsson is the founder of Nourish Atelier, a blog dedicated to wholesome vegetarian recipes as well as a photographer, designer, stylist, writer, illustrator and art director. The title of “creative” thrown around quite a bit, but no-one wears this hat quite as comfortably as Amsterdam-based Nina. Nina’s passion for creating nourishing soul food led her to release her first cookbook, Bowls of Goodness, an ode to magnificent meat-free dishes that are so much more than bowls of boring vegetables.
The food photography, styled and shot by Nina herself, makes reading Bowls of Goodness feel like pouring over a lifestyle magazine – the dream life we all wish we could emulate. Nina is an artist by gift and trade, and this carries through her dishes beyond presentation – merely reading her recipes reveals that each dish is composed and considered with a beautiful flavour mosaic in mind.
There is an immediately obvious absence of the kind of preachy rhetoric so often entrenched in vegan and vegetarian discourse, instead Nina writes freely about things like her ex-boyfriend’s mother’s soup – and notes that he wasn’t a keeper but the recipe was – and you feel like you are talking to her. I had the pleasure of getting to know Nina on a recent trip to Rome, and it is so refreshing to see her personality pop off the page as much as her truly stunning photography. Witty, mischievous and a pleasure to be around, Nina’s positive energy seeps in to every recipe in one way or another.
To give you an insight into just how far removed Bowls of Goodness is from the often bland vegetarian food you may be visualising, look no further than little gems like vegan ‘Rawmesan’, made of blitzed cashews and nutritional yeast, a dairy-free dream for replacing Parmesan. In this case, it is sprinkled on Prosecco Artichoke Soup, proving Nina is an alchemist – just reading her recipes will convince you that she will settle for nothing less than all out flavour.
The best part? Nina’s recipes are actually original, which in a time where health food cookbooks are a dime a dozen is very rare. I’m not ashamed to admit I drooled a little reading recipe after recipe of innovation. Bowls of Goodness is bursting with dishes inspired by the cuisines of faraway lands like Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East – bowl food lends itself perfectly to multi-cultural flavours and in one bowl you can create a little trip for your tastebuds. This is exactly what I set out to do with my testing with a distinct destination in mind.
Originally from Sweden, Nina’s vegan answer to the classic Scandi flavour combo of smoked fish and horseradish was a must try. I admit, I eat tofu on occasion, but never over enthusiastically. This recipe’s smoked tofu sauteed in sesame seeds and finished with soy and sesame oil changed this entirely. Such a simple combination of ingredients may have just changed my sentiments towards fermented bean curd forever – words I never thought I’d say!
Along with toasted nori and pumpkin seeds, the saline appeal of the bounty of the sea was mimicked but in a way that was delicious in its own right. With vegan creme fraiche (cashews, soaked and blended with lemon) spiked with horseradish and greens of every incarnation from apples to peas, this bowl surprised me in a very good way plus provided Hulk-like smugness – win win.
Next up to test was another en vogue creation – BBQ Pulled Jackfruit – which presented me with a previously undiscovered warming bowl of smokey goodness without the torturous process of waiting for pork shoulder to slow cook, plus the obvious benefits of foregoing that fatty cut of meat. I picked my jackfruit up in Asia Market, canned and brined, for less than €2 and would highly recommend you do too to try out this new craze, which is actually pretty damn tasty with Nina’s recipe. So tasty in fact that the photography stage had to be foregone to allow for immediate greedy gorging.
A key flavour hack worth investing in for this recipe and beyond is liquid smoke, available in Fresh – a secret weapon for plant and meat eaters alike. Handily, you can buy this once and whip Nina’s genius Umami Potion with a number of pantry staples like sriracha, a recipe worth making a batch of even if you never try the neatballs (oat and brown rice-based) it accompanies.
For a quick and easy midweek dessert, Pan Fried Cacao Granola called my name. Rich with toffee-like coconut sugar and toasted quickly with coconut flakes, this created an aroma Jo Malone would do well to bottle and has since become a staple in my house. One bowl to whip up and one bowl to eat, whipped coconut cream and fruit make this into a dessert you can feel decent about eating or, as I have found, a breakfast with a splash of almond milk or a topping for cakes and ‘nice cream’ – another tempting bowl on my list of must tries.
Every recipe in Bowls of Goodness is versatile, interchangeable and inspirational to the point that it gets your own creative juices going too – the ultimate test of whether or not it becomes a kitchen staple. Before I knew it, the index page was upon me and I felt genuinely disappointed. This must be how concert-goers feel when their favourite singer finishes the set and walks off the stage. Luckily for me, I still have many bowls of goodness to discover and an encore will be provided in the form of Nina’s second book which is due out this year and I await eagerly.
Nina’s Bowls of Goodness made a flavour obsessive like myself truly believe I can lead a mostly plant based life at home in my kitchen without compromising on the enjoyment of food – no mean feat to say the least. Needless to say, I’m a little bit bowled over by Bowls of Goodness and I am confident you will be too.
Get your copy of Bowls of Goodness here.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.